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4 New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

The New Year is upon us – it’s a time for celebration, reflection, and inevitably, for setting resolutions. From achieving financial goals such as repaying student loan debt to health-related goals such as losing weight, we are often pressured to set bold aspirations for the upcoming year. But despite the popularity of setting New Year’s resolutions, they can be fairly difficult to stick with if you set your goals too high or merely set them out of obligation. You can set goals at any time in your life, for any reason, and a new year doesn’t have to always mean a completely new you. 


For the sake of taking some of the burden off of the holiday, we’re listing out some New Year’s resolutions you can keep through the year – and feel great about, too.


Start Volunteering

Volunteering isn’t just for students looking to build their resume. Volunteering for causes you believe in is a great way to build friendships, keep busy, and make connections in your community. Volunteer Match is a great place to find opportunities to support charities, nonprofits, organizations and causes near you. Volunteering will leave you feeling empowered and more fulfilled through knowing you’ve made an impact. Consider taking on the New Year with less stress about adding to your own life and shift the focus to giving back!


Stop Procrastinating… As Much

Here’s to making 2020 the year of getting ahead. While it can sometimes be difficult to not put work off until the last minute, make a resolution to spend your free time getting ahead on things – in the end it will leave you with less stress and more free time than you intended on having. Sometimes this requires a shift of mindset, but it is doable. Make 2020 the year you start putting your top priorities first.


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

No matter your goals for the upcoming year, understand that great things take time. Focus on making improvements where you can and don’t let minor setbacks take you off track. Life can come at you quickly, so it’s important to keep a level head and understand that most bad things are temporary and will pass. Enter 2020 with a plan for managing stress, taking things one step at a time, and having patience – you may just find that this is the most effective resolution you can set.


Revisit Your Resume

While you may be happy with your current job and plan on sticking with it, a new year is a good reason to give your resume a tune-up. What skills have you acquired over the previous year? How many years of experience do you now have in your field? Taking stock of what you bring can help you gain a new understanding of the salary you deserve, make you feel accomplished for how far you’ve come, or even help you set goals for your professional life in the year to come.


There you go! Now you have four New Year’s resolutions that you can start in 2020 and keep throughout the year. Hopefully these simple, achievable resolutions take some stress off of your holiday and allow you to look into 2020 with a positive and stress-free mindset.



Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

Don’t Bet the House: Dangers of Paying Student Loan Debt with HELOCs

This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. Always consult a professional for guidance around your personal financial situation.


By Caroline Farhat


If you’re struggling with student loan debt, you have likely thought of a multitude of ways to pay off your loans as quickly as possible. If you have a house with equity, one way you may have considered is applying for a home equity line of credit (HELOC). But before you sign on the dotted line, first consider the dangers of using a HELOC for student loans.


 What is a HELOC?

A HELOC is a line of credit you borrow from the equity of your house. You may borrow up to a certain limit, but you’ll have to repay the amount borrowed plus interest. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The interest rate on a HELOC may be variable or fixed, but the vast majority of HELOCs have a variable interest rate. 
  • The limit of how much you can borrow is determined by the value of your home and the loan amount on your first mortgage. Generally, lenders limit the amount of the HELOC to 85% of the appraised amount minus any other loans on the house. This means if your home is valued at $300,000 and you owe $200,000 on your mortgage, you have $100,000 of equity in the home, but you will be limited to borrow $55,000 for the HELOC. 
  • Remember there may be fees associated with obtaining a HELOC, from closing costs to transaction costs. These need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether a HELOC is the right choice for paying your student loan debt. 


Dangers of Using HELOC

  1. You’re putting your house at risk. Since your house is the collateral for a HELOC you risk losing your home to foreclosure if you cannot make the payments. If you have an unstable income or suddenly cannot afford the payments should the interest rate rise, you jeopardize losing your home. This differs from student loan debt in that student loans have no collateral. This is not to say that you get a free pass when you miss student loan payments. After 270 days of missed payments on your federal student loans, your debt goes into default, which will affect your credit score and may lead to the garnishment of wages. The federal government can even sue you and force you to sell your home, though this is less likely to happen than if you miss payments on a HELOC.
  2. You don’t have as much payment flexibility. If you ever have trouble making payments on your HELOC, it may be nearly impossible to change your payment options. However, with federal student loans, you have the option of deferment or forbearance. 
  3. Your payments can vary based on the market. Generally, a HELOC has a variable interest rate that can increase during the time of the loan, and in turn, increase your payments. There is no predicting if or when your interest rate may rise. Typically HELOC interest rates are based on the prime rate which is affected by the market. While your payment could decrease, it could also increase. Although there is typically a cap to the interest rate, it can vary greatly and be as much as a 15% difference from your initial interest rate.   

The bottom line is the danger of using a HELOC to pay off student loan debt is you are taking an unsecured loan, your student loan, and making it a secured loan, by putting your house as collateral. This is dangerous if your financial situation changes and you are unable to make the payments.    


Better Ways to Pay Off Student Loan Debt

There are many other options to consider before you decide to take out a HELOC to pay for your student loan debt. Some options require little to no extra time to help pay off your loans quicker. You could consider the following: 


1. Refinance Student Loans

Refinancing student loans* may be a great option to pay them off quicker. You could be eligible for a lower interest rate which can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. You can see just how much you can save each month, and over the lifetime of your loan, by using our student loan refinancing calculator.


2. Consider a different repayment plan

Unless you selected a different repayment plan when your grace period ended, you are making student loan payments based on the 10-year standard repayment period. If you need to change your payment plan, you may be eligible for different plans, such as income-based repayment and graduated repayment. Contact your lender to find out what options are available to you.   


3. Start a Side Hustle

A side hustle is an additional job that you hold outside of your normal employment. A side hustle could be a side business you start to sell items you hand-make, dog walking, babysitting, and endless other options. Depending on your side hustle, you could be earning serious money to make extra payments towards your student loans. 


Related: Yes, You Need A Side Hustle  


4. “Found money” can be used as an extra payment

Ever been given cash as a gift, received a cash rebate or earned cashback on your credit cards? All those could be considered “found money,” money you weren’t expecting to find but received. Take that found money and make an extra payment toward your student loan debt. Any extra payment towards your student loans can help pay it off quicker, just remember to apply the extra payment towards the principal of the loan.  


5. Auto-debit your student loans

Some lenders allow you to set up auto-debit and in return give you an interest

rate reduction, typically between 0.25-0.50%. It’s important to note that some lenders, like ELFI, build in cost savings based on your good credit, rather than applying a discount for auto-debit, so don’t worry if your lender does not have this option. You might automatically be saving more money just by having good credit. 


Bottom Line

Obtaining a HELOC to pay off your student loans is a risky move. As you can see, you have many other options to explore before betting your house to pay down your student debt.    



*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.


Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

U.S. Cities With the Most Student Loan Debt

By Kat Tretina

Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been featured in publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and more. She is focused on helping people pay down their debt and boost their income.


You’ve heard it on the news: student loans are a national epidemic. According to Experian, Americans carry $35,359 in student loan debt, on average. However, where you go to college and where you live can have a big impact on how much you need to borrow to pay for school and how much you’ll owe after graduation.


10 Metropolitan areas with the highest levels of student loan debt

While student debt is pervasive, it affects some metropolitan areas more severely than others. Experian reported that people who live in or near college towns tend to have the highest student loan balances.

To understand where education debt is the worst, we looked at 10 cities with the highest average levels of student loan debt based on Experian’s latest data.



10: Charlottesville, VA

Average Student Loan Debt: $42,476


Charlottesville is home to a number of universities and colleges including the American National University and the University of Virginia.


Among people aged 25 years and up, 54 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s far greater than the 37 percent of all Americans who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.


The large number of people with a degree is likely why people working in Charlottesville earn more money than the typical person, too. The median income for all Americans is $32,838. In Charlottesville, that number jumps to $36,400.


The biggest industries in Charlottesville are management and business services, accommodations and food service, and sales.


Related: The Average Cost of College



9. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA

Average Student Loan Debt: $43,290


There are dozens of universities in the Atlanta area, including Georgia State, Emory University, and Morehouse College.


Atlanta residents tend to be highly educated; over 43 percent of its population has a post-secondary degree. That benefit turns into higher salaries. The median earnings for the area is $38,400.


Finance, healthcare, and manufacturing are three of the biggest industries in the region. The largest employers, based on employee headcount, are Northside Hospital, The Home Depot, Emory University & Emory Healthcare, and Delta Air Lines.



8. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA

Average Student Loan Debt: $43,674


Many well-known and expensive universities are located in or near San Francisco, such as Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.


The Bay Area in California — which includes San Francisco — has grown by 600,000 people since 2010. That growth is because the San Francisco metropolitan area is the base for many major companies, including Salesforce, Wells Fargo, and Uber.


Because of the prestigious employers in the area, San Francisco has much higher levels of degree attainment. Over 53 percent of the population has a post-secondary degree, and the median earnings are $50,900.


Related: Best Cities for Young Professionals



7. Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, DC, VA, MD

Average Student Loan Debt: $43,797


The Washington D.C. area has many elite universities and colleges, including Georgetown University and American University.


The biggest industries are government, public school administration, and healthcare. To succeed in these fields, you need higher education, so it’s no wonder that over 58 percent of the population has received a college degree.


The median earnings are $56,700. However, the cost of living in Washington D.C. is quite high, so people may struggle to afford both their living expenses and student loan payments.



6. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA

Average Student Loan Debt: $44,294


If you live near Santa Barbara, you may have gone to school at the University of California, Antioch University, or Westmont College.


The top industries in the area are in education, hospitality, and healthcare. Major employers include the Four Seasons, the University of California, and Pacific Diagnostic Lab.


About 52 percent of the population has a college degree, and the median earnings are $38,800.



5. Gainesville, FL

Average Student Loan Debt: $44,508


Gainesville, a city in northern Florida, is well known as the home of the University of Florida. It’s a relatively small college town, with just over 133,000 residents.


Over 52 percent of Gainesville residents have a college degree. However, the median income is lower than the national average, mostly because the biggest employers are in the service and retail industries, which can have lower wages. In Gainesville, the median income is just $30,800, which can make repaying your student loans difficult.



4. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA

Average Student Loan Debt: $45,396


The Santa Cruz area has one major college: The University of California-Santa Cruz. It’s also one of the region’s biggest employers, along with local government and administration offices and hospitals.


More than 50 percent of the metropolitan area’s population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median income for Santa Cruz is $40,200.



3. Ann Arbor, MI 

Average Student Loan Debt $45,668


Located outside of Detroit, Ann Arbor has a number of universities in it. The largest is the University of Michigan, which has over 28,000 undergraduate students.


Besides being the biggest school, the University of Michigan is also the area’s top employer, followed by Trinity Health and Ann Arbor Public Schools.


Ann Arbor has the highest percentage of college educated people on this list; 72 percent of the population have a bachelor’s degree or higher. With so many people getting degrees, it’s no surprise that Ann Arbor is among the top three in terms of student loan debt.


Read More: 5 Financial Tips for After You Refinance Student Loans



2. Corvalis, OR

Average Student Loan Debt: $46,164


Oregon State University is based in Corvalis, with over 24,000 undergraduate students enrolled. Corvalis is a relatively small town, with just over 50,000 residents, so the University is a major economic driver for the area.


Oregon State University is the biggest employer, followed by the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Hewlett Packard.


Corvalis has a remarkably high number of people with college degrees. Over 61 percent have a post-secondary credential. However, the median earnings are relatively low; it’s just $36,100.



1. Durham, North Carolina

Average Student Loan Debt: $47,955


Known for its technology and educational facilities, Durham has a number of elite universities in or near the city. Some of the biggest schools include Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University.


Those schools can be quite expensive. A single year at Duke University for an undergraduate student can cost $78,608 before financial aid. With such steep tuition fees, it’s no wonder that Durham leads the country in student loan debt.


Over 48 percent of the population has at least a bachelor’s degree, and the median earnings are $37,000.


Paying Off Your Student Loans

Whether your city is one of the 10 cities with the most student loan debt or not, paying off your education loans is key to your financial freedom. If you’re looking to pay off your debt as soon as possible and save money, consider student loan refinancing.


You can use ELFI’s Find My Rate tool to get a rate quote without affecting your credit score.*




*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.


Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: The Income vs. Savings Approach to Building Wealth

By Caroline Farhat


We all remember that infamous Australian millionaire who declared that millennials can’t afford to buy homes because they’re wasting all of their money buying avocado toast. Similarly, we’ve probably all lost count of the number of times we’ve heard that we need to cut back on our Starbucks® habit in order to be more financially successful. 


While buying avocado toast every morning might not be the wisest choice for your food budget, it’s most likely not going to hold you back from having a healthy bank account either. In fact, if you’re so busy pinching pennies on your daily cappuccino and not looking at how you can save and increase your earnings in bigger areas, you’re probably wasting both your time and money. 


Stop Skipping Your Cappuccino and Refinance Instead


1. How refinancing can save you money on your mortgage

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing is the largest expense for Americans, taking up about 33% of income and $20,091 per year. For homeowners, these figures include the cost of the mortgage, mortgage interest, property taxes and insurance, and expenses for maintenance and repairs. 


When you apply and pay for a mortgage, you get an interest rate based on your creditworthiness, the size of your down payment, loan term and type, and economic factors. For example, in 2000, the average mortgage rate was 8.05%. In 2018, the average mortgage rate was 4.54%. As you can see, market conditions can make a big difference in the interest rate you lock-in. The good news is that you have the ability to lower your mortgage rate through refinancing, well after you sign on the dotted line. 


Mortgage interest, and its effect on your monthly housing bill, can be easily forgotten — until you start crunching the numbers. Let’s walk through two scenarios — one in which you don’t refinance and one in which you do refinance.


Scenario 1: No refinancing

You buy a $300,000 home and put down 20% ($60,000). You get a mortgage for $240,000 with a 4.5% interest rate. Over the first year, you will have spent $10,720.79 on interest payments alone. Over the entire 30-year mortgage term, you will have spent $197,776.11 in total on interest payments. 


Now, let’s see what happens if you refinance your mortgage.


Scenario 2: Refinancing

You buy a $300,000 home and put down 20% ($60,000). While you started with a 4.5% interest rate, shifts in the economy have caused interest rates to drop and you’re now able to refinance to a 3.7% mortgage rate. By doing so, you will save over $12,000 over the life of the loan. To put this in perspective, you’d have to cut back on approximately 3,000 drinks at your favorite coffee joint to save that kind of money. 


If you currently have a mortgage, put your numbers into this refinance calculator and see just how much you could save. 


2. How to save by refinancing student loans

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the average American spent $1,417 on education in 2018. If you’re currently reading this blog, you are likely dealing with a much larger number than that. If you have at least $5,000 in student loan debt, student loan refinancing could be extremely beneficial for you. 


Similar to mortgages, you can refinance student loans and potentially save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. ELFI customers reported saving an average of $272 every month and an average of $13,940 in total savings1.


The first step to saving money on your student loans is to determine whether student loan refinancing* is the best option for you. In a small number of cases, refinancing is not the optimal option. But for most student loan debt holders, it is an excellent way to save money both in the short term and long term. Our student loan refinance calculator allows you to see what you could save in your particular situation. Let’s walk through an example.


Scenario 1: No refinancing

You have $60,000 in student loans with an interest rate of 6.8% and are on a standard repayment plan of 10 years. You pay $690 per month and never consider refinancing. In total, you will pay $82,857 for your initial loan of $60,000. Over $22,000 of that amount will be to interest payments alone.


Scenario 2: Refinance your student loans

You have $60,000 in student loan debt with an interest rate of 6.8% and a monthly payment of $690. You’re eager to optimize your finances and decide to refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate, saving up to $18,000 over the life of the loan. If you refinance into a shorter loan term (such as a 5 or 7-year term), you will save more on interest over the life of the loan. Alternately, you may consider stretching out your terms to lower your monthly payment. This will likely still save you money over the long term, but be sure to crunch the numbers before you make a final decision on your refinancing terms.


Side Hustle or Climb Your Way to Success

Saving on big-ticket items like your housing costs or student loan debt is just one approach to building wealth. After you have taken advantage of all the saving opportunities available to you, it’s time to turn your attention to increasing your earnings. Here are a few ways you can bolster your bank account:

  • Ask your current employer. If you’re gainfully employed and a top-performer, speak with your boss about the potential for a promotion, raise, or bonus. It’s best to come into these types of conversations with a concrete strategy and multiple examples of positive ways you have impacted the company. Glassdoor has a good guide on how to prepare for this conversation. 
  • Find a new job. Long gone are the days people spend decades at the same company. While “job hopping” may have had a negative connotation in the past, many career experts actually encourage people to switch jobs more frequently in order to get a larger salary and more advanced job title. According to this Fast Company article, “workers who stay with a company longer than two years are said to get paid 50% less.” Money, of course, isn’t everything. But if you’re feeling stagnant both in learning and money, it’s probably time to brush off your resume and start looking for a new position.
  •  Start a side hustle. It’s reported that more than 1 in 4 Americans currently have a side hustle. Beyond the monetary benefits of having a gig outside of your normal 9-to-5, side hustles are also a great way to hone or discover a new passion. Side Hustle Nation has an extensive list of ideas that you can start quickly. 


Bottom Line

It pays (literally) to keep your eye on the big stuff. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever watch your pennies. Smart spending habits still reign supreme. Just don’t sweat the small stuff so much that you miss out on potentially huge savings.



*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.


Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.


1Average savings calculations are based on information provided by SouthEast Bank/ Education Loan Finance customers who refinanced their student loans between 2/7/2020 and 2/21/2020. While these amounts represent reported average amounts saved, actual amounts saved will vary depending upon a number of factors.

Yes, You Need a Side Hustle

Side hustle. It’s a relatively new phrase, but a concept that’s older than you think. It’s simply a second job that helps people make ends meet or earn extra cash to supplement retirement plans, pay off student loan debt, save up to buy a car, etc. You might also hear these jobs referred to as gigs, which constitute the gig economy.


Why the Popularity?

If you wonder why you’re hearing so much about side hustles and the gig economy, it’s because these concepts have exploded in popularity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 55 million people work in the gig economy, which is more than 35% of the country’s workforce. “Side hustlers,” as they’re called, take the form of teachers who write blogs for major companies, stay-at-home moms who moonlight as Uber® drivers, retirees who tutor school-age children, or even college students who design logos for local businesses.


But side hustles aren’t limited to these more typical archetypes. Even high-earning, highly skilled professions offer ample opportunities for “side hustling”. For example, the gig economy has increasingly penetrated the healthcare industry – doctors and nurses have the ability to work in temporary positions called “locum tenens” to fill staffing needs at healthcare facilities. These positions, often worked during shift downtimes, allow healthcare professionals to have more flexibility and control of their schedule while earning supplemental income. High-end software developers at major technology brands can also benefit from the gig economy, using sites like Upwork to maximize the return on their skills and to explore new projects.


A study on the Gig Economy & The Future of Retirement found that of people with a side hustle, 49% over the age of 55 are using it to save for retirement and 33% are using it to pay off student loan debt. Regardless of the reason, the answer to the question, “Do I need a side hustle?” is almost always, “Yes!” 


Check out the following scenario to see just how valuable a side hustle can be. The average student loan debt in America is around $37,000 with a loan term of 10 years and monthly payments of $380 a month. If you made an extra $100 a month ($1,200 a year), you could make three extra payments a year, helping you pay down your student loan debt up to two years early! If you want to see how much you can impact your loan with a side hustle, check out our student loan refinance calculator. 


Not only can you bring in extra income with a second gig, you can also diversify how you make that money. In other words, if you lose your full-time job, you will still have a way to pay bills.


Having a side gig is also a way for you to indulge hobbies or hone talents, giving more meaning to your work than perhaps your regular nine-to-five job. If you’re really good with computers, have a knack for photography, possess a knowledge of HVAC systems, or if you’re just really good at IKEA® assembly directions, you can pick up a side hustle by hawking your services on sites like Thumbtack®, Nextdoor®, TaskRabbit®, or Fiverr®.


The ideal hustle would allow you to “make money while you sleep.” It sounds hokey, but if you don’t have to trade working hours for money, you can reach your extra income goals to pay off student loan debt without sacrificing your full-time job, family, or social life to do so. These holy grail side hustles take the form of rental properties (that you pay someone else to manage), stock market investing, renting a room or parking space, publishing a book, creating an app, or other similar ideas that require little time to maintain.


One such example is with ELFI’s Referral Program. Simply sign up and create a personalized referral link to share with friends or family. When someone decides to refinance their student loans using your link, you’ll get a $400 referral bonus check and your friend will receive a $100 credit toward the principal balance of an approved Education Loan Finance loan1. There’s no limit on the number of people you can refer.


Downfalls of Side Hustles

While we started this blog by saying, “Yes, you need a side hustle,” there are several downfalls that you should be aware of. Sure, the hours for side gigs are flexible, but these jobs also don’t come with employer benefits. This means there is no safety net of unemployment claims should you not be able to find enough work. Also, if you don’t have a clear, effective contract and invoicing system set up, payment can get delayed or—even worse—lost in the shuffle. If you don’t work with honest people or established companies, both can run out of money or just simply disappear without paying money owed.


You also need strong personal motivation to work a side hustle. Like most jobs, side hustles rarely just fall profitably into your lap. You should realistically expect to spend a few hours a week promoting yourself and following up on leads. You need to be organized and disciplined to avoid double-booking yourself and to get the work done by agreed-upon deadlines.


You’ll also need to be diligent when it comes to taxes2. The money made from your side job will need to be reported on a 1040 Form at tax time. If you fail to report your earnings, you might find yourself subject to tax assessments or penalties. On the plus side of tax time with a side gig, you may be able to deduct certain expenses like car mileage related to your business, necessary equipment, or even subscriptions to business-related organizations.


When it comes to side hustles, there’s no need to quit your day job to earn extra cash. The benefits outweigh the downfalls, and a bonus gig can actually benefit your day job by giving you additional skills and insights or by helping you make connections with clients you wouldn’t otherwise meet. You can work as little or as much as you’d like on your own schedule to pay down debts or save for big expenses.


Curious about how much you need to earn with a side gig to pay down your student loan debt? First, see how much you could save by using our Student Loan Refinance Calculator*. Once you know what your monthly payment could be, you can set a realistic target for your extra income. The Student Loan Refinance Calculator will show you your current vs estimated monthly payment, as well as estimated monthly and lifetime savings.


*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.



1Subject to credit approval. Program requirements apply. Limit one $400 cash bonus per referral. Offer available to those who are above the age of majority in their state of legal residence who refer new customers who refinance their education loans with Education Loan Finance. The new customer will receive a $100 principal reduction on the new loan within 6-8 weeks of loan disbursement. The referring party will be mailed a $400 cash bonus check within 6-8 weeks after both the loan has been disbursed, and the referring party has provided ELFI with a completed IRS form W-9. Taxes are the sole responsibility of each recipient. A new customer is an individual without an existing Education Loan Finance loan account and who has not held an Education Loan Finance loan account within the past 24 months. Additional terms and conditions apply.


2This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only, and does not constitute tax or financial advice. Please consult your tax advisor for guidance on your personal tax situation.


Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

4 Things That Could Maximize Your Tax Savings Before December 31

This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only, and does not constitute tax or financial advice. Please consult your tax advisor for guidance on your personal tax situation.


By Caroline Farhat


With the end of the year coming, it’s typically a time people start thinking about the goals they’ll make in the new year. Do you want to refinance student loans, pay down debt, or just cut back on your hefty clothing budget? You’re not alone. In fact, Inc. reported that about 60% of Americans currently make New Year’s resolutions. “Saving more and spending less” was the fourth most common resolution.


It may be tempting to wait until the ball drops to start working on your goals, but there’s one area you likely could be saving on that you’ll have to take action on now. Any guesses? If you thought of Uncle Sam, you’re right. With some strategic planning, you can maximize your tax savings so that you’re not left with a big bill when Tax Day rolls around. Ready to start saving? Here are four things that could maximize your tax savings before year-end.


Max out your retirement accounts

You’ve probably been told to save for retirement hundreds of times. There’s a good reason for that. The earlier you begin contributing to retirement accounts, the more time it allows for the money to compound and increase.


So how does contributing more at the end of the year help your taxes? If you contribute to a tax-deferred retirement account, such as a 401(k), the contributions could help lower your taxable income for 2019. There is a maximum amount you can contribute to retirement accounts and it can change yearly. For 2019 the limit is $19,000 if you are under the age of 50, and $25,000 if you are 50 or older. In 2020 the limit is $19,500 for under the age of 50, and $26,000 for ages 50 and older. Bottom line: If you have not reached the limit and you’re financially able to contribute more, it may be beneficial to contribute an additional amount up to the $19,000 limit so you can lower your taxable income.


Be strategic with your income

This tactic is especially important for you freelancers out there who might have more control over when you can recognize income.


In order to know how to best be strategic with your income you need to consider if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket this year or next year. If you anticipate being in the same bracket or a lower tax bracket next year, it’s likely more advantageous to defer your income to the following year. However, if you anticipate that you will be in a higher tax bracket next year, you may want to accept all the income you can now.


If you are self-employed, try to collect all unpaid invoices before the end of the year if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year. If you think you will be in a lower tax bracket next year, wait to collect payment from the invoices after January 1.


If you work as a full-time employee, a bonus you may receive is typically the best way to defer income. Check with your HR and/or payroll departments to see if this is a possibility.


Maximize other tax deductions

There are a lot of other ways you can maximize your tax savings at the end of the year. Here are some examples:

  • If you have a mortgage, it may be beneficial to make one extra payment at the end of the year since mortgage interest is deductible on your taxes. If the payment due in January is paid in December that will be more interest you can take as a tax deduction. In addition, if you have mortgage insurance the same principle applies.
  • Make a charitable donation and you may be able to take that as a tax deduction. Be sure to save your receipt as proof!
  • If you have a health savings account, try to contribute up to the maximum allowable amount. Contributions to an HSA are deductible and reduce your taxable income. The maximum contribution limits for 2019 are $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families. People ages 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000.


Make an extra student loan payment

Making an extra student loan payment is another great way to potentially maximize your tax savings because you can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid. Student loan interest can be deducted whether you itemize deductions or not, so this is a great perk for everyone paying student loan debt to consider. The deduction of $2,500 is per tax return not per person, so if you and your spouse both pay on student loan debt you still can only deduct $2,500 of the interest you paid between the two of you. In addition, there are income limits to be aware of. For tax year 2019, in order to qualify to take the full deduction your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must equal or be below $70,000 for single tax filing status and $140,000 for married filing jointly. If your MAGI is above $85,00 as single tax filing status and $170,000 for married filing jointly you are not eligible to deduct any of the student loan interest. If your MAGI is between the two limits you may be able to deduct some of the student loan interest you have paid.


If looking at your loan payments is making your head hurt, it might be time to start looking at your student loan refinancing options. While saving on your taxes is a great start, student loan refinancing could potentially save you thousands of dollars. You can see just how much you can save each month, and over the lifetime of your loan, by using our student loan refinance calculator*.


Bottom Line

While filing for taxes will never be fun, you can make it easier on your bank account by doing a little planning ahead of time. Implement some of these tips and you could see the benefits come tax time. If nothing else, you will be working towards a better financial outlook in the new year!


Each person’s tax situation is different. The tips above are not intended to replace the advice of a trained tax specialist. Make sure to do your research and consult your tax advisor for guidance.



*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.


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ELFI Credit Series: 5 Habits For Good Credit Hygiene

Whether you’re just building good credit for the first time or you’ve spent years diligently maintaining it, safeguarding your credit is key. Fraud, identity theft, and credit reporting errors can threaten your credit health — adopt these habits to protect yourself.


1. Check your credit reports at least yearly.

You can get one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at annualcreditreport.com.

If you’re applying for credit — like a mortgage, auto loan or student loan refinancing — get all three reports at once and compare them. This gives you visibility into everything potential creditors could see when they pull your credit.

If you’re not applying for credit within the year, space out your free credit reports by pulling one every four months (mark it in your calendar as a reminder). This will help you keep tabs on your credit throughout the year.


» RELATED: Don’t Just Build Good Credit — Maintain It


2. Dispute any errors you find.

Credit reporting errors are unnervingly common and can jeopardize your credit health.

More than a quarter of people have a “potentially material error” on at least one of their three credit reports, according to a Federal Trade Commission study published in 2012.

When you pull your annual free credit reports, check them carefully for mistakes. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a comprehensive list of things to check for. Common errors include:


  • Incorrect personal information (name, address, etc.).
  • Accounts that don’t belong to you or that you didn’t open.
  • Accounts that are incorrectly reported as late.
  • Accounts with incorrect balances or credit limits.
  • The same debt listed multiple times.


If you find an error, dispute it with the credit bureau and the creditor. For instance, if you find a mistake about your auto loan on your Experian credit report, dispute it with your auto lender and Experian. All three bureaus have online processes for disputing errors.


3. Pay attention to the ‘notes’ section of your reports.

When you’re comparing all three credit reports side-by-side, Barbara Thomas, executive vice president of Education Loan Finance, recommends honing in on the comments at the bottom of each account listed.

“Notes are populated by the credit reporting agency to further explain what might be not so clear,” Thomas says.


You may notice that the same information is characterized differently in each report.

For instance, a federal student loan that’s in default could show up as having a $0 balance, which could make it look like it’s paid off. But if it says, “recovery by the Department of Education” in the comments section that means the borrower defaulted. Another lender or bureau might describe this as “charged off.”


Thomas’s advice: Read the comments on each report and make sure they accurately describe what happened with your account. If they don’t, dispute it.


4. Keep your credit frozen.

To avoid having an identity thief open accounts in your name, keep your credit frozen. A credit freeze restricts anyone — including you — from accessing your credit report. When you want creditors to access your credit because you’re applying for a loan or credit card, you can temporarily unfreeze it.


It’s free to freeze your credit, but you have to do it separately through each of the three credit bureaus. (And when you want to temporarily lift a freeze, you also have to do it through each bureau individually.)


If you don’t want to do a freeze for whatever reason, setting up fraud alerts is another option. They don’t lock down your credit completely, but they require businesses to verify your identity before pulling your credit. They’re also free and they last for one year. You only have to set up an alert through one credit bureau — that bureau is required to tell the other two.


5. Consider a credit monitoring service.

If you’ve been the victim of a data breach, you’ve probably been offered free credit monitoring services. There’s no reason not to take advantage of it.


If you haven’t been given free access, you can choose to purchase credit monitoring. Credit monitoring services do the work of keeping tabs on your credit for you: They regularly check your reports and scores and notify you about changes or suspicious activity.


Each of the three credit bureaus offer credit monitoring for a monthly fee. (They each include monitoring of all three reports, so you only need one service.) Plenty of other companies also offer credit monitoring services, including Credit Karma, whose service is free. (But it only monitors Equifax and TransUnion).


However, you don’t need credit monitoring. You can freeze your accounts, set up fraud alerts and check your reports on your own — all for free. And if you make these things habits, maintaining and protecting your credit will start to become part of life.


Credit-worthiness is an important factor in maintaining good financial health. And if you’re considering student loan refinancing, your credit score plays an important role in securing great rates. ELFI’s prequalification process is quick, 100% online and won’t affect your credit*. Speak with one of our Personal Loan Advisors today, or see how much you could save today.*



*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

ELFI Credit Series: How to Play (and Win) the Good-Credit Game

Building and maintaining good credit is all about knowing how credit works. Once you know the rules, you can play the credit game — and win.


The object: 

Maintain a credit score that’s high enough to help you qualify for and get the lowest rates on mortgages, insurance, auto loans, personal loans and to refinance student loans.



  • Credit score: A three-digit number that represents your credit health. A company called the Fair Isaac Corporation makes the most popular credit score, the FICO score, based on information in your credit report. Scores range from 300 to 850, and higher is better.
  • Credit report:A detailed record of the debt you have and how well you pay it back. The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — compile credit reports based on information that lenders and credit card companies report to them. Potential lenders look at your credit reports before deciding whether they want to take you on as a customer.



There are five factors that influence your FICO score:

  1. Payment history (35% of your score)
  2. Credit utilization (30%)
  3. Length of credit history (15%)
  4. Credit mix (10%)
  5. New credit (10%)


» RELATED: Don’t Just Build Good Credit — Maintain It


How to Play:

To maintain good credit, make decisions and establish habits that align with the factors that affect your credit score.


1. Pay your bills on time — always.

This factor is the biggest contributor to your score, and even one late payment can hurt your credit. Inconsistent payments also show potential creditors that you could be at risk for not repaying your debts, so they may charge you more in the form of higher interest rates and insurance premiums.


When it comes to credit cards, you only have to make minimum monthly payments to be in good standing from a credit perspective. But if you carry a credit card balance from month to month, you’ll have to pay interest. It’s best to pay off your entire balance every month.


2. Don’t max out your credit limit — or even come close.

Credit utilization is the percentage of revolving credit (like credit cards) you use compared to the total amount that’s available to you. If you use every penny, it looks like you can’t manage money responsibly.


As a rule of thumb, don’t use more than 30% of your credit limit on each credit card. So if your credit limit is $10,000, don’t charge more than about $3,000 before paying it down first.


But even if you keep utilization low on every card and have an excellent credit score, it could be concerning to potential lenders if you have, say, 10 credit cards with balances on them, says Barbara Thomas, executive vice president of Education Loan Finance (ELFI).


3. Establish a long history of using credit responsibly.

The longer your credit history, the better. FICO scores consider the age of your oldest account, the age of your newest account and the average age of all of your accounts.

For this reason, err on the side of keeping credit cards open even if you don’t use them — as long as there’s no annual fee. Closing cards lowers the average age of your accounts.


Besides that, there’s not a ton you can do to boost your credit in this category, other than to start building credit early. You can help your kids establish credit as teens by making them an authorized user on one of your cards.


4. Prove that you know how to use (or not use) different types of credit.

Credit mix refers to the different forms of credit you’ve had, including revolving credit (credit cards and lines of credit), and installment loans (auto loans, student loans, mortgages).


If you have several different types of credit, it’ll help your score and show potential creditors that you know how to handle different forms of credit (assuming you make on-time payments). But don’t take out loans or credit cards just to boost your score in this category.


When you apply for new credit, lenders may scrutinize the types of credit you’ve taken on in the past. For instance, seeing a 401(k) loan on a credit report is a red flag, Thomas says.


“If you’re taking out a loan against your retirement savings, you’ve got a problem,” she says. “That means you couldn’t get credit elsewhere.”


5. Avoid applying for multiple types of credit in a short timeframe.

When you apply for a new loan or credit card, lenders do a hard credit inquiry to determine whether you qualify. This inquiry shows up on your credit report and stays there for two years, but it only influences your FICO score for one year.


Multiple inquiries within a short time period is a warning sign for lenders — especially if you’re taking on lots of consumer debt.


“Anyone who has a lot of personal loans, that’s when the alarm bells go up,” Thomas says.


But if you’re at risk for having multiple hard inquiries because you’re shopping for the best rate you can get, there’s a workaround: If you apply for the same type of credit — say, student loan refinancing — within a short timeframe, it only counts as one inquiry, which won’t hurt your credit very much.


Also, some lenders — including many student loan refinance lenders, like Education Loan Finance — prequalify you based on a soft credit check, so there’s no ding to your credit score.


How to win

You win if your credit doesn’t hold you back from doing the things you want in life — whether that’s owning a home, buying your dream car or traveling the world on credit card points. It’s not about achieving a perfect credit score — it’s about having credit that’s good enough to get you where you want to go.


Credit-worthiness is an important factor in maintaining good financial health. And if you’re considering student loan refinancing, your credit score plays an important role in securing great rates. ELFI’s prequalification process is quick, 100% online and won’t affect your credit*. Speak with one of our Personal Loan Advisors today, or see how much you could save today.*


*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

ELFI Credit Series: Don’t Just Build Good Credit — Maintain It

If you’re a health nut, you know the importance of clean eating, regular exercise and routine check-ups. You don’t just “get healthy” once and move on — health is a lifestyle that requires constant maintenance.


Your finances are no different.


“Just like you go for your annual physicals for your health, you should be doing the same thing with respect to your financial health,” says Barbara Thomas, executive vice president of Education Loan Finance (ELFI).


Whether you’re gearing up for the new year by setting financial (and maybe health-related) resolutions or working toward a specific life goal (buying a house, paying off student debt, etc.), you need to maintain good credit. Here’s why and how to do it.


Why maintenance matters

Your credit score is like your weight (except with credit, higher numbers are better). Both are snapshots of your financial or physical health at a single point in time, and they can fluctuate up or down depending on your behavior.

In other words, just because you have good credit now doesn’t mean you’ll have it forever. It takes effort to maintain good credit, but the work is worth it. You need good credit throughout your life in order to:


  • Get a mortgage.
  • Refinance student loans (to potentially save thousands of dollars).
  • Get auto and personal loans at low rates.
  • Get credit cards with rewards and perks.
  • Get favorable insurance prices.
  • Co-sign student loans for your kids, if necessary.


But just like weight isn’t the only factor that contributes to physical health, your credit score is only part of the equation when you’re applying for loans. Lenders also review your credit report, which details the credit lines you’ve opened and closed, the amount you owe each creditor, and your payment track record. Finally, they often calculate your debt-to-income ratio to see if you have enough extra cash on hand to make another monthly payment.


» MORE: Why Maintaining Good Credit Matters


How to maintain good credit 

Whereas diet, exercise and sleep is the trifecta when it comes to staying physically healthy, there are five factors that go into maintaining good credit health: Payment habits, credit utilization, credit age, credit mix and new credit inquiries.

Mastering each category is key to maintaining good credit, although some factors matter more than others.


  • Pay your bills on time — always: Payment history accounts for the largest portion (35%) of your FICO score, which is the most popular credit scoring model. To succeed in this category, don’t miss payments or pay late.
  • Don’t max out your credit limit (or even come close):Credit utilization, or the percentage of total available credit you use, makes up 30% of your FICO score. Lenders want to see that you’re not overextended, so keep your total charges to less than 30% of your limit on each credit card. If a card’s credit limit is $10,000, for example, don’t spend more than $3,000 before paying it down first.
  • Think twice before closing credit cards. The age of your credit history accounts for 15% of your FICO score, and older is better. Closing credit cards — especially old ones — lowers your average account age. If a card doesn’t have an annual fee, consider keeping it open and putting one small, recurring purchase on it, like Netflix.
  • Use both credit cards and loans: Credit mix accounts for 10% of your score. It’s not necessary (or smart) to open accounts just to satisfy this aspect of your score. But having both credit cards and installment loans (like a student loan or car loan) proves that you can manage different types of debt responsibility — assuming you consistently make payments on time.
  • Limit hard inquiries: New credit counts for 10% of your score. When you apply for new credit (either a loan or credit card), lenders have to do a hard inquiry on your credit to see if you qualify. Multiple hard inquiries are a bad look for your credit, so avoid applying for multiple cards or loans in a short timeframe. Some lenders, like Education Loan Finance, let you prequalify for products like student loan refinancing with no hard inquiry, which means no ding to your credit.


Habits for good credit hygiene

Just as disease and injury pose unexpected threats to your physical health, errors and fraud can endanger your credit. To protect yourself, adopt these habits:


  • Check your credit reports annually:You can pull three credit reports for free each year — one from each of the three major credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian and Equifax). Read them thoroughly for mistakes. If you spot one, dispute it with the credit bureau. Also, notice how the same information may be characterized differently by different bureaus. Read the comments below each account listed on your reports, and dispute the information if it’s inaccurate.
  • Keep your credit frozen: You can freeze your credit for free through each of the credit bureaus. A freeze means no one can pull your credit, which helps prevent scammers from opening accounts in your name. When you wanta lender to pull your credit because you’re applying for a loan or credit card, you can temporarily unfreeze it.
  • Consider a credit monitoring service: You can check your own credit reports annually for free. But to keep extra eyes on your credit, consider a credit monitoring service. You’ll be offered free credit monitoring if you’ve been a victim of a data breach. Otherwise, you can purchase it from one of the credit bureaus for a monthly fee, or sign up for a free credit monitoring services from sites like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame.


» MORE: 5 Habits for Good Credit Hygiene


Once you’ve followed these tips, rinse and repeat. It can take as little as several months to establish credit in early adulthood, but maintaining credit is a lifelong endeavor.


Credit-worthiness is an important factor in maintaining good financial health. And if you’re considering student loan refinancing, your credit score plays an important role in securing great rates. ELFI’s prequalification process is quick, 100% online and won’t affect your credit*. Speak with one of our Personal Loan Advisors today, or see how much you could save today.*



*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

ELFI Credit Series: Why Maintenance Matters for Credit

Once you establish credit, it’s time to go into maintenance mode. Good credit won’t sustain itself without your attention, and you need it for just about every life milestone.


Not convinced? Let’s go through a sample life trajectory to see how good credit comes in handy at nearly every turn, from getting a car loan and a good auto insurance rate to obtaining a mortgage and refinancing student loans.



» RELATED: Don’t Just Build Good Credit — Maintain It



Buying a car

Let’s start at age 25. You’ve just finished up grad school and landed your first professional job. But there’s one problem: It requires a commute, and you don’t have a car after years of relying on public transportation in the city. Time to get a vehicle.


You don’t have enough saved to pay cash, so an auto loan it is. Credit determines your borrowing price.


The average auto loan rate for customers with super-prime credit — scores ranging from 781 to 850 — is 4.01% for new cars and 4.66% for used cars, according to Experian data from the third quarter of 2019. For customers with non-prime credit (scores of 601-660), the average rate for new and used cars is 7.77% and 11.01%, respectively.


Average loan rates by tier

Source: Experian, State of the Automotive Finance Market, Q3 2019.


As the owner of a new car, you’ll also need car insurance. And — surprise! — credit is a factor insurers consider when they set premiums. They use FICO insurance scores, which are different than FICO credit scores but are still credit-based. These scores are a predictor of the risk you pose to insurance companies, according to FICO.


“People who don’t manage their finances responsibly are also not likely to maintain their homes or autos responsibly — and, thus, are more likely to file claims,” according to the FICO Insurance Score product sheet.


Refinancing student loans

You start the job with your new set of wheels, and it’s going along swimmingly. But now, the grace period on your student loans is about to end. After years of deferring the debt during college, it’s finally time to face it — and all the interest that has accumulated.


You owe a total of $75,000 in student loan debt from your undergraduate and graduate degrees, with interest rates averaging 7%. On a 10-year repayment timeline, you owe $871/month.


After researching all your options — income-driven repayment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, just buckling down and paying it — you decide that refinancing the student loan debt makes the most sense.


Typically, you need a credit score in the high 600s to even qualify for student loan refinancing. From there, your credit determines your rate (and how much you save). Assuming you stay on a 10-year repayment schedule, you could get a rate as low as 3.99% with Education Loan Finance*. That’d lower your monthly payment to $759, saving you $112/month and more than $13,000 overall, according to our student loan refinance calculator.


But of course, the lowest rates require the best credit. Shopping around will help you find the lowest possible rate you qualify for, but too many hard pulls on your credit could hurt you. To maintain your credit while comparing rates, stick to lenders that can prequalify you with a soft credit pull, so there’s no ding to your score.


Buying a house

Time passes. You’ve been living in apartments for a few years (with no problems ever renting a place because landlords love your good credit). But you can’t help thinking about how you’ve been diligently paying rent for years with no wealth to show for it. Maybe it’s time to think about investing in a place of your own.


You keep paying down your student loan debt, slowly socking away the money you saved from refinancing. Before long, there’s enough for a down payment.


Mortgage shopping begins. Like with rates for auto loans and student loan refinancing, home loan rates are credit-based. Now, credit matters more than ever: Your mortgage is likely the biggest debt you’ll ever have, and qualifying for a rate that’s even half a point lower could save you hundreds of dollars a year.


But you also realize that credit score isn’t the only thing lenders are looking at. They also care a lot about your debt-to-income ratio. Yours might have been too high before — the maximum allowable DTI is 45% to 50%, according to guidelines from Fannie Mae. But because you have good credit and have made a dent in your student loan debt, banks are happy to help you buy your first home.


Set yourself up for success

We could go on and on. Good credit is necessary to get low rates on personal loans, qualify for the credit cards that give you the best rewards, and co-sign a student loan for your child.


And speaking of kids, you can set yours up for future credit success by making them an authorized user on your credit card (at an appropriate age, of course). That way, the good credit you’ve spent a lifetime building and maintaining will give them a head start.


No matter what your (and their) goals are, proactively maintaining good credit over time will almost certainly help achieve them.


Credit-worthiness is an important factor in maintaining good financial health. And if you’re considering student loan refinancing, your credit score plays an important role in securing great rates. ELFI’s prequalification process is quick, 100% online and won’t affect your credit*. Speak with one of our Personal Loan Advisors today, or see how much you could save today.*



*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.