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Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

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.

couple talking to a financial advisor
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If you have little knowledge on the topic of personal finance and are struggling with your own money issues, you might want to think about getting credit counseling.

Credit counselors can help you set a budget and advise you on how to manage your debt, which can include credit card debt, student loan debt and even housing debt.

Reputable credit counseling organizations have certified counselors who are trained in consumer credit, budgeting, and money and debt management. Credit counselors will work with you to come up with an individualized plan to address any money problems you may have. This can be done in person, over the phone or online.

Seeking credit counseling is typically voluntary but can be required when filing for bankruptcy. In this guide, we’ll answer some key questions you might have about credit counseling and whether it’s right for you.

How do you find a credit counselor?

Before settling on a credit counseling organization, do your homework to make sure they are not only reputable but will also be the most helpful for your particular financial circumstances. Check with your state’s attorney general and consumer protection agency to see if there have been any complaints filed against the organization.

Ensure that the organization is accredited and certified. Check to see if they are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. Most non-profit credit counseling agencies are associated with these organizations.

When researching agencies, first ask what information or educational materials they provide for free. Organizations that charge for information are typically more interested in their bottom line than in helping you. Also, ask about the types of services they offer. Limited services can be a red flag. The fewer services they offer, the fewer solutions they may provide for you.

You should also attempt to understand the organization’s fee system — not only how much services will cost but also how employees are paid. If employees make more based on the number of services you receive, look for another credit counseling organization.

MagnifyMoney has come up with a list of some of the best credit counseling options, which is a great place to start. If you are looking for credit counseling as a pre-bankruptcy measure, the U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit counseling agencies that can provide pre-bankruptcy counseling.

How much does credit counseling cost?

Credit counseling can involve both start-up and monthly maintenance costs. The Department of Justice says that $50 per month is a reasonable fee. Further, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) suggests that a start-up fee should not exceed $75 and monthly maintenance fees should not be more than $50 per month.

Credit counseling agencies may offer fee waivers or reductions, depending on your income levels. Where credit counseling is required, the DOJ says that, if household income is less than 150% of the current poverty line, the client is entitled to a fee waiver or reduction.

Other regulations, such as when fees can be collected and circumstances that would warrant a fee reduction or waiver, may also be outlined by your state.

How long does credit counseling last?

While the length of your credit counseling session depends on the complexity of your financial problems, sessions typically last 60 minutes. After the initial session, credit counselors will follow up to ensure you understand the actions you need to take and that you have been able to get started on the plan they developed. Another session may be necessary depending on how your financial situation unfolds following the first session.

What do you accomplish with credit counseling?

According to the NFCC, reputable counseling involves three things. First, there must be a review of a client’s current financial situation. You cannot move forward unless you know from where you are starting. Second, there should be an analysis of the factors that contributed to the client’s bad financial situation. You don’t want bad habits to undermine your progress. Lastly, there must be a plan to address the situation without incurring negative amortization of debt. Negative amortization occurs when the amount of debt you have increases because you aren’t paying enough to cover the interest, even though you are making payments.

Understanding these three factors of good credit counseling gives you a place to start in improving your financial situation.

What is the difference between credit counseling and debt management programs?

A debt management plan is just one solution a credit counselor may recommend based on your financial situation. Having a debt management plan is not the same as credit counseling.

A debt management plan involves the credit counseling organization acting as an intermediary between you and your creditors. Each month you will deposit an agreed upon amount of money to your credit counseling agency, which they will, in turn, apply it to your debts.

The credit counseling agency works with your creditors to determine how the amount will be applied each month, and negotiates interest rates and any fee waivers. It’s important to call your creditors directly to check whether they are open to negotiating interest rates or offering waivers for fees. In some cases, a credit counseling firm may promise to negotiate those items for you but be stonewalled when they discover a creditor isn’t even open to the discussion.

Before agreeing to a debt management plan, make sure you understand any fees associated and any choices you might be giving up. For example, some debt management plans may require you to give up opening up new lines of credit for a specified period of time. Remember that a debt management plan is just one of many solutions a credit counselor may advise you to consider.

How does credit counseling impact your credit score?

Not directly. While the fact you are in credit counseling may show up on a credit report, that does not affect your credit score. The actions you take as a result of credit counseling, however, can impact your score.

For example, if you don’t choose a reputable credit counseling agency, the agency may submit a payment on your behalf late to your creditors. So even though you submitted your payment on time to the credit counseling agency, your score may still be dinged. This is just one reason why it’s important to make sure you use a reputable credit counseling agency.

Who should consider credit counseling, and when?

While credit counseling is sometimes required, such as in instances of bankruptcy, you always have an ability to seek credit counseling.

Boston-based Bankruptcy attorney Julie Franklin explains, “For bankruptcy purposes, there are two course requirements — a debtor must complete the first credit counseling course prior to filing and obtain a certificate that is filed with the court in their initial bankruptcy petition documents. Post bankruptcy filing, the debtor is required to take a second course, and upon completion, the certificate that is issued must be filed with the court in order for the debtor to obtain an order of discharge.”

Anyone struggling with their personal finances can consider credit counseling as an option. Franklin also notes that “the first credit counseling course is a tool for debtors, as it compels the individual taking the course to closely examine the household assets, income, liabilities and spending habits to determine if there’s a way to save the debtor from having to file bankruptcy.”

If you are considering bankruptcy, you will have to attend some credit counseling anyhow, but doing so could also help you avoid filing for bankruptcy at all. Keep in mind that filing for bankruptcy will always have a significant effect on your credit score, and can hurt your changes for getting loans or new credit for years to come. If you can avoid it, you probably should.

Voluntary credit counseling might not help if you are already being sued to have a debt collected. However, you may be able to negotiate terms with the debt collector that result in a withdrawal of the suit if you agree to enroll in credit counseling and possibly a debt management program. Not all creditors will agree to such terms, but it is possible.

Bottom line

Many people run into trouble with their finances, whether they have too much credit card debt, are struggling to make their housing payments or just find general budgeting to be a challenge. Some people are dealing with more serious issues, such as potential bankruptcy. There are credit counselors available to help you with any difficult financial situation you may be facing. The most important thing is to ensure you work with a reputable credit counseling agency, so do your research first. A good credit counselor can help you get on the road to financial health, but working with a bad one can lead to more problems than you already have.

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.

Liz Stapleton
Liz Stapleton |

Liz Stapleton is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Liz here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

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:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
Laurel Road BankA+

20


Years

3.50% - 7.02%


Fixed Rate

2.43% - 6.65%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

EarnestA+

20


Years

3.47% - 7.72%


Fixed Rate

2.41% - 6.99%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

SoFiA+

20


Years

3.49% - 8.14%


Fixed Rate*

2.41% - 7.89%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

CommonBondA+

20


Years

3.48% - 8.44%


Fixed Rate

2.41% - 8.19%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKeyA+

20


Years

3.64% - 7.50%


Fixed Rate

2.38% - 6.81%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Citizens BankA+

20


Years

3.59% - 9.85%


Fixed Rate

2.60% - 9.60%


Variable Rate

$90k / $350k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student LoansA+

20


Years

Fixed Rate

Variable Rate

$150k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

1. 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

LEARN MORE Secured

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

Earnest : Variable Rates from 2.41% 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

LEARN MORE Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

SoFi : Variable rates from 2.41% 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

LEARN MORE Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

CommonBond : Variable Rates from 2.41% 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

LEARN MORE Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

LendKey : Variable Rates from 2.38% and Fixed Rates from 3.64% (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

LEARN MORE Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Citizens Bank (RI) : Variable Rates from 2.60% and Fixed Rates from 3.59% (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

LEARN MORE Secured

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 4.51% – 7.18% 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]

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3 Money Tips That Don’t Help Low-Income Earners

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“Can you look at my finances and tell me what I can do to get ahead?”

Even though I’m not a financial professional, my friend wanted my insight. She can’t afford a financial planner, and she figured it might help to have an outside view of what’s going on with her money.

She turned to me because I write about money on the internet, and she thought I had some knowledge that might help her — despite the fact that almost everything written online about managing money is practically useless for many low-income earners.

The reality of the situation is that almost all the financial advice offered online is aimed at the middle class. Here are some of the “basic” tips that many of us take for granted, but that are basically useless for someone who isn’t earning a living wage.

3 financial tips that may not work for low-income earners

1. ‘Cut out the unnecessary spending’

Once upon a time, 17 years ago, I was pregnant and my then-husband and I were struggling to make ends meet. Both of us were in school. About once a month we splurged and spent $10 on Wendy’s. A couple years later, we were still poor and in grad school. I carried a calculator with me to the grocery store to tally up what we bought; if we had room, we could buy a $3 loaf of focaccia bread as a special treat.

Let’s be honest. That $10 a month at Wendy’s wasn’t breaking our budget. And for many people who work 40 hours a week — or more — at minimum wage jobs, spending a few bucks here and there on a fast food meal isn’t the reason that they don’t have any money at the end of the month.

My friend is in that boat right now. If she’s lucky, by the time she pays rent on her modest two-bedroom apartment (her son lives with her), she has enough money left over to pay for gas to get to and from work, groceries, and insurance. She manages to avoid getting into debt, but just barely.

While looking through my friend’s spending, I was hard-pressed to find any place to cut — she was literally already cut down to the bone. Just about everything she spent money on was a necessity. Telling low-income people to just cut out one latte a day or skip dining out twice a week isn’t practical; they aren’t spending money on these things anyway.

2. ‘Create a monthly budget so you have a plan for your money’

Sure, you can track your spending when you’re poor, but it’s frustrating. The idea is that tracking your spending will help you create a budget. And when you have a budget, you can get your spending under control and plan for the future. Unfortunately, creating a budget often feels futile to those with low incomes.

And tracking your spending to build that budget?

Well, I knew where every penny was going back in my own scarcity days. I didn’t have a budget, but I was painfully aware of the fact that I paid $435 for rent on our one-bedroom apartment and that I could spend $35 on groceries for the week. (This awareness is also why our groceries were skewed to low-cost items like ramen and canned vegetables.)

The book “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America” by Linda Tirado makes the point that middle class financial goals focus on long-term results. You create a budget today, presumably so you can meet other, more ambitious financial goals later.

However, when you’re living hand to mouth, you’re instead adapting to short-term circumstances, Tirado points out. Budgeting isn’t truly designed for short-term goals. You might not even know what the month holds in store for you.

My friend uses her last paycheck of the month to pay the following month’s rent. There’s just enough left over to buy groceries. The bulk of another paycheck in the month goes toward paying bills — some of which might be late or almost-late. You can see how this situation of being behind, or almost behind, creates a pattern that’s practically impossible to get out of, especially if you aren’t making a living wage.

My friend is fortunate enough to manage to stay out of debt, but she’s not sure if that would still be the case if she had an unexpected expense. Like 40 percent of Americans, if she faced a $400 emergency, she would probably have to turn to debt in order to cover it.

3. ‘Start a savings account’

Telling someone who’s lucky to have $10 to spend on Wendy’s at the end of the month to start a savings account is pretty useless. Sure, back then I could have put that $10 into savings. But then I would have had nothing to look forward to. That $10 — and some months it was actually $2 for a couple of Frostys — was what we had for “fun” money.

Today, the pressure of debt exacts a heavy psychological toll on many Americans. Many low-income Americans only have a few bucks each week to spend on something that helps them cope with the realities of their lives. There are nearly 40 million people living in poverty, and we act like the reason they can’t get ahead is because they spend $5 on a value meal as they head home from working a double shift on a Saturday night.

Shaming someone working a full-time job and just getting by for making the “bad decision” of spending $5 on a value meal at the end of the week, instead of putting it in a savings account, doesn’t address the underlying problem.

For many low-income workers, starting a savings account just doesn’t make sense. First of all, they might not even qualify for a savings account. And once you get past that hurdle, it seems pointless to be saving $40 per month and still having just as bleak an outlook. Even investing that money — something that’s way out of reach for many low-income Americans — won’t provide enough to retire on.

Is making more money a viable solution? Maybe not

In the end, I had to give my friend the bad news: “I’m sorry. You just need to make more money.”

She doesn’t have a second job, so she could conceivably start a part-time gig and boost her monthly income. Her main job doesn’t pay a living wage, and she’s barely scraping by. Idaho, where we live, has one of the highest percentages of workers earning minimum wage employment in the nation. However, even though the cost of living is relatively low, it’s not low enough for many workers. In fact, 46 percent of the people in Idaho Falls, the city where I live, find themselves in or near poverty.

And this is the case in many other places around the country. In order to get ahead, many workers have to make more money. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

My friend would have to take time away from her son if she took on another job. Can we honestly say that she doesn’t deserve a little down time with her family, just because she doesn’t have a living wage job? Additionally, her health isn’t great right now and she doesn’t have the money for doctor visits — no employer-sponsored insurance. Working another job would likely break her body down further. Can she afford more health issues?

Trying to make an additional part-time job work under these circumstances doesn’t always make sense, even if you could make more money doing it. Working 50 or 60 hours a week, just to potentially have enough to start an emergency fund, might not seem worth it to someone, especially if that extra work doesn’t come with health benefits, a retirement plan, or anything else we like to associate with “good” jobs.

My friend has a college degree (she paid off the student loans a few years ago), but it hasn’t yielded the promised decent-paying job. She could get more education, but where would she find the time to go back to school? Between one full-time job and caring for her son, that doesn’t leave much time for educational pursuits. And there’s no guarantee that this next debt-purchased degree would result in a pay increase.

Systemic issues weigh down low-income earners

No one likes to be a Debbie Downer, but there are some true systemic issues that weigh low-income earners down. And it’s not just about student loan debt weighing down millennials and keeping them from achieving financial and life milestones — although that’s definitely an issue.

Sometimes, you just don’t have the support systems in place. For example, Idaho just passed a law that expands Medicaid coverage to a portion of its population. However, this law also includes work reporting requirements. Most of those who qualify under this new eligibility already work, but now they have to go through a burdensome process of reporting.

The exact rules haven’t been worked out, but for those without internet access, or a work schedule that allows them to fill out the paperwork and turn it into an office, the reporting requirements result in additional burdens to an already-burdened segment of the workforce. Similar rules in Arkansas and Kentucky were recently struck down in the courts because the barriers resulted in lost healthcare coverage.

Access to education, safety net programs and other resources requires time or money — and sometimes both. Our system of work, especially for those making minimum wage, isn’t designed to promote an abundance of time or money.

Even driving for a rideshare company, that ubiquitous side gig of the middle class, might be out of reach for low-wage earners. Lyft requires a four-door car and, in Idaho Falls, that car must be 2005 or newer. My friend’s 2002 two-door beater wouldn’t make the cut — and her credit file is too thin to qualify for her for a reasonable rate on an auto loan, assuming she could make the payments anyway.

Bottom line

When it feels like you’re going nowhere, and you’re already living on the edge, the hard reality is that you don’t need judgment for that $1 frosty — and you certainly don’t need another article about how to trim the fat from your monthly budget so you can start saving for the future.

There are ways to get out of the paycheck to paycheck life, but the path out usually requires a support system, extra time to make more money and the health to manage it all.

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.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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