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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
  • Income
  • 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.

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2019-06-12
Should You Pay Off Student Loans Immediately or Over Time?

When you start your post-college career, you may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. Before you do that, you have important decisions to make. You’ll have to stretch your paycheck to cover your new lifestyle and associated expenses: a furnished home or apartment, vehicle, insurance, and hopefully a 401K contribution. If you are like 70% of college graduates, you also have student loans that need to be repaid.   In most situations, it's going to be most beneficial to pay off your loans as quickly as possible so that you are paying less towards interest. The average college graduate's starting salary, however often cannot allow for enough additional income to cover more than the regularly scheduled student loan payments.  Most student loans have a six-month grace period so you can do some budgeting and planning first - if you need to. We don't suggest using the grace period unless you find it necessary to organize your finances. During a deferment such as a grace period, the interest could still be accruing depending on the type of loan that you have.   If you determine that you may be better off establishing sound financial footing and a workable monthly budget before you begin repaying those daunting loans. Keep these tips in mind as you formulate a strategy for debt payoff.  

Student Loans Have Advantages

Varying types of debt are governed by different laws and regulations. Banks often base interest rates for consumer credit loans on your established credit rating. Interest rates for auto loans or credit card debt tend to be higher than a mortgage or student loan interest. As you review your debt load and make a plan, remember: student loan debt comes with a few "advantages" that other types of debt don’t offer.  
  • Preferential tax treatment: With a new job, you will be paying taxes on your income. Student loan interest is deductible up to $2,500 and can be deducted from pre-tax income.
  • Lower interest rates & perks: Federal student loans have lower interest rates and are sometimes subsidized by the government.
  • Lender incentives: Private student loans may come with incentives from the lender that make them a better deal than other credit types. These include fee waivers, lower interest rates, and deferment options.
  • Flexible payment plans: Options for lower payments and longer terms are available for both federal and private student debt.
  • Build your credit score: You can build your credit score with student loan debt. Now, depending on whether you’re making on-time payments or not, you could negatively or positively affect your credit. If you chose to make small payments during deferments, or a grace period, and regular on-time payments you will be more likely to establish a favorable credit record and reduce the amount of interest you pay overall.
 

Programs to Help You With Student Loan Payments

There are few options for loan forgiveness with regular debt, but student loans offer opportunities to reduce or eliminate your debt. These may come with commitments and tax implications, so be sure you fully understand them if you decide to take advantage of these programs.  
  • Loan forgiveness: Federal student loans may be forgiven, but you'll want to be sure that you're following all of the requirements needed of the program. Be sure before choosing this option that the federal loans you have qualify for the program. Also, keep in mind there could be taxes due on the amount that is forgiven. Some student loan forgiveness programs include PAYE (Pay as You Earn) and REPAYE (Revised Pay as You Earn), Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
  • Loan Consolidation: Multiple student loans can be consolidated into one payment with the interest rate determined by a weighted average of your current loans - interest rates. Combining multiple loans may be easier to manage on a modest starting salary. Consolidating federal loans usually doesn’t require a good credit score, either.
  • Refinance, and you could achieve a lower interest rate: Lenders like Education Loan Finance specialize in student loan refinancing, and have options like variable interest rates and flexible terms. Refinancing your debt could make student loan debt easier to manage than other types of credit.
 

Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

Before you decide to pay off your student loans, think about the financial obligations you’ll be taking on. Instead of carrying a credit card balance or making low payments for an auto loan, it makes sense to continue your low student loan payments and pay off more expensive debt first or debt with a higher interest rate. In the long run, you’ll save money and build your credit score.   If you still have doubts about not paying off student debt first, consult a professional financial advisor for help prioritizing your goals and setting up a budget that lets you achieve them.  

Click Here to Learn More About Student Loan Repayment

   
Friends on a Boat on vacation enjoying their time before starting school
2019-05-20
Responsibilities of Cosigning A Loan

It’s often thought about pretty commonly that people will attend college. What often isn’t discussed is how people will afford to pay for their college degree. When looking for available financial aid options many look to private student loans to pay for college. Once completing the application don’t be surprised if it is denied because of your financial history or lack thereof. Unless your parents opened up a credit card account for you as an authorized user when you born, you probably won’t have a long enough credit history. Don’t be overly heartbroken, since you aren’t the only one without a long credit history. A way around not having an established credit history is to talk with a parent or guardian about being a cosigner on your student loan. This isn’t an easy process, but it can be worthwhile if both parties understand the responsibilities that are associated with cosigned student loans. Additionally, adding a cosigner to a loan may not be the right answer.   Having a cosigner can help qualify you for a student loan because the right cosigner should have an established credit history. As a lending institution, it would be too difficult to lend to a borrower who hasn’t yet shown that they are financially responsible. Adding a cosigner who is financially responsible, for a loan assures the lender that the loan is less of a risk and is more likely to be paid back.   If you like sports, think of it like a basketball game. If you’re injured and can no longer play, a substitute or someone on the team plays the game in your place. A cosigner would be your financially responsible substitute in the game of loans. If you are unable to carry the financial burden of a loan at any time and take a knee, a cosigner is expected and legally responsible to repay the debt.  Though the concept of adding a cosigner can seem fairly simple, there is a lot that goes along with it. Here are a few things to understand, before you even consider asking someone to cosign your private student loan.    

Why would you need to add a cosigner to a loan?

  There are multiple different cases why you may need a cosigner. If you have never owned a credit card, had a loan before or held any type of credit, you may have no established credit history. Even if you have had credit for a short time, there may not be enough history for the private loan company to evaluate. If you have a large loan you’re interested in taking out, it’s highly unusual that the loan will be provided to someone with a year or less of credit history. Based on your credit history a student loan company can see how often a person is paying off debt and what their credit score is. Without a credit history, it can be hard for a student loan company to evaluate if you will be on time for loan payments.  With a cosigner, the student loan company can evaluate the financial history of the cosigner and see that they are a reliable applicant.   Another reason that you may need a cosigner is that you have a bad credit score. If your debt-to-income ratio is too high, you have an unsteady income, or you have previous defaults on your credit history, this could be a reason why you’d need to add a cosigner. A cosigner can help qualify you for a private student loan. When having a cosigner, it is the cosigner’s loan and they are fully responsible for that loan too. Though your cosigner is not using the loan, it is equally their responsibility to make sure the loan is paid off. If you choose to ask a family member or friend to be a cosigner, it is important they understand the financial responsibility that they are taking. For example, if you do not pay your loan, your cosigner will have to pay it off. A cosigner will need to have a good credit history and consistently have responsible financial habits. You may be thinking of multiple different people who could be your cosigner. Before diving in, be sure to understand who can cosign your loan.  

Who can cosign a loan for college?

  When evaluating the need for a cosigner, you will need to know who is eligible. Undergraduate and graduate private loans lenders have a list of criteria that a cosigner must meet. The criteria for a cosigner will be different based on each lending institutions policy and eligibility requirements. Here’s a breakdown of some of the general eligibility requirements needed.  
  • A cosigner must be a United States citizen and of legal age.
  • Legal age will vary by state, so it is important to look up the legal age for your state of interest.
  • As for your preference, it needs to be someone you trust. Maybe start by asking a parent or close relative.
  • Needs to have a good credit score, and has to know all the financial responsibilities of a cosigner.
  • The cosigner will be required to have a consistent employer or a steady income. If a family member is not an option, consider a dependable, close friend.
  • Some private loan companies require that the cosigner have the same address as the applicant.
 

Cosigner Responsibilities

  Make sure your cosigner fully understands what they are committing to and that you both discuss the responsibilities needed from a cosigner. Being a cosigner can be unpredictable. As a borrower, you may not be able to pay off a loan that you have taken on and your cosigner will be accountable for the remainder of the student loan payments. This could affect a cosigner and their future. Go over the cosigner paperwork and discuss all the options you have. You both will have equal responsibility throughout the life of the loan.   Cosigner responsibilities include payment on any late or missing payments as per the contract of the private loan. The cosigner’s credit report will show the student loan, therefore, any late payments will affect the cosigner’s credit score. A cosigner, by cosigning, is adding more credit to their credit history. Therefore, if the cosigner needs their own loan, they may find it difficult due to the additional credit added from the private loan.   A creditor may have different ways of collecting loan debt, but they can garnish wages depending on the state the loan is originated in. If the loan is not paid, you or the cosigner’s employer may be required to refuse a portion of your paycheck and send it to the creditor. In addition, a private loan may have clauses included in the document. Be aware that a clause may require the loan amount paid in full at the time of a cosigner’s death. Meaning if you ask someone to be a cosigner and they pass away the debt may have to be paid in full at that time. The same can go for the cosigner if the borrower passes away, the full debt balance could be expected at the time of the borrower’s death. Open communication between you and your cosigner is vital. Go over all clauses, liabilities, and possibilities to ensure you are both aware of the circumstances.  

Factors to consider when selecting a cosigner

  A cosigner needs to be someone who is completely able to pay off your loan. The private loan company will want to see that the cosigner has a steady income. A steady income means that they have reliable employment or a consistent form of payment. Without a steady income, the loan company will have no evidence that your cosigner has the funds to help pay off the loan.   Your cosigner will need to have a decently lengthy credit history. Along with the cosigner’s credit history, the lender will review their credit score. A credit score will illustrate to the loan company that the cosigner has borrowed money previously and was able to pay it back on time. A private loan company is always looking for a trustworthy candidate that will be capable of paying back their debt. While the loan company will decide if you and your cosigner are qualified, it is important that you have a dependable cosigner.   Cosigning will be a long term commitment and all clauses must be considered. Good health will be a factor when choosing a cosigner. Good health may seem like an odd qualification to have. If your cosigner dies, your loan could automatically be placed in default regardless of the payments you have made. Due to unfortunate circumstances, this could have a harmful effect on your credit score.   Whether it a relative or close friend, you and your cosigner must be on the same page. Once you have a loan you both will share the responsibility of getting it paid off. Talk about financial barriers together. If you are unsure you can pay off the loan, let your cosigner know ahead of time. This could help prevent any devastating effects on your credit scores in the future.  

Benefits of using a Cosigner

  While having a cosigner is a serious decision, it does include benefits. One of the biggest advantages to adding a cosigner is that it could help you to have a better interest rate. Adding a cosigner with a good credit history, and income, private loan companies may give you a lower interest rate. How can having a cosigner get you a lower interest rate? Since your cosigner should have an established credit history and income, it means that the loan is less risky for the lending institution. If the loan is more likely to be paid back based on previous borrower history, then the lending institution will provide a more attractive interest rate on the loan. Having a lower interest rate on your loan could mean thousands of dollars saved from debt repayment.   Secondly, having a cosigner could assist you with your own credit. Since a cosigner gives you a better chance at receiving the loan, you’re more likely to establish the credit to further build out your credit history. Assuming you’re able to make the monthly payments on your student loan, you will start to build a credit history. If you are paying on time, this will help you to improve credit for future needs and purchases for both you and cosigner. Without a cosigner, you may not be eligible for the loan and would not be able to get a jump start on your credit. Cosigning for a debt is not something that should be taken lightly by anyone. This could be the right answer for you or it could be the wrong answer. It’s important to review all your options as a borrower and discuss the liabilities and responsibilities of cosigning with your cosigner.  

10 Facts About Student Loans That Can Save You Money

 
Student studying under a tree
2019-05-10
What You Need to Know About College Scholarships: Part 2

Part 1 of this series covered the basics of searching for scholarship money to lessen the cost of college and the average cost of college. Part 2 looks at scholarships available through the federal government and gives you additional information about qualifying and applying for these opportunities to help you achieve your educational goals.  

Federal Scholarships for College

  It’s a big part of the American Dream: graduating from college to pursue a productive and rewarding career. In fact, Americans value a college education so much that our federal government awards over 120 billion dollars in annual aid to help students achieve this goal. Much federal financial aid is in the form of student loans, work-study programs, and tax credits for education. However, the government also awards “free money,” which often doesn’t have to be repaid. Instead of calling this type of award a scholarship, the government calls it a federal grant. Grants are awarded based on need, plus special conditions and circumstances. A federal scholarship or grant could be your ticket to a great education at a lower cost.  

Federal Grants & Private Scholarships: What’s the Difference?

  You may be eligible for both federal grants and scholarships from your college, state, service club, foundation or business. One of the main differences between the two types of aid is the application process. Each private scholarship has its own process, and you must carefully adhere to the instructions and meet all deadlines if you hope to qualify. Eligibility for a federal grant is determined using the comprehensive FAFSA® form, which students submit to apply for all federal student aid (grants, loans, work-study and other types of federal assistance). An exception to this is military ROTC scholarships and VA programs, which have varying application processes. ROTC and VA applicants must go through the appropriate service branch or agency to apply.   Private scholarships are frequently awarded on merit (scholastic or athletic achievement), specified condition (area of study, heritage, college or state) or financial need. Sometimes, more than one criterion is used to determine the award. Federal grants are based primarily on need, although some federal programs have been established for specific purposes like promoting teacher education or community service. Such grants may have additional requirements, like academic achievement and service commitment, in exchange for education benefits. Likewise, scholarships awarded through U.S. military ROTC programs come with a specific commitment to serve.  

How Do You Apply for a Federal Grant or Scholarship?

  Application for federal grants begins by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. To apply for scholarships through military ROTC programs, you must apply with the associated military branch. Application for VA benefits can be accessed through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs website. The Dept. of Defense also offers scholarships and graduate fellowships with their own application process. Links to these federal sites are listed here:    

Resources for Grants & Scholarships Through the Federal Government

Check out these federal grant programs that could help you lower the amount of money you have to borrow to attend college.  

Pell Grants:

These grants gave eligible students a maximum amount of $6,195 toward their education in 2019 - 2020. Students may receive this assistance for up to 12 semesters of college. Available To: Undergraduate Students Qualifications:
  1. Must show exceptional financial need.
  2. Have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. May be eligible if enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program.
  3. Must not have been incarcerated in a federal or state correctional institution.
Amount Received Dependent On:
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Defined by the Department of Education as “an index number that college financial aid staff use to determine how much financial aid you would receive if you were to attend their school.” The FAFSA form information is used to calculate this. The formula takes into account your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, benefits, family size, and the number of family members who will attend college.
Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
  • Cost of Attendance. Determined by your school for your program.
  • Attendance Schedule. Will you be a full-time or part-time student?
  • Are you attending school for the entire year or just a semester?
   

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants:

This is an additional grant program distributed by participating colleges and allocates anywhere from $100 to $4000 toward a recipient’s undergraduate education. Submitting your FAFSA early can have a direct impact on this type of grant. Each school sets its own deadline for campus-based funding. You should be able to see the deadline on the school’s website and if it’s not there be sure to speak with a member of your financial aid office. Available To: Undergraduate Students Qualifications:
  1. Must show exceptional financial need.
  2. Have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.
   

Teacher Education Assistance for College & Higher Education (TEACH) Grants:

You must also be pursuing a career in teaching. In order to qualify you will need to teach at the elementary or secondary level school in a high-need field in a low-income area after graduation. Available To: Undergraduate Students, Post Baccalaureate Students, or Graduate Student (Attend a Participating School) Qualifications:
  1. Enrolled in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program.
  2. Meet academic achievement requirements (scoring above the 75th percentile on one or more parts of a college admissions test or maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25)
  3. Receive TEACH counseling to explain the terms and conditions of the service obligation. Must complete counseling each year you receive a TEACH Grant.
  4. Sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve.
 

Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grants:

Eligible students who lost a parent in military service and do not meet the need-based threshold for a Pell Grant can apply for additional college funds through this program. Available To Qualifications:
  1. Not eligible for the Federal Pell Grant due to Expected Family Contribution.
  2. Meet Federal Pell Grant requirements for eligibility.
  3. Parent or guardian was a member of the U.S armed forces, who died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.
  4. Under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of the parent or guardian’s death.
   

SMART Scholarship Program:

The Dept. of Defense offers undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships to encourage participation in the STEM sciences and recruit future civilian employees for the DoD. Available To Qualifications:
  1. Must be a U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or United Kingdom Citizen at the time of application
  2. As of August 1, 2019, must be 18 years of age or older.
  3. Ability to participate in summer internships at a DoD facility.
  4. Willingness to accept employment post graduate for DoD
  5. Minimum of 3.0 on a scale of 4.0 and in good standing.
  6. Pursuing one of these disciplines for undergraduate or graduate degrees.
 

Jobs to Reduce Student Loans

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