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Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Guide

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

what is chapter 13 bankruptcy
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The two primary forms of bankruptcy that consumers choose to file are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 allows a filer to liquidate nonexempt assets to pay off creditors and discharge their remaining debts. Chapter 13, called a wage earner’s plan, gives filers with regular income the opportunity to create a short repayment plan to pay off their debts.

In 2005, when Congress approved the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, it became more difficult for consumers to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, pushing more people to use Chapter 13. Since then, of the 12.8 million consumer bankruptcy petitions filed, 4.1 million have been for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

In this guide, we’ve compiled some of the highlights that consumers should understand about the process, as well as the results and effects of filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Reading through may help you prepare for what’s ahead and ensure you better identify whether Chapter 13 is the right choice for you.

How Chapter 13 works

Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which eliminates a consumer’s debts without a payment plan, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is centered around creating an installment repayment plan that a filer can maintain for several years, which is focused on eliminating secured debts.

The payment amount and duration are not based on what it would take to pay off the full amount of the debt, but are instead based on calculations determined by the income of the filer, their discretionary income, their assets and their debt. Instead of forcing the debtor to tackle the full amount of their current debt at its current interest rates, Chapter 13 gives a debtor the opportunity to pay off a percentage of the debt based on what they can afford to pay over a three- to five-year period.

The amount they can “afford” is based on income calculations and state median statistics as described on the official forms. The focus of the debt repayment is secured debt, which is debt that has underlying collateral. In some cases, however, significant payments may need to be made toward unsecured debts as well.

Chapter 13 is often a good choice for:

  • High-income earners
  • Those who fail the Chapter 7 means test by having too much discretionary income
  • Consumers with assets, such as a home or paid-off car, that they don’t want to lose in a bankruptcy
  • Consumers who are facing foreclosure, lawsuits brought on by debtors and collection notices

Many homeowners are relieved to find out that they may be able to save a home that’s in foreclosure by declaring Chapter 13. But at what point in the foreclosure process must you file before it’s too late? As it turns out, you can file for bankruptcy protection well into the foreclosure process and still save your home, according to Florida attorney Ryan Albaugh.

“A debtor can file a case in the morning and stop a sale for the same day, as long as the debtor complies with all needs,” Albaugh said. “They can file a shell Chapter 13 without all the schedules and get a notice to stop the sale.”

What debts are forgiven or discharged under Chapter 13?

Chapter 13 allows for a broader set of forgivable debts than Chapter 7, including:

  • Debts caused by willful and malicious damage to property
  • Debts due to divorce agreement property settlements
  • Debts for funds borrowed under false pretenses
  • Debts that were taken on to help pay for tax obligations (the tax obligations themselves are not dischargeable)

Other debts that are dischargeable under Chapter 13 include:

  • Medical bills
  • Consumer debt
  • Personal loans

Debts that are not dischargeable under Chapter 13 include:

  • Certain long-term debts, such as a mortgage
  • Alimony and child-support debts
  • Certain tax debts
  • Debts due to DUI
  • Guaranteed or government-funded student loans

Who is eligible?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy provides an accessible way for many individuals, including those who are self-employed, to regain control over their debt, even if they don’t qualify for Chapter 7. But not everyone can declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy since there are still qualifications for eligibility.

The first qualification is that you must be employed. “If a person is unemployed, they won’t qualify for the plan because they won’t have sufficient income,” Albaugh said. Additional requirements include:

  • Unsecured debt must be less than $394,725 (as of 2018)
  • Secured debt must be less than $1,184,200 (as of 2018)

It’s not just the filer’s current situation that determines their eligibility to file for Chapter 13. Some of their actions in the six months leading up to the filing can have a bearing as well. Within 180 days of filing bankruptcy, the filer cannot have:

    • Had another bankruptcy petition dismissed for willful failure to appear before the court
    • Had another bankruptcy dismissed for failure to comply with orders of the court

How to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy

First steps

Credit counseling briefing

Choose an approved provider in the state you’re filing in within the 6 months preceding your filing

Find your court

Depends on the district court in which your state wants you to file

Secure any local forms that are required for your filing

These are forms that are specific to your state and will generally be listed on the website for your local court

Form B2010

Notice Required by 11 U.S.C. § 342(b) for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy

Forms for the initial petition

Form 101

Voluntary Petition for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy

Form 121

Your Statement About Your Social Security Numbers

Form 119

Bankruptcy Petition Preparer’s Notice, Declaration and Signature

Form 2800

Disclosure of Compensation of Bankruptcy Petition Preparer

Form 103A (when relevant)

Application for Individuals to Pay the Filing Fee in Installments

Form 101A (when relevant)

Initial Statement About an Eviction Judgment Against You

Form 101B (when relevant)

Statement About Payment of an Eviction Judgment Against You

Certificate from completed credit counseling

A full list of all your creditors

Within 14 days of filing

Form 106Dec

Declaration About an Individual Debtor’s Schedules

Form 106Sum

A Summary of Your Assets and Liabilities and Certain Statistical Information

Forms 106A-J

Schedules to 106 listing property, debtors, income, leases, income, expenses and more

Form 107

Your Statement of Financial Affairs for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy

Form 2030

Disclosure of Compensation of Attorney For Debtor

Form 122C-1

Chapter 13 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period

Form 122C-2 (when relevant)

Chapter 13 Calculation of Your Disposable Income (for payment of nonpriority, unsecured debt)

Form 113 (unless your local court differs)

Chapter 13 Plan

Copies of all pay stubs and remittances received during the 60 days preceding the filing

First steps

One of the first things consumers need to do before filing bankruptcy is to get a credit counseling briefing from a state-approved provider. It’s required that this is done within the six months before you file. When filing with your spouse, both spouses must have the briefing.

During the briefing, filers will learn alternative options for resolving their debt that can help them avoid filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The counseling ranges in price, with online classes offered by some providers for $14.95 per household and one-on-one phone sessions for $50 per person. Lastly, some providers charge an extra fee for the completion certificate sent to the bankruptcy court.

With credit counseling out of the way and a clear decision made to file Chapter 13, the next step is to review the district courts in your state to determine which court should receive your paperwork. After determining the right court, you’ll want to go to their website and download the local forms that the local court requires for your filing, most notably the Chapter 13 Plan, Form 113, which may require the federal form or a local form.

The last step you need to take before petitioning the court is to read Form B2010. This notice gives a brief review of each type of bankruptcy, lists costs associated with filing and lists the debts that cannot be discharged with each type. As of 2018, the cost for Chapter 13 filing and administrative fees totaled $310 (not including attorney fees).

Petitioning the court

After the pre-petition steps are done, it’s time to start completing forms to petition the court and officially file for bankruptcy. For Chapter 13 filers, the process begins with these forms:

  • Form 101: Voluntary Petition for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy
  • Form 121: Your Statement About Your Social Security Numbers
  • Form 119: Bankruptcy Petition Preparer’s Notice, Declaration and Signature
  • Form 2800: Disclosure of Compensation of Bankruptcy Petition Preparer

You can also include several optional forms, when relevant:

  • Form 103A: Application for Individuals to Pay the Filing Fee in Installments
  • Form 101A: Initial Statement About an Eviction Judgment Against You (individuals)
  • Form 101B: Statement About Payment of an Eviction Judgment Against You (individuals)

Finally, you will be asked to submit a list of all your creditor’s names and addresses. Your local court may have its own requirements for formatting of this list, so check their website for instructions.

No more than 14 days after filing

After filing Form 101, you have 14 days to file the rest of the required forms, which are:

  • Form 106Dec: Declaration About an Individual Debtor’s Schedules
  • Form 106Sum: A Summary of Your Assets and Liabilities and Certain Statistical Information (individuals)
  • Forms 106A-J: Schedules to 106 listing property, debtors, income, leases, income, expenses and more
  • Form 107: Your Statement of Financial Affairs for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy (individuals)
  • Form 2030: Disclosure of Compensation of Attorney For Debtor
  • Form 122C-1: Chapter 13 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period
  • Form 122C-2 (when required): Chapter 13 Calculation of Your Disposable Income
  • Form 113 (unless your local court differs): Chapter 13 Plan

You will also need to submit copies of all pay stubs and other payment remittances you have received during the 60 days that precede your bankruptcy filing. Check with your court to see if you need to submit these to the court or the trustee.

While it’s not a requirement to file, it should be noted that there is a second financial planning course that must be taken before a filer makes their last payment on the Chapter 13 plan. This course prepares the filer for financial success after the bankruptcy is final, which helps reduce the likelihood that they’ll need to rely on bankruptcy again in the future.

Pros and cons of declaring Chapter 13 bankruptcy

As with any major debt management process, Chapter 13 bankruptcy has both positive and negative aspects to analyze before you proceed. One of the biggest pros for many debtors is that they can usually keep their nonexempt assets when filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Nonexempt assets are generally defined as owned assets that are not necessary to maintain a home or job. These would be property such as a vacation home, a recreational vehicle (RV) or a boat.

Another positive aspect of Chapter 13 is that it stops much of the debt collection, wage garnishment and foreclosure activity against the filer for those debts listed in the bankruptcy. This is especially meaningful for homeowners who want to keep their homes but have fallen behind in payments, including those who currently in foreclosure.

Chapter 13 also makes it easier to repay debt since it effectively consolidates all the listed debt into one payment that can be made to the trustee monthly. In the case of what’s called a “cramdown,” Chapter 13 may even allow a debtor to reduce the amount owed on their secured debt by reducing the balance to match the value of the underlying collateral and effectively reducing the interest.

One of the biggest disadvantages of filing for Chapter 13 is that the value of any nonexempt assets the filer wants to keep can be tallied and used to establish the amount of their responsibility for payment of nonpriority, unsecured debt, such as credit cards and personal loans. The goal here is to ensure that the value of assets that would have been liquidated under a Chapter 7 to pay these unsecured claims are still paid out.

In other words, if you owned a boat valued at $10,000 that would have been sold under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, then under Chapter 13 you must pay that amount toward nonpriority, unsecured debt. You don’t have to sell the asset to pay that off, but it does increase your overall repayment burden.

For secured debts, the value of the underlying collateral must be paid to those lenders, which can also increase your overall debt burden under the plan. And because the debts take several years to be discharged, the debtor is expected to maintain payments during that time. If they cannot, then they may find their filing dismissed and collections and foreclosure procedures restarting.

“If [a filer] falls behind, then the trustee files a motion to dismiss, which [the filer] would either allow or explain to the judge what happened, and [their] plan for getting back current,” Albaugh said. Without a plan to get back on track, Albaugh said a homeowner could be facing some trouble. “If you were using [Chapter 13] to get caught up on a house, then the foreclosure process starts back up again and you lose that bankruptcy protection,” he said.

Pros

Cons

  • Through Chapter 13, you can save a home from foreclosure
  • Effectively consolidates debt to one payment and reduces the total amount paid
  • During the repayment term, creditors cannot start or continue collection actions
  • Chapter 13 can reduce interest applied to debt
  • In some instances, offers protection to cosigners

  • The value of your nonexempt assets may be added to your debt repayment
  • The bankruptcy case can be dismissed if the filer doesn’t pay for the full duration, if they fail to pay child support or if they fail to file taxes.
  • With Chapter 13, it takes several years for debts to get discharged
  • Lenders with claims secured by collateral must be paid back an amount equal to the collateral’s value
  • Some debts might need to be paid in full, including those purchased within a certain period before the bankruptcy filing

Chapter 13 bankruptcy: FAQs

It will erase any eligible debts that are listed in the bankruptcy and paid according to the plan.

On Form 122C-1, filers work through a calculation that determines their commitment period based on their income and state medians. In addition, they may be required to determine their disposable income through Form 122C-2. These two forms establish the payment and the commitment term. But if the filer has nonexempt assets or assets used to secure some of the debt they are listing in the bankruptcy, the value of those assets might be added to the overall payment expectation.

Generally speaking, Chapter 13 is designed for debtors who have assets that they want to keep while still declaring bankruptcy. But, as noted above, the value of certain nonexempt assets or those used to secure debts listed in the bankruptcy may be added to the overall payment. The debtor can decide whether to then liquidate those assets or find other ways to pay off their value.

As long as the filer continues making payments according to the bankruptcy plan, creditors cannot pursue collection activities.

Life after bankruptcy

One of the biggest considerations people make when deciding whether to file for bankruptcy is the potential impact it will have on their future financial lives. While it can certainly help them clear out massive amounts of debt that they couldn’t handle on their own, it can also restrict their ability to take out loans and credit during the payment term of the bankruptcy by requiring them to get the court’s permission first.

Also, after the payment plan is done, a completed Chapter 13 bankruptcy can show on your credit report for up to seven years. As Albaugh noted, however, a filer will usually have already negatively impacted their credit rating through charge-offs, delinquencies, and repossessions before moving on to bankruptcy. In that case, Chapter 13 can actually help the credit restoration process and limit the amount of damage their score will incur.

One positive note to keep in mind is that the more time that passes after your bankruptcy is completed, the less impact it will have on your FICO Score.

There are ways to rebuild your credit after completing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, including by taking out new loans and credit cards. In some cases, these loans might have higher interest rates and credit cards might be secured by an initial payment until the filer re-establishes themselves and improves their credit.

But the most important step to take when rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy is to incorporate the budgeting and financial planning lessons learned in the second bankruptcy course so that you know you are only taking on debt you can manage.

Alternatives to Chapter 13

Although the number of bankruptcy filings since 2005 seems high, not everyone decides to file bankruptcy to deal with their financial issues. There are other options for consumers who find themselves unable to pay off their debts and facing multiple collections actions, and those other options might be a better choice for some consumers. These options include:

As part of the bankruptcy completion, there are two courses you need to take. The first is the pre-filing credit counseling and the second is the pre-discharge debtor education, which is a financial management course before you make your final bankruptcy plan payment. In taking both courses now, before you file, you can learn about a variety of options for debt consolidation and ways to rework your budget and re-prioritize your spending. It’s possible that this re-education can give you the skills and resources you need to create a personal plan for organizing and tackling your debt without filing for bankruptcy.

Some lenders might be open to renegotiating terms with you to reduce interest rates, create payment plans that get you caught up, remove fees and maybe even forgive portions of balances. Just remember that if this happens, you may have tax consequences since forgiven and canceled debts may be taxable. Additionally, according to Albaugh, sometimes settling with creditors on your own requires a lump-sum payment, whereas bankruptcy allows for installment payments on a lowered amount.

If you have assets that are securing debt, you may want to consider voluntarily surrendering them to your creditors to remove debt. For unsecured debts, you may want to consider liquidating your assets, such as RVs, that you own in full and use the proceeds to pay off the debt.

For consumers who can pass the Chapter 7 means test and have no nonexempt assets to protect, Chapter 7 may be a more cost-effective choice. Through a no-asset Chapter 7 filing, your debts can be discharged without payment or liquidations. This gives you a clean slate much faster and, for those with a lower income, can save a lot of money.

Conclusion

Not only does a Chapter 13 filing require a long-term commitment and an understanding of the impact on your credit, but it also carries an expense, as the filer must pay the court, the trustee and their attorney. Before you consider attempting a Chapter 13 without an attorney, note that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court instruction packet states that it is “… extremely difficult to succeed in a Chapter 11, 12 or 13 case without an attorney.”

While attorney fees can run into the thousands of dollars, they generally have installment plans that make it easier for filers to get the expert help they need on a payment plan they can afford. Attorneys also generally offer a free consultation for the initial meeting, which allows you to get to know several attorneys and find the one that you think will get you the best results at a price you can afford.

To start looking for a bankruptcy attorney, you can check with the American Bar Association, as well as state Bar Associations. You can also look for reviews online to help narrow down your choices.

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Yolander Prinzel
Yolander Prinzel |

Yolander Prinzel is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Yolander here

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7 Best Options to Refinance Student Loans – Get Your Lowest Rate

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt. We recommend you start here and check rates from the top 7 national lenders offering the best student loan refinance products. All of these lenders (except Discover) also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2019:

LenderVariable APRFixed APRMax Loan Amount 
Laurel Road Bank

2.43% - 6.65%

3.50% - 7.02%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Earnest

2.27% - 6.89%

3.47% - 7.59%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

SoFi

2.27% - 7.55%

3.49% - 7.94%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

CommonBond

2.37% - 7.95%

3.48% - 8.24%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKey

2.24% - 6.67%

3.49% - 7.50%

$125k / $175k

Visit Lender Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Citizens Bank

2.46% - 9.24%

3.45% - 9.62%

$90k / $350k

Visit Lender Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student Loans

$150k

Visit Lender Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

*Discover’s lowest rates shown include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score.

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I get approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.
LenderMinimum credit scoreEligible degreesEligible loansAnnual income
requirements
Employment
requirement
 
Laurel Road Bank

Not published

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Earnest

660

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

SoFi

Good or Excellent
score needed

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

CommonBond

660

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKey

680

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private & Federal

$24K

Yes

Learn more Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Citizens Bank

680

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

$24K

Yes

Learn more Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student Loans

Not published

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private & Federal

None

Yes

Learn more Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Diving Deeper: The best places to consider a refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 7 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. Laurel Road

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on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Laurel Road Bank : Variable Rates from 2.43% and Fixed Rates from 3.50% (with AutoPay)

Laurel Road Bank offers a highly competitive product when it comes to student loan refinancing.

Pros Pros

  • Forgiveness in the case of death or disability: They may forgive the total student loan amount owed if the borrower dies before paying off their debt. In the case that the borrower suffers a permanent disability that results in a significant reduction to their income,Laurel Road Bank may forgive some, if not all of the amount owed.
  • Offers good perks for Residents and Fellows: Laurel Road Bank allows medical and dental students to pay only $100 per month throughout their residency or fellowship and up to six months after training. It is important for borrowers to keep in mind that the interest that accrues during this time will be added on to the total loan balance.

Cons Cons

  • Higher late fees: While many lenders charge late fees,Laurel Road Bank’s late fee can be slightly steeper than most at 5% or $28 (whichever is less) for a payment that is over 15 days late.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: While not specific to Laurel Road Bank, it is important to keep in mind that you will give up certain protections when refinancing a federal loan with any private lender.

Bottom line

Bottom line

As a lender,Laurel Road Bank prides itself on offering personalized service while leveraging technology to make the student loan refinancing process a quick and simple one. Consider checking out their low-rate student loan refinancing product, which is offered in all 50 states.

2. Earnest

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on Earnest’s secure website

Earnest : Variable Rates from 2.27% and Fixed Rates from 3.47% (with AutoPay)

Earnest focuses on lending to borrowers who show promise of being financially responsible borrowers. Because of this, they offer merit-based loans versus credit-based ones. 

Pros Pros

  • Flexible repayment options: Earnest offers some of the most flexible options when it comes to repayment. They allow you to choose any term length between 5-20 years. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.
  • Ability to switch between variable and fixed rates: With Earnest, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later.
  • Loans serviced in-house: Earnest is one of just a few lenders that provides in-house loan servicing versus using a third-party servicer.

Cons Cons

  • Cannot apply with a cosigner: Unlike many of the other lenders, Earnest does not allow borrowers to apply for student loan refinancing with a cosigner.
  • No option to transfer Parent PLUS loans to Child: If you are a parent that is looking to refinance your Parent PLUS loan into your child’s name, it is important to note that this cannot be done through refinancing with Earnest.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: When refinancing with any private lender, you will give up certain protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

Earnest, who was recently acquired by Navient, is making a name for themselves within the student refinancing space. With their flexible repayment options and low rates, they are definitely an option worth exploring.

3. SoFi

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on SoFi’s secure website

SoFi : Variable rates from 2.27% and Fixed Rates from 3.49% (with AutoPay)*

SoFi was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. In order to qualify, you need to have a degree, a good job and good income.

Pros Pros

  • Borrowers can refinance private, federal and Parent PLUS loans together: Through SoFi, borrowers have the ability to combine all of their student loans (private, federal and Parent PLUS) when refinancing. Along with the ability to refinance Parent PLUS loans, parents can also transfer the PLUS loans into their child’s name.
  • Access to career coaches: SoFi offers their borrowers access to their Career Advisory Group who work one-on-one with borrowers to help plan their career paths and futures.
  • Unemployment protection: SoFi offers some help if you lose your job. During the period of unemployment they will pause your payments (for up to 12 months) and work with you to find a new job. However, just remember that any unemployment protection offered by SoFi would be weaker than the income-driven repayment options of federal loans.

Cons Cons

  • No cosigner release: While they offer you the opportunity to refinance with a cosigner, it is important to know that SoFi does not offer borrowers the opportunity to release a cosigner later on down the road.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: This con is not unique to SoFi (and you will find it with all other private lenders). Federal loans come with certain protections, including robust income-driven payment protection options. You will forfeit those protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

SoFi is really the original student loan refinance company, and is now certainly the largest. SoFi has consistently offered low interest rates and has received good reviews for service. In addition, SoFi invests heavily in building a “community” – which means you can start to get other benefits once you are a SoFi member.

SoFi has taken a radical new approach when it comes to the online finance industry, not only with student loans but in the personal loan, wealth management and mortgage markets as well. With their career development programs and networking events, SoFi shows that they have a lot to offer, not only in the lending space but in other aspects of their customers lives as well.

4. CommonBond

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on CommonBond’s secure website

CommonBond : Variable Rates from 2.37% and Fixed Rates from 3.48% (with AutoPay)

CommonBond started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate).

Pros Pros

  • Hybrid loan option: CommonBond offers a unique “Hybrid” rate option in which rates are fixed for five years and then become variable for five years. This option can be a good choice for borrowers who intend to make extra payments and plan on paying off their student loans within the first five years. If you can a better interest rate on the Hybrid loan than the Fixed-rate option, you may end up paying less over the life of the loan.
  • Social promise: CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.
  • “CommonBridge” unemployment protection program: CommonBond is here to help if you lose your job. Similar to SoFi, they will pause your payments and assist you in finding a new job.

Cons Cons

  • Does not offer refinancing in the following states: Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota and Vermont.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: When refinancing with any private lender, you will give up certain protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

CommonBond not only offers low rates but is also making a social impact along the way. Consider checking out everything that CommonBond has to offer in term of student loan refinancing.

5. LendKey

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on LendKey’s secure website

LendKey : Variable Rates from 2.24% and Fixed Rates from 3.49% (with AutoPay)

LendKey works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

Pros Pros

  • Opportunity to work with local banks and credit unions: LendKey is a platform of community banks and credit unions, which are known for providing a more personalized customer experience and competitive interest rates.
  • Offers interest-only payment repayment: Many of the lenders on LendKey offer the option to make interest-only payments for the first four years of repayment.

Cons Cons

  • Rates can vary depending on where you live: The rate that is advertised on LendKey is the lowest possible rate among all of its lenders, and some of these lenders are only available to residents of specific areas. So even if you have an excellent credit report, there is still a possibility that you will not receive the lowest rate, depending on geographic location.
  • No Parent PLUS refinancing available: Unlike several of the other student loan refinancing companies, borrowers do not have the ability to refinance Parent PLUS loans with LendKey.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: As when refinancing federal loans with any private lender, you will give up your federal protections if you refinance your federal loan to a private one.

Bottom line

Bottom line

LendKey is a good option to keep in mind if you are looking for an alternative to big bank lending. If you prefer working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey may be the route to uncovering your best offer.

6. Citizens Bank

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on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Citizens Bank (RI) : Variable Rates from 2.46% and Fixed Rates from 3.45% (with AutoPay)

Citizens Bank offers student loan refinancing for both private and federal loans through its Education Refinance Loan.

Pros Pros

No degree is required to refinance: If you are a borrower who did not graduate, with Citizens Bank, you are still eligible to refinance the loans that you accumulated over the period you did attend. In order to do so, borrowers much no longer be enrolled in school.

Loyalty discount: Citizens Bank offers a 0.25% discount if you already have an account with Citizens.

Cons Cons

Cannot transfer Parent PLUS loans to Child: If you are looking to refinance your Parent PLUS loan into your child’s name, this cannot be done through Citizens Bank.

You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: Any time that you refinance a federal loan to a private loan, you will give up the protections, forgiveness programs and repayment plans that come with the federal loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

The Education Refinance Loan offered by Citizens Bank is a good one to consider, especially if you are looking to stick with a traditional banking option. Consider looking into the competitive rates that Citizens Bank has to offer.

7. Discover

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on Discover Student Loans’s secure website

Pros Pros

  • In-house loan servicing: When refinancing with Discover, they service their loans in-house versus using a third-party servicer.
  • Offer a variety of deferment options: Discover offers four different deferment options for borrowers. If you decide to go back to school, you may be eligible for in-school deferment as long as you are enrolled for at least half-time. In addition to in-school deferment, Discover offers deferment to borrowers on active military duty (up to 3 years), in eligible public service careers (up to 3 years) and those in a health professions residency program (up to 5 years).

Cons Cons

  • Performs a hard credit pull: While most lenders do a soft credit check, Discover does perform a hard pull on your credit.
  • No Parent PLUS refinancing available: Discover does not offer borrowers the option of refinancing their Parent PLUS loans.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: Be careful when deciding to refinance your federal student loans because when doing so, you will lose access federal protections, forgiveness programs and repayment plans.

Bottom line

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a well-established bank to refinance your student loans, Discover may be the way to go. Just keep in mind that if you apply for a student loan refinance with Discover, they will do a hard pull on your credit.

1. Discover’s lowest rates shown include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

 

Additional Student Loan Refinance Companies

In addition to the Top 7, there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders:

Traditional Banks

  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 1.95% – 4.45% APR. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 3.75% and fixed rates starting at 3.99%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

Credit Unions

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 3.75% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve (or have served), the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 4.81% and fixed rates start at 4.29%.
  • Thrivent: Partnered with Thrivent Federal Credit Union, Thrivent Student Loan Resources offers variable rates starting at 4.00% APR and fixed rates starting at 3.99% APR. It is important to note that in order to qualify for refinancing through Thrivent, you must be a member of the Thrivent Federal Credit Union. If not already a member, borrowers can apply for membership during the student refinance application process.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $150,000 and rates start as low as 4.05% (variable) and 3.99% APR (fixed).

Online Lending Institutions

  • Education Loan Finance:This is a student loan refinancing option that is offered through SouthEast Bank. They have competitive rates with variable rates ranging from 2.80% – 6.01% APR and fixed rates ranging from 3.29% – 6.69% APR.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 4.53% – 7.20% (fixed) and 4.30% – 6.97% APR (variable).
  • IHelp : This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.00% to 8.00% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Purefy: Purefy lenders offer variable rates ranging from 2.82%-8.42% APR and fixed interest rates ranging from 3.75% – 9.66% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years. Just answer a few questions on their site, and you can get an indication of the rate.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.

Is it worth it to refinance student loans?

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance student loans, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by refinancing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance your student loans to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Life Events, Pay Down My Debt

23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Going Into Debt

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Debt

A marriage proposal can lead to much happiness, but it also can mean having to purchase an expensive engagement ring and, subsequently, getting into debt. If the diamond industry has anything to say about your engagement ring purchase, you’ll spend anywhere from one to three months’ salary on a diamond engagement ring. On average, couples spent $4,000 on engagement rings in 2012, according to a 2013 report from Jewelers of America.

However, a little forethought and some creativity can lead to significant savings and even a debt-free engagement ring. Think of it this way: It can be far more romantic to propose with a paid-for ring than to drag the equivalent of a car payment into your marriage. Here’s how you can purchase that ring without breaking your bank.

Set a budget

1. The first step you should take in the ring-buying process is setting a realistic budget for yourself. Don’t just go shopping with no maximum price in mind, as that may lead to you making a purchase you can’t really afford. If you know what you want to spend beforehand, and make sure you stick to that, you are already showing the kind of discipline that can help you avoid serious debt.

Heirlooms are a wallet’s best friend

Jewelry passed from generation to generation denotes sentimentality and fiscal prudence. Ask your family, or your future spouse’s family, if they have any heirlooms they would like to pass on. Keep in mind: Heirloom jewelry will be free, but the service and upgrades can run from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you do obtain an heirloom ring, consider these three options.

2. Leave the ring intact (except for resizing and repair).

3. Create a new setting for an heirloom diamond.

4. Incorporate a new band into the old ring design.

Buy your diamond on the cheap-ish

Real diamonds are never truly inexpensive, but knowing what and when to buy can save you a bundle.

5. Shop in the summertime. Because winter proposals are very popular (think Valentine’s Day), it can make a lot more financial sense to buy your diamond in the off-season. The summer months can offer stable pricing at a discount.

6. Buy diamonds shy of critical weights. If you want a full-carat diamond, look for something around .9 carats instead. You’ll get close to the same look at a nice discount.

7. Look before you buy. Compare diamonds at various areas of the color and clarity spectrum. If you can’t tell the difference in the diamond’s appearance, choose the less-expensive option. Also, be sure to comparison shop at different retailers; don’t just go with the first ring you love, as you may find something very similar, for less, at another shop.

Replace the diamond, save the difference

Thanks to the diamond industry’s multi-decade, multi-billion dollar advertising campaign, diamonds remain the most popular stone in engagement rings, but forgoing the traditional gem can save you thousands. Consider these emerging trends.

8. Choose synthetic diamonds. Diamonds created in labs share the same properties as mined diamonds, but they cost up to 75% less than traditional diamonds, and they are a great choice for those seeking to avoid conflict diamonds.

9. Replace a diamond with moissanite. A gemologist will never tell you this, but moissanite (a synthetic material) is the hardest gemstone used in jewelry next to diamonds, and it ranks high on clarity and color scales, too. It’s not a valuable gem, but it is beautiful. (Pro tip: Ask your future spouse before you go this route. Many people do prefer authenticity.)

10. Pick an alternative gemstone. Pearls or jade are popular choices outside of the United States, and garnet and topaz are gaining popularity stateside. If you want something out of the ordinary, consider alternative gemstones, but be aware that some gemstones are actually even more expensive than diamonds.

11. Skip gemstones altogether. Ornamental rings (especially knots) are popular choices for those who want to skip traditional gemstones. Handcrafted gold rings can be purchased for as little as $200 on Etsy.

Forgo tradition

Some of the best ways to save money on engagement rings involve breaking tradition, and some couples are more open to an alternative ring style than others. These are a few ring choices that definitely buck tradition.

12. Wooden rings: Wooden engagement rings occupy a large niche in the market, and can be a cost-effective alternative to precious metals. Wooden rings run anywhere from $50 for simple bands to several thousand dollars for rings that include ornate details and gemstones.

13. Tattooed rings: Some couples chose to get tattoos instead of rings, citing that nothing says forever quite like a tattoo. Keep in mind that this may be a dangerous option, as you will have a much harder time removing a tattoo than a ring if your relationship ends (either before or after the marriage).

14. Leather rings: Leather rings can include braiding, engraving and colored beads, among other stylings, and will certainly save you a bundle compared to a diamond. If you don’t want to go with real leather, faux leather can work as well.

15. Go dutch. If the ring in question is outside of your price range, consider asking your sweetheart to split the cost with you. As you’ll be combining finances after you’re married, this may actually lead to some great money-focused conversations.

Save money now, upgrade later

If your partner has a big diamond taste, but you’ve got a small budget, then consider upgrading later on. Here’s how.

16. Propose with costume jewelry. If you think you can save up for the real ring by the time of your wedding, an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry may be just right for the proposal.

17. Build as you go. Start with a simple band and stone, and add more or bigger gems for anniversary milestones, or upgrade when you can afford it.

Buy used

Consider buying a ring that already has a history. You can have the ring professionally cleaned to give it new beauty and make it “yours.”

18. Visit pawn shops. You may be buying the ring of a recent divorcee, but the savings can be irresistible.

19. Search estate sales. If you regularly shop estate sales, you might uncover a vintage ring at a spectacular price. Rings that aren’t presented with a certificate of authenticity will give you room to negotiate on price, but you may accidentally buy overpriced junk. This technique is best for people with an eye for authenticity.

20. Shop on eBay. Pre-owned rings from eBay can represent about a 30% discount over identical new rings, and many owners provide certificates of authenticity.

Creative ways to get cash

Whether you’ll spend a few hundred dollars or thousands, an engagement ring doesn’t have to mean big debt. Consider a few creative ways to save the cash you need to pay for a ring in full.

21. Sell your memorabilia. Your partner may not be too enthusiastic about your KISS memorabilia, or your 27 signed hockey jerseys. Selling these to help pay for an engagement ring will be a double sign of your love.

22. Save up, way in advance. If you’re not currently in a serious relationship, but you think you’re the marrying kind, consider setting aside some cash for a future ring purchase. While some people may find this a strange thing to do, there is no harm in being over-prepared. If you don’t end up using the money to buy a ring, it will be on-hand for other potential purchases (think a wonderful vacation, or a luxury item you really want).

23. Get a side hustle. People are increasingly taking on side hustles to earn extra cash, even if they have full-time jobs. This can include selling your artistic creations on Etsy, becoming an Uber or Lyft driver or writing freelance articles. Then you can put all the extra money you earn into an account for a ring.

Consider a personal loan

It is definitely ideal to be able to purchase an engagement ring without going into debt at all. However, if you simply have to finance at least part of the ring’s purchase, you might consider a personal loan, as you may be able to get a better interest rate than with a credit card, depending on your own credit and where you are able to obtain your loan.

Bottom line

Getting married can be an expensive undertaking, and you don’t want to put yourself in a difficult financial place just by purchasing the engagement ring. Keep in mind the alternatives to the traditional pricey diamond, and also remember that the love you share with your partner should be far more important than buying a ring with a sky-high price tag. Avoiding debt as much as you can also means you’ll be starting off your new marriage on a financially healthy note.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here