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7 Common Student Loan Refinancing Misconceptions

October 16, 2020

Refinancing is kind of like leveling up. After months or even years of working hard to become debt-free, you then gain access to a higher tier of borrowing – better terms, a lower interest rate or a smaller monthly payment. Many people have misconceptions about student loan refinancing, however, which keep them from taking advantage of the benefits that student loan refinancing has to offer.

 

If you’re new to borrowing, it’s easy to get scared of changing anything about your loan repayment process – even if that means losing out on the money that refinancing can save you. Here are some of the most common student loan refinancing myths – and what you need to know instead.

 

Refinancing Student Loans Takes Too Long

Don’t fall prey to the misconception that student loan refinancing is a lengthy, tedious process. In fact, refinancing student loans is usually very straightforward. You fill out an application and wait a couple of days for the lender to run your credit report and verify your personal information. Once that’s been completed, you’ll be presented with the refinance offers you qualify for.

 

The total length of time from beginning to end should take a couple of weeks. This also depends on how quickly you respond to questions from the lender and provide any additional forms or information they request.

 

Student Loan Refinancing Has Expensive Upfront Costs

Unlike mortgage refinancing, student loan refinancing has no upfront costs like application or origination fees. That’s also why there’s no downside to applying for a student loan refinancing multiple times.

 

Plus, most lenders don’t charge a prepayment penalty, which is a fee for repaying the loan ahead of schedule. The only fee you’ll pay is the stated interest rate. You may owe a late fee if you make a payment after the due date, but that can be avoided if you set up automatic payments.

 

You Need a High Income to Refinance Student Loans

While some lenders require that borrowers have a high income to qualify for student loan refinancing, others are more lenient. All lenders, however, care about the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which is your monthly debt payments divided by your gross income. Most lenders want a DTI percentage below 50%.

 

To calculate your DTI, add up your monthly debt payments including mortgage, car loan, personal loan, credit card payment and any other loans. Include a rent payment if you don’t own your property. Then, divide that total figure by your gross or pre-tax monthly income.

 

If your DTI is below 50%, then you’re likely a good student loan refinancing candidate. If it’s higher, then you need to increase your income, decrease your monthly housing payment or pay down some of your debts

 

You Need a Perfect Credit Score to Refinance Student Loans

Another misconception about student loan refinancing is that you need an excellent credit score to qualify, but lenders often accept borrowers with credit scores as low as 660. This is great news for young borrowers who haven’t built a strong credit history yet, or who ran up some credit card debt in college.

 

What may hurt your chances of being approved are any recent late payments, bankruptcies, defaults, liens or recent applications for other loans or lines of credit. Before applying to refinance your student loans, check your official credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

 

About one in five people have a mistake on their credit report, which can lead to an application being denied. Look at your credit report from all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and make sure you recognize all the accounts.

 

If you notice a mistake, file a dispute directly with each of the credit bureaus. It may take a few weeks to have it removed from your credit report. Make sure to follow up and verify that it’s been deleted.

 

You can check your credit score for free through a bank or credit card provider, or a service like Credit Karma. If your score is 660 or higher, you can feel free to apply for student loan refinancing.

 

You can increase your shot of being approved by applying with a cosigner. A co-signer is someone who agrees to assume legal liability for your debt if you stop making payments and default. The loan will also show up on the cosigner’s credit report.

 

Even if you can be approved to refinance by yourself, you may receive lower interest rates if you apply with a cosigner.

 

You Can Only Refinance Once

A common misconception is that you have only one opportunity to refinance your student loans. In reality, however, there’s no limit on how many times you can refinance. Many choose to refinance every time the Federal Reserve decreases interest rates because they can get a better deal on their student loans.

 

The only thing that might affect how often you can refinance is your credit score. If your credit dips below a certain threshold, then a lender may not approve your application. Also, you may be denied if you lose your job or your income drastically plummets.

 

You Refinance All Your Student Loans

Many borrowers have a mix of federal and private student loans and assume they have to refinance all those loans at the same time.

 

But borrowers can choose to refinance the loans they want. They can keep their federal loans as they are and only refinance their private loans. If they have a private loan with a low interest rate and one with a high interest rate, they can choose to only refinance the latter.

 

In some cases, borrowers may have a better chance of being approved if they only refinance some of their loans instead of all of them.

 

Student Loan Refinancing is a Confusing Process

When you apply to refinance with ELFI, you’ll be matched to a member of the Personal Loan Advisor team. Every time you call ELFI, you can speak to that same person. This minimizes the confusion and frustration involved with the refinancing process.

 

As of 10/19/2020, ELFI has a 4.9 rating on Trustpilot with more than 1,200 reviews. More than 90% of those are five-star reviews. ELFI also has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

 


 

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Woman thinking about using credit card to pay down student loans
2020-11-30
Should I Pay Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Paying off student loans can be a challenging process, so it’s natural to look for creative ways to accomplish your goal. One question some student loan borrowers have asked is whether they can use a credit card to pay student loans.    Technically, it is possible, but it’s generally not a good idea. Here’s what you should know before you try it.  

Can You Use a Credit Card to Pay Student Loans?

Unfortunately, making monthly student loan payments with your credit card isn't an option. The U.S. Department of the Treasury does not allow federal student loan servicers to accept credit cards as a payment method for monthly loan payments.   While that restriction doesn’t extend to private student loan companies, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that will offer it.   That said, paying off student loans with a credit card is technically possible through a balance transfer. Many
credit cards offer this feature primarily as a way to transfer one credit card balance to another, and if you’re submitting a request directly to your card issuer, that’s typically the only option.   However, some card issuers will send customers blank balance transfer checks, which gives you some more flexibility. For example, you can simply write a check to your student loan servicer or lender and send it as payment. Alternatively, you can write a check to yourself, deposit it into your checking account, and make a payment from there.   Balance transfer checks often come with introductory 0% APR promotions, which give you some time to pay off the debt interest-free. That said, here are some reasons why you should generally avoid this option:  
  • Once the promotional period ends, your interest rate will jump to your card’s regular APR. The full APR will likely be higher than what your student loans charge.
  • Balance transfers come with a fee, typically up to 5% of the transfer amount, which eats into your savings.
  • Credit cards don’t have a set repayment schedule, so it’s easy to get complacent. You may end up paying back that balance at a higher interest rate for years to come.
  • Credit cards have low minimum payments to encourage customers to carry a balance, which could cause more problems. 
  • You won’t earn credit card rewards on a balance transfer, so you can’t count on that feature to help mitigate the costs.
  So if you’re wondering how to pay student loans with a credit card, it is possible. But you’re better off considering other options to pay down your debt faster.  

Can You Use a Student Loan to Pay Credit Cards?

If you’re still in school, you may be wondering if it’s possible to use your student loans to pay your credit card bill. Again, technically, yes, it is possible. But there are some things to keep in mind.    The Office of Federal Student Aid lists acceptable uses for federal student loans, and private student lenders typically follow the same guidelines. Your loans must be used for the following:  
  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Textbooks
  • Supplies and equipment necessary for study
  • Transportation to and from school
  • Child care expenses
  If you incur any of these expenses with your credit card, you can use student loan money to pay your bill. However, if you’re also using your credit card for expenses that aren’t eligible for student loan use, it’s important to separate those so you aren’t using your loans inappropriately.   Also, the Office of Federal Student Aid doesn’t list credit card interest as an eligible expense. So if you’re not paying your bill on time every month and incurring interest, be careful to avoid using your student loan money for those expenses.  

How to Pay Down Your Student Loans More Effectively

If you’re looking for a way to potentially save money while paying down your student loans, consider student loan refinancing   This process involves replacing one or more existing student loans with a new one through a private lender like ELFI. Depending on your credit score, income, and other factors, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate than what you’re paying on your loans right now.    If that happens, you’d not only save money on interest charges, but you could also get a lower monthly payment.    Refinancing also gives you some flexibility with your monthly payments and repayment goal. For example, if you can afford to pay more and want to eliminate your debt faster, you can opt for a shorter repayment schedule than the standard 10-year repayment plan.    Alternatively, if you’re struggling to keep up with your payments or want to reduce your debt-to-income ratio, you could extend your repayment term to up to 20 or even 25 years, depending on the lender.    Keep in mind, though, that different refinance lenders have varying eligibility requirements. Also, just because you qualify, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can get more favorable terms than what you have now.   However, if you’re having a hard time getting approved for qualifying for better terms, most lenders will allow you to apply with a creditworthy cosigner to improve your odds of getting what you’re looking for.   Before you start the process, however, note that if you have federal loans, refinancing will cause you to lose access to certain programs, including student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans. But if you don’t anticipate needing either of those benefits, it won’t be an issue.  

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for ways to pay off your student loans more effectively, you may have wondered whether you can use your credit cards. While it’s possible, it’s generally not a good idea. Also, if you’re still in school, it’s important to be mindful of how you’re allowed to use your student loan funds, especially when it comes to making credit card payments.   A better approach to paying down your student loan debt is through refinancing. Take some time to consider whether refinancing your student loans is right for you, and consider getting prequalified to see whether you can get better terms than what you have on your current loans.
Woman learning how to start investing with student loans
2020-11-27
Should You Save, Invest or Pay Off Student Loans?

One of the questions many students grapple with as they begin life post-college is whether to invest or aggressively pay off their student loans. Figuring out when to start investing can be a complicated issue, especially if you’re worried about how much student loan debt you ended up with after college.   The good news is that it’s possible to start investing while paying student loans. However, everyone needs to make a decision based on their own situation and preferences. As you consider your own choices, here’s what to consider when deciding whether to start investing with student loans.  

Should I Invest When I Have Student Loan Debt?

When you have student loan debt, it’s tempting to focus on paying that down—just so it isn’t hanging over your head. However, there are some good reasons to invest, even if you’re paying off student loans.    The benefits of investing include:  

Compounding Returns

The earlier you invest, the longer your portfolio has time to grow. When you invest, you receive compounding returns over time. Even small amounts invested consistently can add up down the road. If you decide to wait until your student loans are paid off before you invest, you could miss out on several years of potential returns.  

Tax-Deductible Interest

If you meet the requirements, a portion of your student loan interest might be tax-deductible. If you can get a tax deduction for a portion of your interest to reduce its cost to you, that could be a long-term benefit. It’s not the same as not paying interest at all, but you reduce the negative impact of the interest. For more information about this option, speak with your financial advisor.  

Returns on Investment May Exceed What You Pay in Interest

The long-term average return of the S&P 500 is 9.24%. If you qualify for a tax deduction on your student loan interest, you can figure out your effective interest rate using the following formula:   Student loan interest rate x [1 - your marginal tax rate]   If you fall into the 22% marginal tax bracket and your average student loan interest rate is 6%, you could figure out your rate as follows:   6 x [1 - 0.22] = 4.68%   Long-term, the potential return you receive on your investments are likely to offset the interest you pay on your student loans.   Don’t forget, too, that if you decide to refinance your student loans, you might be able to get an even lower rate, making the math work out even more in your favor if you decide to invest.  

Student Loan Forgiveness

Another reason for investing with student loans is if you plan to apply for forgiveness. If you know that you’re going to have your loans forgiven, rushing to pay them off might not make sense. Whether you’re getting partial student loan forgiveness through a state program for teachers or healthcare workers, or whether you plan to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you might be better off getting a jump on investing, rather than aggressively tackling your student debt.  

A Word of Caution About Investing

While investing can be a great way to build wealth over time, it does come with risk. When paying off student loan debt, you have a guaranteed return—you get rid of that interest. With investing, you aren’t guaranteed that return. However, over time, the stock market has yet to lose. As a result, even though there are some down years, the overall market trends upward.    If you don’t have the risk tolerance for investing while you have student loans, or if you want the peace of mind that comes with paying off your debt, you might decide to tackle the student loans first and then invest later.  

How to Start Investing

If you decide to start investing while paying student loans, there are some tips to keep in mind as you move forward.  

Make at Least Your Minimum Payment

No matter your situation, you need to at least make your minimum payment. You don’t want your student loans to go into default. Depending on your income and situation, you might be able to use income-driven repayment to have a lower payment and then free up more money to invest. Carefully weigh the options to make sure that makes sense for your situation since income-driven repayment can result in paying interest on student loans for a longer period of time.  

Decide How Much You Can Invest

Next, figure out how much you can invest. Maybe you would like to pay down your student loan debt while investing. One way to do that is to determine how much extra money you have (on top of your minimum student loan payment) each month to put toward goals like investing and paying down debt. Maybe you decide to put 70% of that toward investing and the other 30% toward paying down your student loans a little faster. There are different ways to divide it up if you still want to make progress on your student loans while investing.  

Consider Retirement Accounts

If your job offers a retirement account, that can be a good place to start investing. Your investment comes with tax benefits, so it grows more efficiently over time. Plus, you can have your contributions made automatically from your paycheck, so you don’t have to think about investing each month.  

Use Indexing to Start

Many beginning investors worry about how to choose the “right” stocks. One way to get around this is to focus on using index funds and index exchange-traded funds (ETFs). With an index fund or ETF, you can get exposure to a wide swath of the stock market without worrying about picking stocks. This can be one way to get started and take advantage of market growth over time. As you become more comfortable with investing, you can use other strategies to manage your portfolio.  

Bottom Line

It’s possible to start investing while paying student loans. In fact, by starting early, you might be able to grow your portfolio for the future even while you work on reducing your student loan debt. Carefully consider your situation and research your options, and then proceed in a way that makes sense for you.
Recently married couple with student loan payments
2020-11-25
How Marriage Can Impact Your Student Loan Repayment Plan

For better and for worse, marriage can really change your financial situation. The tax bracket you fall into, the investment rules you need to follow, even your financial priorities can, and likely will, change after you tie the knot.

 

That principle also holds true when it comes to student loans. Getting married can help, hurt or simply alter your student loan repayment trajectory.

 

Read below for a breakdown of the most important things to consider when it comes to marriage and student loans.

 

Marriage Will Affect Income-Driven Repayments

Borrowers with federal loans on an income-driven repayment plan may end up paying more every month when they get married.

 

These plans include:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
  • Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan
 

The federal government will include your spouse's income when calculating your monthly payment. You may see a huge increase in the amount due if your spouse earns significantly more than you.

 

Let’s say you earn $50,000 a year and owe $80,000 in student loans with a 5.3% interest rate. If you choose an income-driven plan, your monthly payment will range between $257 and $621, depending on the specific plan you choose.

 

If you marry someone whose Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $100,000, your monthly payment under an income-driven plan would increase to between $1,024 to $1,035 a month. You could end up paying tens of thousands more over the life of the loan.

 

Only the REPAYE plan won’t factor in your spouse’s income, assuming you file taxes separately. However, filing taxes separately can hurt your overall bottom line because you may miss out on significant tax deductions and credits. Talk to an accountant to see which filing status is best for your financial situation.

 

If you earn much more than your spouse, you may see your payments decrease or only slightly increase when you get married. You can use the official federal loan simulator to see how your payments will change.

 

May Lose Student Loan Interest Deduction

Borrowers may be able to deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest on their taxes, whether they itemize or take the standard deduction. But only those who earn below a certain amount are eligible for this deduction. For more information about this option, speak with your financial advisor.

 

In 2020, single borrowers whose Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) was $70,000 or less may be able to deduct the full $2,500. Those with a MAGI between $70,000 and $85,000 may be able to take a partial deduction. Individuals who earn more than $85,000 do not qualify for the deduction.

 

Married couples may be eligible for the deduction if their MAGI is less than $140,000. The deduction is reduced for couples whose MAGI is between $140,000 and $170,000, and is eliminated for those whose MAGI is more than $170,000.[1]

 

If you currently qualify for this deduction, you may lose that eligibility if you marry someone who pushes your income past the threshold. Also, you cannot claim this deduction at all if you file taxes separately. This is another instance where filing taxes separately may not be worth it.

 

Legal Responsibility

Federal student loans remain the borrower’s responsibility, even if they die or default on the loan. The government won’t request payment from a spouse for their husband or wife’s student loan balance.

 

Private loans are different based on state laws as far as protocols for handling the original borrower’s death. Contact a local attorney if you have questions or concerns. Borrowers who are worried about leaving their student loans behind can increase their life insurance payout to compensate.

 

Divorce Impacts Student Loans

In most states, you're only responsible for the loans incurred in your name, unless you’re a cosigner. But if you or your spouse take out private student loans while married, the other person may still be liable for them even if you get divorced.

 

A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can sometimes work around this. Make sure to have a qualified lawyer draft one of these agreements if this is a concern.

 

Make Payments Easier

Most couples find that their overall living expenses decrease when they get married because there's someone to split the rent, utilities and groceries with. This can free up more money for student loans.

 

Married borrowers may also be less likely to miss payments or default on their loans if they lose their job, because their spouse can pick up the slack. Obviously, this only holds true if both spouses have sources of income.

 

Can Cause Disagreements

Statistically, money is one of the most common reasons for divorce. Conflict can easily arise if one person is bringing in $100,000 of student loan debt and the other person is debt-free. The debt-free spouse may feel burdened, while the indebted spouse may feel shame and judgment.

 

Before you get married, discuss how you want to handle the student loan situation. Should you keep finances separate until the borrower repays the balance, or should you combine your incomes and knock out the debt together?

 

Marital counseling can help both parties work through these issues before they become a major problem, and a financial planner can help couples formulate a strategy that works best for everyone.

 

Your Spouse Can Cosign

If you were denied a student loan refinance because of your income or credit score, you may be a better candidate with a cosigner. Most lenders consider a spouse an eligible cosigner if they have a good credit score and stable income. Refinancing your student loans to a lower interest rate can save you hundreds and thousands in interest.

 

Having your spouse co-sign on your refinance means they'll be legally liable if you default. This will also impact their credit score and show up on their credit report, so make sure your partner understands what they're agreeing to before cosigning on your refinance.

 

Refinancing your student loans involves a simple application process. Explore the ELFI website today to learn more about student loan refinancing.