Fixed or Variable: Which Student Loan Rates Do You Want?August 23, 2017
College graduates have essentially proven themselves to be a smart bunch. You made a good decision for your future, did the hard work and now you have a degree to show for it. Sure, you had to take on some student loan debt in the process, but as the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money, and investing in yourself is always smart.
Now you’ve nabbed a good job and you’re on your way to becoming the best version of yourself, complete with the career of your dreams. You’re grabbing life by the horns and adulting like a pro, building your resume, networking and paying down your student loans as you go. You didn’t get to this position in life by making poor decisions, so it’s only natural that you’re interested in refinancing your student loans as a way to save money, get ahead and knock out that five-year plan in just three.
Before you pull the trigger, however, you might want to stay your hand and take a moment to consider whether fixed- or variable-rate loans are more likely to deliver the best advantages. It’s tempting to follow the knee-jerk reaction that fixed-rate loans are safer (because quantities are known), but this might not actually serve your best interest, so to speak. Here’s what you need to know about fixed versus variable rates before you refinance your student loans.
Fixed Rate Pros and Cons
The difference between fixed- and variable-rate loans is pretty rudimentary. The former is characterized by a locked-in interest rate that remains the same throughout the life of the loan, regardless of market fluctuations. The latter starts out at an agreed-upon rate, which may change as the market changes, fluctuating in response to market interest rates and altering your payments in the process.
Is one better than another? That depends. Let’s look at the pros and cons of fixed rates first. The major benefit is that you always know what your payment is going to be – it’s predictable. A fixed rate is static, so your interest today will be the same as the day you pay off your loan. This can help you to plan your monthly and annual budget and bring you peace of mind.
Of course, peace of mind can cost you. The biggest downside to fixed-rate loans is that they are almost sure to have higher interest rates than their variable counterparts, at least initially, and this has to do with risks. Banks are betting that rate variances will work out in their favor in the long run, showing greater returns (and ultimately costing you more). Avoiding such risk will mean paying more up front to lock in a fixed rate. However, if your current plan involves a long term for repayment, say 20 years, this is probably your best option.
Variable Rate Pros and Cons
As you’ve probably guessed, the major downside to choosing a variable-rate loan is the potential for interest rates to increase and bump up your monthly payments. The upside is that rates could also remain low or even go down, saving you what you might have been stuck paying with a fixed-rate loan.
In other words, it’s a bit of a gamble. It can be a calculated risk, though. At the moment, the market is on the rise, with the prime increasing to 4.25% in June. Will it go down again? Eventually, but probably not before further increases, since the economy is currently on an upswing. If you’re on track to pay off debt early and the market is trending down, variable rates make sense. In the current economic climate, it’s probably better to proceed with caution.
Which is Right for You?
Choosing the right loan for you depends not only on current economic conditions, but also on your particular circumstances. Some personal considerations could include:
- Current loans
- Debt-to-income ratio
- Your personality
If you have yet to refinance or consolidate, you’re probably juggling at least a few student loan payments, some of which may be fixed while others are variable. Since July of 2006, all federal student loans feature fixed interest rates, although the set rates have fluctuated from year to year and from one loan type to another, so that different loans have different rates. You might also have some private student loans with either fixed or variable rates.
There’s a lot to be said for consolidating all of your loans to lock in a single, fixed rate, and when you do so with a favorable lender like Education Loan Finance, you can consolidate all your loans (whereas only federal loans can be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan through the government, and there may be restrictions based on loan type and eligibility). On the other hand, you might prefer a variable rate that is lower than fixed options, especially if your income allows you to make larger payments, pay down debt before rates go up, and take advantage of less accruing interest in the meantime. A low debt-to-income ratio could net you even better rates and improve your odds of speedy repayment.
Naturally, your personality also plays a role. Are you a risk-taker or do you hyperventilate at the thought that loan rates, while low now, could increase next month or next year? If you play it safe, will you be kicking yourself over the money you could have saved with variable rates? In Hamlet, Polonius famously uttered the oft-quoted line, “To thine own self be true.” You have to know yourself if you want to make a decision about refinancing that you can reasonably live with.
Whether you end up choosing fixed rates or variable when you refinance, you need to understand both options so you can make an informed decision that confers the greatest benefits. To a degree, it might depend on the offers you receive, but assuming both options are on the table, you’ll want to consider the terms, research the forecast for interest rates, and perform a realistic appraisal of yourself and what you can manage. Then you can weigh all the pros and cons to select the terms that will have you refinancing your student loans like a boss.