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Pay Down Student Loan Debt or Invest In a Traditional 401(k)?

April 22, 2019

Student loan debt in the United States has amounted to $1.5 trillion according to the Federal Reserve. This large student loan debt burden has affected many young people who are looking to start families and create a life for themselves. Despite this tough obstacle, many young people still have excess savings and need to determine what to do with these savings. Should they take their savings and invest in a traditional 401(k) or use that savings to pay down their student loan debt? We’re going to share different situations all spanning 10 years that involve paying down student loan debt and investing in a traditional 401(k) plan.

 

 

Let’s say you have a taxable income of $150,000 and file taxes jointly with a spouse. Under the new 2018 tax brackets, your effective federal tax rate is 16.59%.  Let’s also assume you have $70,000 of student loan debt with 10 years left at a 7% interest rate. Your monthly student loan payment would be about $812.76 assuming you’re making the same payment amount every month.  What should you do? Pay down the student loan or invest in a traditional 401(k) account?

 

 

Income: $150,000

Effective Tax Rate: 16.59%

Student Loan Debt: $70,000

Monthly Payment: $812.76

Term: 10 years

Interest Rate: 7%

 

Scenario 1 – Paying Down Debt Student Loans Then Investing

Let’s start off by taking a look at how you can pay this debt down faster. Did you know that if you pay an extra $100 a month in addition to your regular student loan monthly payment, you’ll save $4,464.13 in interest paid? Not only will you save money by paying extra every month, but you’ll cut down the overall repayment period by a year and a half. Yes, you’ll be debt-free a year and a half earlier than you thought!

 

$812.76 + $100 = $912.76 Monthly Payment

 

After being debt free sooner than expected, you may decide to start investing in your 401(k). If you put all of the money you were paying from your student loan into your 401(k), you’d contribute $1,094.31 monthly.

 

You may be wondering how you can contribute more money towards your 401(k) than your student loan payment. The answer lies in taxes.

 

Student loan payments are made with post-tax income. 401(k) contributions are made with pre-tax income. Since a traditional 401(k) account uses pre-tax income, you are able to contribute more towards your 401(k) than you would have your student loan debt with the same income. Though you don’t pay taxes on 401(k) contributions, ordinary income tax will be applied on 401(k) distributions.

 

$912.76 / (1-16.59%) = $1.094.31 Monthly Contribution

 

After a year and half of contributing $1,094.31 per month, compounded monthly, at an assumed 7% rate of return, you would have $20,826.09. The investment amount of $20,826.09 combined with the student loan interest savings of $4,464.13 would give you a total 10-year net value of $25,290.23.

 

Scenario 2 – Investing While Paying Down Student Loan Debt

 

If you have a higher priority of saving for retirement than paying off your student loan debt, you may want a different option. Let’s see what would happen if you decided to put that extra $100 a month into a tax-deferred 401(k) account. The $100 would be contributed to your 401(k) account instead of your student loan debt balance, but you would continue to make monthly student loan debt payments. Due to the pre-tax nature of a 401(k), your contribution of $100 post-tax would become $119.89 pre-tax.

 

$100 / (1-16.59%) = $119.89 Monthly Contribution

 

With an assumed 7% rate of return, compounded monthly, on your 401(k), you will have approximately $20,872.19 in your 401(k) after 10 years.

 

Scenario 3 – Employer Contributions 401(k)

 

Some employers will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage of your income. This could be a real game-changer. Turning down your employer’s 401(k) match is like throwing away free money. If you have student loan debt, but your employer offers a match, consider contributing to receive the maximum employer match. If you contribute $119.89 a month with an employer match while making your normal student loan payments, your money can really grow.  If your employer matches the 401(k) contribution dollar for dollar, you will double your investment of $20,872.19 from Scenario 2 to $41,744.37 in your 401(k) account after 10 years.

 

Contributions to a traditional 401(k) are made prior to your income being taxed. The withdrawals on a traditional 401(k) are taxed. The tax rate that is applied to your withdrawals depends on your tax bracket in retirement.  As the average person’s career develops, they typically continue to increase their salary and move into a higher tax bracket. Upon retirement, they will see a decrease in income and move to a lower tax bracket. This means your 401(k) withdrawals could be taxed in a lower tax bracket if done while in retirement, instead of in your working years. Note that this will only be the case if your retirement income is less than your working income.

 

 

Scenario 1 – Paying Down Then Investing

Scenario 2 – Investing While Paying Down Debt

Scenario 3 – Employer Contribution 401k

 

As you can see from the chart above, investing while paying down student loan debt or paying down debt than investing produces almost the same total net value. One debt pays down and investment strategy might perform better than the other depending on the return in the 401(k) account. It’s important to keep in mind that the returns on a 401(k) account are never guaranteed

 

The real deciding factor on whether to invest or pay down your student loan debt will be if an employer offers a 401(k) match. Matching contributions from your employer will make investing significantly more attractive than paying down debt. If an employer match to your 401(k) is available, it’s wise to take advantage of it.

 

Your comfort level with your student loan debt can be a large factor in your decision to invest in a traditional 401(k) account or to pay down debt. Knowing whether you are more interested in being debt free or being prepared for retirement can help you make a decision. Let’s look at how student loan refinancing can help you amplify your student loan debt pay down and investment strategy.

 

In Scenarios 1, 2, and 3, the big question was whether you should use the additional $100 a month to pay down student loan debt or invest in a 401(k). What if you wanted to spend that $100 a month instead? Is it possible to find a way to save on student loan debt while spending that extra $100 a month? You’re in luck! This can be done with student loan refinancing.

 

Scenario 4 – Refinancing Student Loan Debt

By refinancing your student loan debt, you should be able to decrease the high-interest rate of your student loan. In addition, you should be able to save money over the life of the loan and in some cases monthly.

 

The total interest you would have to pay on your student loans of $70,000 at 7% interest over 10 years is $27,531.12. If you qualify to refinance your student loan debt to a 5% interest rate, the total interest you would pay is $19,095.03. This would mean that refinancing your student loans would be saving you $8,436.09 in interest over the life of the loan or $70.30 a month.  When comparing your new 5% interest rate to your previous interest rate of 7%, not only would you be saving over the life of the loan, but reducing your monthly payment!

 

$8,436.09 / 120 = $70.30 Monthly Interest Savings

 

Learn More About Student Loan Refinancing

 

 

Scenario 5 – Refinancing and Paying Down Debt Then Investing

 

Now, what happens if you refinance your student loan debt, pay down the debt, and then start investing? Refinancing your student loan debt will cut your interest rate, saving you $70.30 a month, making your monthly student loan payment now $742.46 instead of $812.76 per month. By taking the additional $100 a month and the $70.30 in student loan savings from refinancing and applying them to your monthly student loan payment, you will be debt free two years and three months sooner than expected. Two years and three months are earlier compared to the one and a half years from Scenario 1. Just a reminder, in Scenario 1, there an additional $100 a month put towards your student loan debt. With refinancing and making the same monthly payment as Scenario 1, you will save $13,017.87 in interest over your original loan.

 

$742.46 + $70.30 + $100 = $912.76 Monthly Payment

 

Now that you’re debt free, you can use the money that would have been used for your student loan payment to contribute to your 401(k). Since 401(k) contributions are done with pre-tax income, you will be able to contribute a pre-tax amount of $912.76, which is $1094.31.

 

$912.76 / (1-16.59%) = $1.094.31 Monthly Contribution

 

After two years and three months of contributing $1,094.31 per month, compounded monthly, at an assumed 7% rate of return, you would have $32,085.89. The investment amount of $32,085.09 combined with the student loan interest savings of $13,017.87 would give you a total 10-year net value of $45,103.76.

 

Scenario 6 – Refinancing and Investing While Paying Down Debt

 

Now let’s try refinancing while you simultaneously pay down debt and invest. In this scenario, you will cut down the interest rate on your student loan debt from 7% to 5% by refinancing. You’ll be contributing the pre-tax amount of the extra $100 a month and $70.30 a month in interest savings towards your 401(k). You will end up contributing a total of $204.17 a month to your 401(k) account.

 

($100 + $70.30) / (1-16.59%) = $204.17 Monthly Contribution

 

With an assumed 7% rate of return, compounded monthly, you will have approximately $35,544.87 in your 401(k) after 10 years. Combined with the interest savings of $8,436.09, you will have a total net value of $43,980.96.

 

 

 

Scenario 1 – Paying Down Then Investing

Scenario 2 – Investing While Paying Down Debt

Scenario 4 – Refinancing Student Loan Debt

Scenario 5 – Refinancing and Paying Down Debt Then Investing

Scenario 6 – Refinancing and Investing While Paying Down Debt

 

As you can see from the chart above, just from refinancing your student loan debt, you can save money and increase your total net value. If you take it one step further and supplement your debt pay down and investment strategy with student loan refinancing, you would approximately double your total net value! By taking advantage of student loan refinancing, you will be able to supercharge your debt pay down and investment strategy. For those who are just trying to save money on student loans or have more money to invest in their 401(k), student loan refinancing is the way to go.

 

Check Out Our Guide to Student Loan Refinancing

 

NOTICE: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not authorized to provide tax advice or financial advice. If you need tax advice or financial advice contacts a professional. All statements regarding 401(k) contributions assume that you have a 401(k) plan and that you are able to contribute those amounts without contributing more than the current federal law limits.

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

 

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2019-12-09
This Week in Student Loans: December 9

Please note: Education Loan Finance does not endorse or take positions on any political matters that are mentioned. Our weekly summary is for informational purposes only and is solely intended to bring relevant news to our readers.

  This week in student loans:

Department of Education Proposes That New Entity Handle Student Loan Debt

On Tuesday of this week, the Trump administration and Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed that a new, independent entity manage the federal student loan portfolio, rather than the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Devos proposed the move at a conference this week, calling for a “stand-alone government corporation, run by a professional, expert and apolitical board of governors.”

 

When asked why they believe the federal student loan portfolio should be managed outside of the DOE, Devos claimed that the DOE was never set up by Congress to be a bank, but claims that’s effectively what they are.

 

In order to make this happen, laws would have to be passed that would separate the Office of Federal Student Aid from the DOE in order for it to be a stand-alone entity.

 

Source: Yahoo News

 

Lawmakers Call for Investigation of Federal Loan Discharge Program for Disabled Borrowers

With plenty of heat surrounding allegations against the U.S. government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for not making the qualification requirements clear, a new federal program is under fire from lawmakers this week – this one meant to forgive student loans of borrowers with “significant, permanent disabilities.” An NPR report recently revealed that the program wasn’t helping a large portion of borrowers who were eligible.

 

This loan discharge program is specifically meant to help individuals who have the most severe type of disability: Medical Improvement Not Expected (MINE). The Education Department finds eligible borrowers by comparing federal student loan records with the Social Security Administration records, then sends a letter to these disabled individuals and requires them to apply in order to have their loans discharged. The controversy lies in that that many of these borrowers are unable to apply or may not be aware of the notice they received. The NPR report revealed that only 36% of eligible borrowers have had their student loans discharged.

 

Source: NPR

 

Trump Calls on Aides for Plan to Tackle Student Debt

With Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren making bold claims for tackling student debt in the US, President Trump has called on his administration to put together a “blueprint” for how they will manage the student debt crisis. The Washington Post claims that Trump is calling for this plan as a method to combat “anxieties that Democrats such as Warren will tap into populist impulses that propelled his 2016 victory,” and that “he will need policies beyond his signature areas of immigration and trade to counter them.”

 

Source: The Washington Post

 

Rand Paul Wants You to Use Your 401k to Pay Off Student Loans

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently proposed a legislative act that would allow individuals to use pre-tax money from their 401k to pay off student loans, or even pay for college. The HELPER Act (Higher Education Loan Payment and Enhanced Retirement), is an initiative by Paul to “reshape the way people save for higher education, driven through tax and savings incentives,” says Forbes writer Zack Friedman.

 

Key takeaways from the act would include the ability to withdraw $5,250 from your 401(k) or IRA annually to pay off debt or pay for college, the ability to pay tuition and expenses for a dependent or spouse, tax-free employer-sponsored student loan and tuition plans, and a removal of the cap on student loan interest reduction.

 

Source: Forbes

 
 

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

2019-12-05
Student Loan Interest vs. Other Interest Types

By Caroline Farhat  

If you have student loans, you’ve probably been told at one point that it’s “good” debt. But what does that really mean? Is any debt actually good or is it all bad? Is the interest you pay on your student loans better than the interest you pay on your auto loan? 

 

As you accumulate more assets, you’ll encounter many different types of interest. It’s helpful to know how each type of interest differs so that you know exactly what you’re getting into when you borrow money. 

What is Student Loan Interest?

Student loan interest is essentially the cost you pay for borrowing the money. When you pay interest, you will be paying back the amount of money you borrowed plus the cost to borrow the money (the interest). The higher the interest rate, the more money you will have to pay in addition to the amount you borrowed. The amount you borrow is called the principal and the cost to borrow the money is called the interest. Interest is charged on both federal student loans and private student loans until the loan is paid in full. When you make a payment on a loan the interest is paid first, any amount of the payment over the interest is applied to the principal and lowers the balance of the loan. The types of rates and how interest is calculated are based on the type of student loan.  

 

Federal Student Loans: The Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized

Federal student loans have fixed interest rates that are set by the government. They remain the same throughout the life of the loan. Also, federal student loan interest rates may be lower than auto loans or personal loans. Federal student loans have two different types of interest: subsidized interest and unsubsidized interest. A subsidized interest loan means the government pays the interest on the loan while you are in school or during deferment (a grace period from federal student loan payments granted for certain situations), which means the balance of the loan does not increase. Once you are out of school or the deferment period ends, you will be responsible for paying the interest on the loan. An unsubsidized federal student loan means the interest starts accruing from the day the loan is first disbursed. Although you may not be required to make payments on the loan while you are in school, you will end up with a loan balance higher than you initially borrowed. The interest on a federal student loan is calculated using the simple interest formula. Here is how to calculate the simple interest formula:

 

The principal (the amount of money you borrowed) X the interest rate = The amount of interest you will pay each year for the loan

 

Private Student Loans: The 411 on Fixed and Variable Interest Rates

Private student loans can have a variable interest rate or a fixed interest rate. A variable interest rate is based on the current market and economy and can change over the life of the loan. A fixed interest rate remains the same throughout the life of the loan. It’s important to note that rates can vary widely based on the student loan lender, which is why it is so important to do your research and only sign with a reputable company. The interest rate you receive on a private student loan is also based on certain financial factors, including your credit score. 

 

For example, ELFI customers who refinanced student loans report saving an average of $309 every month¹. If you currently have private student loans, you can check out our student loan refinance calculator to get an estimated rate and monthly payment for both fixed and variable options.² Whether you’ve taken out federal student loans or private student loans throughout your college journey, consolidating and refinancing could score you some significant savings.

 

Interest On Other Common Loans

If you’re in full adulting mode, odds are you have or are considering getting an auto loan or mortgage. Just like your student loans, these financial products come with interest as well. 

 

Interest rates on car loans can be variable or fixed rates and the rate you receive is based on factors such as your credit score and financial health. There are two ways interest is calculated on car loans: simple or precomputed. For simple interest, the interest is calculated based on the balance of the loan. If you pay extra on your car loan, the principal will be reduced and in the long run, you will be saving money in interest (woohoo). If you have a precomputed interest loan on a car, it will be calculated on the total amount of the loan in advance. This means that even if you make extra payments, you will not save any money on the interest over time. One big difference to note between student loan interest and auto loan interest is how it can affect your taxes. With student loans, the interest you pay may be a tax deduction you can take depending on your income and the amount of interest you have paid. With an auto loan, there is no such benefit.    

 

Interest on a house loan, otherwise known as a mortgage, is calculated similar to a simple interest car loan. An interest rate on a mortgage may be variable or fixed depending on which type of loan you choose. There are two major types of mortgage loans: 

  1. Principal and interest loans - You pay back the interest and the principal (the amount of money you borrowed) at the same time. This is the most common type of mortgage.
  2. Interest-only loans - This is when, for a certain period of time, payments towards the loan only go towards paying off the interest on the loan.
 

Mortgage loans are amortized, like some student loans, which means your payment goes towards more interest upfront. Then as the balance decreases, you pay less interest and the payment goes towards paying down the principal. Also, just as with some student loans, some of the interest you pay on your mortgage may be tax-deductible. 

 

Understanding Interest Can Pay Off

It’s important to understand the different types of interests and loans when determining which debt to focus on paying off first. Being strategic about how and when you pay off your debt can save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars. A good rule of thumb is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate and then focus on your interest rate debt. Of course, if you have the option to refinance, explore that first and then develop your debt reduction plan.

 
 

¹Average savings calculations are based on information provided by SouthEast Bank/ Education Loan Finance customers who refinanced their student loans between 8/16/2016 and 10/25/2018. While these amounts represent reported average amounts saved, actual amounts saved will vary depending upon a number of factors.

 

²Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. Variable rates may increase after closing.

  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
2019-12-04
Tips for Starting Your Student Loan Repayment Journey

Once you graduate from college, leave college, or drop below half-time enrollment, it’s time to start thinking about when your student loan repayment period kicks in. Understanding the repayment process for your student loans is very important for a number of reasons – for one, if you don’t pay, your interest will accrue. Second, if you don’t pay, it will affect your credit score, which can hinder your ability to buy a home, buy a car, qualify for credit cards, take out a personal loan, or refinance your student loans.   If you graduated this past spring, your student loan repayment period will likely start around this time of year (if they haven’t kicked in already). Follow these tips to master student loan repayment and get yourself to a strong financial start after college.  

Know How to Access Your Loan Information

A good first step is to acquire your loan information. This can typically be accessed via an online login. Monitoring your loan information will be essential during the course of repayment. If you took out Federal Student Loans, you can likely access your info at https://myfedloan.org/. If you took out private student loans, check with your lender for how to access your information. Tracking your loans will give you a gage on the status of each loan, the balance you owe, as well as interest rates for each loan. By understanding the status of your loans, you can make more informed decisions about how you want to prioritize repayment, what type of repayment plan you want to choose, or even whether you want to consolidate or refinance your student loans.   

Know When Your Payments Start

Immediately following graduation, you’ll likely have a grace period, or a period of time before your first payment is due. This can vary depending on the type of loan you have, and they can be different for each loan. Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal loans have a six-month grace period. Perkins loans have a nine-month grace period. There is no grace period for PLUS loans; however, if you are a graduate or professional student PLUS borrower, you do not have to make any payments while you are enrolled at least half time and (for Direct PLUS loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2008) for an additional 6 months after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment. Private student loans will have differing grace periods so contact your loan servicer for more details. Knowing when your loan will be due is imperative to starting off on the right foot when it comes to your student loans.  

Weigh Repayment Options

When you take out federal student loans and your grace period is complete, you will automatically enter the Standard Repayment Plan. This plan allows you to pay off your debt within 10 years, with the monthly payment remaining the same over the life of the loan. If standard repayment doesn’t work for your budget, you may want to consider some other options, or perhaps even refinance your student loans. The federal student loan program offers the following Income-Based Repayment plans: 
  • Graduated Repayment Plan – Gives you a smaller payment amount in the beginning and gradually increases the payment amount every two years.
  • Extended Repayment Plan – Allows you to pay the least possible amount per month for 10 to 25 years.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan or REPAYE Plan – Bases the monthly payment on you (and spouse’s) adjusted gross income, family size, and state of residence.
  • Pay As You Earn or PAYE – Monthly payments are based on your adjusted gross income and family size. You must be experiencing a financial hardship to qualify. You must also be considered a “new borrower” as of 10/1/2007 or after, or be someone who received an eligible Direct Loan disbursement on 10/1/2011 or after.
  • Income-Based Repayment or IBR – Monthly payments based on your adjusted gross income and family size. Must be experiencing a financial hardship to qualify.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment or ICR – Based on your monthly adjusted gross income and family size. Typically chosen if an individual can’t qualify for the Pay As You Earn Plan or Income-Based Repayment.Any changes to your income or your spouse’s income will affect your student loan payment. For example, if your salary increases, your student loan payment will as well. If you are married, both your income and your partner’s income are combined. Two combined incomes will increase your total income, likely increasing your monthly payment. 
  Keep in mind that each repayment option will have positives, negatives, as well as eligibility requirements. Research each option before making a decision, and consider contacting your loan servicer if you have questions or need more information.   

Automate Your Payments (If you can)

Setting up automatic payments will make student loan repayment less of a hassle, will avoid late payments, and may even score you an interest rate reduction. Just be sure you have enough money in your account month-to-month to endure the payments without overdrawing.   

Make Extra Payments

When you make your monthly payment, it will first apply to any late fees you have, then it will apply to interest. After these items are covered, the remaining payment will go toward your principal loan balance (the amount you actually borrowed). By paying down the principal, you reduce the amount of interest that you pay over the life of the loan. Applying extra income by making larger payments or double payments will reduce the total amount you’ll end up paying.   

Reach Out for Help if Necessary

If you’re having trouble making your monthly payments, particularly on your federal student loans, contact your loan servicer. They will work with you to find a repayment plan you can manage or help determine your eligibility for deferment or forbearance. If you stop making payments without getting a deferment or forbearance, you risk your loan going into default, which can have serious consequences to your credit.   

Weigh Refinancing & Consolidation Options

If you have multiple student loans that are all accruing interest at different rates, you may want to consider student loan refinancing or consolidation to make repayment more manageable. The federal student loan program offers student loan consolidation, in which they combine your loans into one loan with a weighted average interest rate, rounded up to the nearest 1/8th percent. You can also consolidate your federal and/or private student loan with a private lender through the process of refinancing. Refinancing your student loans is much like consolidation, however it offers the opportunity to start new repayment terms and possibly lower your interest rate. Keep in mind that refinancing with a private lender may cause you to lose access to certain federal student loan repayment options that are listed above.   

Look Into Loan Forgiveness

If you work in a public service position or for a non-profit, you may want to consider the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or another loan forgiveness program offered by the federal government. Other options exist for volunteers, military recruits, medical personnel, etc. Some state, school, and private programs also offer loan forgiveness. Check with your school or loan servicer to see if you may qualify for student loan forgiveness.  

Earn Your Tax Benefits

If you are paying your student loans, you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on your student loans when filing your taxes. Deductions reduce your tax liability, saving you money and serving as a nice tradeoff for having to pay interest on your student loans.    Repayment of student loans can be a long, difficult journey – but by taking advantage of your resources and staying determined to pay off your debt, it is manageable. If you need more information on paying back your student loans or the options that are available to you, contact your loan servicer.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.