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Glossary of Student Loan Refinancing Terms

October 7, 2020

There are so many terms that borrower’s encounter in the student loan application process, most borrowers may not be exactly sure what each means. If you’re getting ready to apply or just want to know what the documents are talking about, here’s our glossary of common student loan terms that you should know.

 

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and Gross Income

Gross income is the total amount you earn in a year before deductions for federal or state taxes, credits, and so on. Adjusted gross income is the income you earn in a year that is eligible to be taxed after accounting for deductions. AGI is usually lower than your gross income. It’s what many institutions use to determine if you can get perks like loan tax benefits or financial aid, grants, etc. The easiest place to find these are on your official tax return.

 

Adverse Action Letter

If you’re denied for a loan due to something negative on your credit report, the lender might be required to send you one of these. It explains why you were turned down, and it’s important because it enables you to see if something is wrong on your credit report.

 

Amortization

This term describes how the principal is paid over the course of a loan.  Most student loans are fully amortized, meaning that if all payments are made as scheduled, the principal balance will be fully repaid at the maturity date.

 

Other types of loans, including some types of mortgage loans, have a feature known as a balloon payment.  With a balloon payment, regularly scheduled payments do not fully repay the principal amount borrowed. When the loan matures, the final payment contains a larger, or balloon, payment of all remaining principal.

 

Annual Loan Limit

This is the maximum loan amount you can borrow for an academic year. Loan limits can vary by facts like grade level and loan type.

 

Award Letter

If you received financial aid, expect to see an award letter that explains the different types of aid for which you are eligible. The document will also include information about your loans, grants, or scholarships, and you’ll see a new one each year that you’re in school.

 

Borrower

The person who is responsible for paying back a student loan. You may not be the only one responsible, like if you signed with a cosigner, but the loan is for you and your academic fees and tuition.

 

Capitalized Interest

When unpaid interest is added to the principal balance (increasing your overall balance and future interest), this is called capitalization. This is why it’s important to pay interest whenever possible. Capitalization might happen at the end of a grace period or deferment, or after forbearance, depending on whether it’s a federal or private loan. Capitalization may occur when a loan is consolidated or if it enters default.

 

Cosigner

A cosigner is someone who can apply with you for a loan and who is also legally responsible for the loan. If you do not meet the minimum requirements for refinancing or want to qualify for a better interest rate, you may choose to apply with a cosigner.

 

For the best chance of receiving competitive rates, your cosigner should be someone with a strong credit history and score. If you already have a cosigner on a loan and are able to afford the loan without them, refinancing is one way to release your cosigner from further financial obligation.

 

Consolidation

When you refinance your student loans, you essentially consolidate them into one loan. By refinancing and consolidating multiple loans into one, you can lower your interest rate, save money and enjoy the ease of only making one student loan payment.

 

If you have only federal student loans, you can consolidate multiple federal loans into one federal loan. However, this process does not lower your interest rate and will not save you money.

 

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Debt-to-Income ratio is an extremely important student loan term that many people are unfamiliar with. Your debt-to-income ratio is a formula lenders use to determine if your income can cover all of your debts, including the new loan you are applying for. The lower the ratio the better because it shows you have enough income to pay your debts.

 

Typically lenders require a ratio of less than 50%, however, to qualify for the best interest rates, you’ll need an even lower ratio. To determine your debt-to-income ratio, divide your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. The debt-to-income ratio includes mortgage or rent payments, credit card payments, car loans, child support and alimony obligations, and personal loans.

 

Default/Delinquent

A loan is considered delinquent when a scheduled payment is not made in a timely manner.  Delinquency can result in the imposition of late charges, collection calls or letters, and negative information being placed on a credit report.

 

Default is when the lender determines that the borrower has failed to honor the terms of the loan agreement. In cases of default, the lender can declare the entire loan balance due and payable, even if the loan has not yet reached its maturity date.  Serious delinquency is very often the reason for a loan being declared in default. Before entering into a loan agreement, always read the loan agreement carefully to understand what constitutes a default under that loan.

 

Deferment

A period of time when payments are not required on federal student loans. To receive a deferment, you must receive special permission from your loan servicer and meet certain qualifications. You may qualify for a deferment if you are unemployed or enrolled in school at least part-time. The loan will continue to accrue interest unless it is subsidized. Some private lenders may allow you to defer payments, but you have to check with your provider to find out whether that is an option.

 

Disbursement

This is when your school receives funds like financial aid money or student loan funds. The institution then applies it to your bill for tuition and school-related fees. If you consolidate, the disbursement happens when money is sent to pay off your old loans.

 

Discharge

When some or all of your student loan debt is canceled, this is called discharge.

 

Entrance/Exit Interview or Counseling

Schools provide entrance or exit counseling to help students understand important financial topics like how to repay student loans. This can happen during enrollment or after graduation.

 

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

This amount is an estimate based on how much money you, your spouse, and/or family can contribute to your tuition for the academic year. It’s calculated with the information provided on your FAFSA and helps determine your financial need. Financial need is calculated as the cost of attendance minus your EFC. This determines your eligibility for aid including Stafford loans, Perkins loans, scholarships, and grants.

 

Fixed or Variable Interest Rate

If an interest rate cannot change over time, it is fixed. A variable interest rate can change over the life of the loan.  Variable rates can move up or down based upon changes to an identified index, such a prime rate, a particular U.S. Treasury note, or LIBOR.  LIBOR stands for the London Interbank Offered Rate, and is an index commonly used with student loans.  Some variable rate loans may have a “cap” and/or a “floor.”  A cap is the maximum rate that can be applied to the loan, regardless of changes to the index.  A floor is just the opposite – the minimum rate for the loan regardless of changes to the index.

 

Forbearance

Like deferment, forbearance is when no student loan payments are due for a specified amount of time. You do not need to have a qualifying event for forbearance, but you do need to contact your servicer to request forbearance.

 

In forbearance, all loans will continue to accrue interest, so the amount you owe will increase. If your payments are too high to fit your budget, you may want to consider refinancing your loans rather than relying on forbearance.

 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

FAFSA is the application a student must complete to apply for any type of federal student aid including loans, grants, or scholarships.

 

Full-Time/Part-Time Enrollment

The amount of hours you’re taking in school, which can affect different aspects of student loan financing and repayment. Part-time is usually six credit hours and full-time is twelve, but this can vary.

 

Grace Period

Most student lenders offer a grace period, a specified amount of time that you are not required to make student loan payments, immediately after you graduate from school. For federal student loans the grace period is usually six months. For private student loans, it varies based on the lender. Some lenders offer a six-month grace period and others require immediate payment.

 

During the grace period, interest will continue to accrue on your federal student loan. If you are thinking of refinancing your loans and do not have a job yet, it may be advantageous to use the grace period to start earning a stable income so you will be able to qualify for refinancing. If you have a job and are ready to start paying down your loans, refinancing before your grace period ends may help you save more, so you can start taking advantage of a lower interest rate.

 

In-School Deferment

While actively enrolled in school, you might be able to postpone your federal or private student loan payments until you graduate or drop below half-time.

 

Interest Rate

The interest rate is the additional amount you pay to borrow the loan. An interest rate can be a variable rate or a fixed rate. A variable interest rate can change throughout the life of the loan. A variable interest rate is usually based on the LIBOR rate. If if the LIBOR rate rises, your interest rate will rise too. Most loans, however, have a limit on how high the interest rate can rise. A fixed interest rate stays the same throughout the entire student loan term. When you refinance your loan, you will be obtaining a new interest rate which can lead to significant savings.

 

Loan Forgiveness

When you qualify for certain programs, you may be able to have the final balance of your loans forgiven after a certain period of time. There are specific criteria for eligibility and usually a detailed application process.

 

Master Promissory Note (MPN)

This document states the terms of repayment for your student loans. It is the official document proving your commitment to repay the money you borrowed with interest. To receive federal loans, all borrowers must sign an MPN.

 

Principal Balance

The principal balance is the original amount of money borrowed from the lender. It doesn’t include interest or fees that are either unpaid or yet to accrue.

 

Private Student Loan

You can borrow private student loans through banks, credit unions or other private lenders. This is in contrast to federal loans, which the U.S. Department of Education manages. Private student loans usually have lower interest rates than federal student loans. They are not, however, eligible for certain federal student loan benefits like loan forgiveness.

 

Repayment Period

This amount of time is what you have to repay your student loans. The standard repayment period for Stafford loans is ten years but can be extended with reduced repayment plans. The longer you take to pay your loans, usually, the more you end up paying in interest. A repayment plan is a formal agreement you have with a servicer that details how you plan to repay your loans each month.

 

Repayment Terms

These terms represent all of your rights and responsibilities for the student loan, including what you’ll pay for monthly payments. Lenders must disclose the repayment terms to you before you commit to borrowing a loan.

 

Right to Cancel

Once the borrower accepts an approved application, the federal Truth in Lending Act requires the lender to provide a Final Truth in Lending disclosure statement.  This final disclosure statement includes a three business day right to cancel. During that time, the borrower can change their mind and cancel the loan.  To protect borrowers, the lender cannot disburse the loan proceeds until the right to cancel period has expired.

 

Servicer

The loan servicer handles your student loan billing, including collecting payments and assisting with customer service questions.

 

Student Aid Report (SAR)

The SAR is a detailed list of all of the financial and personal information you submitted for your FAFSA, including financial info for your family. Your school receives a copy of this and you should receive one as well.

 

Student Loan Refinancing

Student loan refinancing is when you borrow a new private student loan to pay off federal or private student loans, or a combination of both. This will essentially consolidate many loans into one. The only way to refinance is with a private student loan. Refinancing can help obtain a lower interest rate and is a great way to save money on your loans. You could see monthly savings and save thousands of dollars in interest costs over the life of the loan. You can also shorten or extend your repayment term to better fit your financial situation.

 

Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

While in school and during your grace period, the government pays the interest on your subsidized loans so you don’t have to. Federal loans that are not based on financial need are unsubsidized, meaning you’re responsible for paying the interest that accrues.

 

Hopefully, learning these student loan terms helps you feel more confident and guides you in making sound financial decisions. To see how refinancing your student loans with ELFI could help you earn a better interest rate, try our Student Loan Refinancing Calculator.*

 


 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

 

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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.