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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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2020-07-02
Should You Keep Paying Federal Student Loans During CARES Act Suspensions?

You probably already know that the CARES Act has suspended Federal student loan payments for the time being. Until September 30th, you aren’t required to make payments, and the interest rate of your loans is set to 0%. This is primarily to help those with student loans who are struggling during these uncertain times. If your student loans are in forbearance due to the CARES Act suspensions, you have several repayment options based on your financial goals.

 

Option 1: Take Advantage of That 0% Interest

Normally, when making extra payments on student loans, your money is first attributed to any collections charges or late fees, then to accrued interest, then to the principal itself.

 

With the current 0% interest rates, however, if your account doesn’t have any fees or charges, you’ll save some money at that step. The more you can reduce your principal balance, the more money you’ll save over time in interest.

 

For example, let’s say you have $25,000 in student loans at a 4% interest rate and you want to pay it off in the next 10 years. Over that period, you accrue $5,373.54 in interest. However, if you take advantage of the CARES Act 0% interest, you can change the course of your repayment.

 

For instance, if you continue to pay your student loans during this period, the payments will be attributed straight to principal and will save you about $300 in accrued interest over the course of your repayment.

 

Option 2: Wait Until September And Resume Payments

If the coronavirus has affected your finances, don’t worry about paying down your student loans too quickly. Instead, use this time to get your other debts under control. Focus on paying back higher interest rate debt, like credit card debt, which will impact your long-term financial health.

 

Option 3: Refinance and Take Advantage of Low Interest Rates

During this time, many student loan refinancing companies are offering low interest rates. If you’re locked into an unfavorable rate, this would be a great time to consider refinancing student loans to save on interest costs.

 

This is an especially great option for borrowers with private loans, as these types of loans aren’t currently receiving any type of federal forbearance benefit. For a personalized look at how refinancing could improve your financial health, check out the ELFI Student Loan Refinancing Calculator.*

 

So, should you keep paying federal student loans during the CARES Act suspensions? The answer depends on your unique goals. Whether you choose to pay your federal loans, take care of other expenses, or refinance your student loans, this is a great opportunity to eliminate some additional debt before the September 30 deadline. Happy saving!

 
 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

 

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.

Woman checking her finances while wearing mask due to COVID-19
2020-07-01
The 6 Financial Lessons That COVID-19 Has Taught Us

Since March, the nation has been reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people lost their jobs, had their hours cut, or experienced drops in their income. Many families’ finances have been significantly affected by the coronavirus outbreak and are still struggling to recover.   By Kat Tretina   As the nation starts to rebuild — and businesses begin to reopen — here are six lessons we learned during the pandemic that we should all keep in mind going forward.   

1. You need a larger emergency fund

Before the pandemic, many financial experts said that an emergency fund of $1,000 was sufficient for most individuals. Others said that saving three months’ worth of expenses was enough.    If you followed that advice, you may have realized that the guidance left you unprepared to deal with such a serious catastrophe. If you lost your entire income overnight, you quickly exhausted your savings and were unable to pay your bills.    If the pandemic drained your savings account or if you never had an emergency fund in the first place, focus on building one from scratch once you’re steadily employed again. Aim to save at least six months’ worth of living expenses. That may sound impossible right now, but the important thing is to start saving and tuck money away consistently. Over time, you can achieve your goal.   

2. Understand your loan protections

As we found out during the past few months, not all creditors are equal. While some creditors were willing to work with people struggling with their finances during the pandemic, others were not.    Federal student loans were eligible for the
CARES Act, including 0% interest and automatic payment suspensions. Unfortunately, private student loans did not qualify for those benefits.    Some private student loan lenders workers with borrowers and allowed them to postpone their payments, but not all lenders were willing to do so.    The experience highlights how important it is to shop around and choose a lender that offers hardship programs and forbearance options. With ELFI, you may be eligible for up to 12 months of forbearance if you experience a financial hardship, such as a job loss or medical emergency.   

3. Avoid the lifestyle creep

Before the pandemic hit, the economy was strong. Unemployment numbers were very low and credit was easy to get, so many people were inflating their lifestyle. Even high-earners were living paycheck to paycheck to live more lavish lifestyles than they could really afford. When things went south, people were left scrambling to make ends meet.    Living well within your means protects you from a recession and a bad economy. When you spend less than you make, you have more breathing room in your budget, and can weather bad times until things improve.    To avoid lifestyle inflation, create a budget and stick to it. When you get a raise, automatically deposit the difference in your paycheck into your savings account or make extra payments toward your student loans. That way, you won’t notice the extra money, but you’ll improve your net worth. Learn how to avoid the lifestyle creep here.  

4. It’s wise to have multiple income streams

Many people lost their jobs, were furloughed, or had their hours reduced during the pandemic. With unemployment rates skyrocketing and many businesses shutting down, having multiple income streams is more important than ever.    When you have more than one source of income, you’re better able to handle emergencies. Even if you lose your job, you’ll at least have some money coming in to cover your most important bills. Having a side hustle can also help diversify your skill-set, making it easier to find another full-time job later on.    If you can, look for another source of income. You can pick up a side hustle, such as delivering groceries, pet-sitting, or renting out extra space. You can also offer freelancing or consulting services in your field.   

5. Don’t try and time the market

When the pandemic occurred, the stock market plummeted. Many people panicked and sold their investments or raided their retirement plans. It turned out to be a costly mistake, as the stock market rebounded. It’s a key lesson: Don’t try and time the market.   The stock market has natural ebbs and flows, and will experience sharp periods of growth and recessions. Don’t panic and sell during those declines, and don’t try to buy only when you think it’s at its lowest.    Instead, keep your investments where they are, and continue making consistent contributions if you can. Over time, your money will steadily grow, and your patience will pay off. If you're new to investing, you may want to check out these apps to get started..   

6. Pay down high-interest debt

Having high-interest debt can be one of the biggest stressors when the economy is in decline. When your job is at risk and money is tight, your student loans and credit cards are the last thing you want to worry about when you need to pay rent and groceries.    To eliminate that stress, focus on paying down high-interest debt when things are relatively good. By paying off your debt, you’ll save money over time, and you’ll reduce your monthly expenses.   If you want to accelerate your student loan repayment, consider student loan refinancing. Especially if you have private student loans, refinancing your loans can help you get a lower interest rate and save money over time.   Use the student loan refinance calculator to find out how much you can save over the life of your repayment term.*  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   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.
Woman dealing with financial stress in healthy way
2020-06-29
7 Healthy Ways to Deal With Financial Stress

Do you have debt? If so, you are not alone. More than 74% of Americans have debt of some kind. We know how stressful dealing with debt can be. It can often feel like there is no end to debt payments in sight and can consume your thoughts more than it should. But there are healthy ways to deal with financial stress that can help you pay down debt faster. Read on for some innovative ways to curb financial stress and crush your debt.     According to a Northwestern Mutual 2020 Planning & Progress Study, the average debt for Americans in 2020, just before the COVID-19 impact, was $26,621 per person carrying debt. The debt consists mainly of credit card debt and mortgages, followed by personal student loans and car loans. It should come as no surprise that millennials are feeling the strain of debt as well, with the average debt for millennials being $27,900 in 2019, excluding mortgage debt. Millennials cite credit cards and student loans as their major debt sources. Among all those with debt, 67% have a specific plan to pay it off. While that’s great, that means that three in 10 debt holders have no plan for how they’ll pay off their debt. A plan is a great way to feel more in control and stress less about your debt. With a little bit of strategic planning, it can also help you pay down your debt faster.  

Healthy Ways to Deal With Financial Stress

If you have been reading about debt tackling strategies, you have probably heard of the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods. Those are great strategies, but if you are looking for new and creative (and possibly even fun) ways to deal with financial stress here are some ideas to try out:   

Side Hustle

In 2019, 45% of Americans reported having a side hustle. A side hustle is a great way to earn extra money outside of your day job. The money earned can be extremely helpful to make extra payments on your debt and pay off your debt faster. A side hustle could be a driver for ride sharing, grocery shopping for others, selling items on eBay, tutoring, or dog walking, among many other options. Your side hustle might even be an enjoyable hobby you can start making money from like photography or writing a blog. Doing an activity you enjoy and making money on the side is sure to help ease some stress.    

Dollar for Dollar

For every dollar you spend on non-essential purchases, you spend the same amount on an extra debt payment. Think you want new wireless headphones? Take the same amount you will spend and make an extra debt payment. This method may also help you curb some spending on wants versus needs.    

Sign-Up Bonuses

Looking for a new checking or savings account? Take advantage of banks with sign-up bonuses for opening a new account and use the bonus money to fund your next financial goal.   

Save with Apps

If you like paying with plastic, there are some apps that you can use to help you save for specific financial goals. Some will round up your purchase price to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference into a savings account, one example is the app Acorns. Another app, Qoins, will take the difference and make a debt payment on your behalf. Or use the app, Digit, that will monitor your income and spending habits to determine if there is extra money that can be moved from your checking account into your Digit account. These little amounts can add up quickly to help you meet a savings goal.   

Found Money

According to a 2019 report, 92% of millennials use coupons, whether paper coupons or digital coupons on their phone or online. These coupon savings can then be turned into extra debt payments. Found a coupon that saves you $10 on a purchase you were already going to make? Put that money aside to make an extra payment on your debt. You might also find money from your credit card cash back programs. If you are not carrying any credit card debt, using credit cards to earn cash back is a great way to earn money for purchases you were already making. Instead of using the cash back on a frivolous purchase, turn it into an extra debt payment or the beginning of an emergency fund. If you are shopping online, use a cash back shopping site to earn additional money that can be turned into another debt payment.    

Color Away

Looking to calm your anxiety and see the light at the end of the debt tunnel? Try debt repayment coloring pages. A study in the journal Art Therapy found coloring can reduce anxiety and improve mindfulness. A debt repayment coloring sheet allows you to color a section of the page for each new debt milestone met. They can be a great visual reminder of how far you have come in your debt paying journey and great motivation to make little extra payments when you can. A quick search will show you free ready made pages to start coloring.  

No Spend Challenge

Make a commitment to not spend any unnecessary money for a certain length of time. You could start with a couple of weeks and work your way up to a month long challenge. Set the rules of what you can spend on, but remember it’s supposed to be a challenge. For example you could decide to only spend money on rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation, and food from grocery stores. Any other expenses outside of those categories you don’t spend for two weeks. All the extra money you would normally spend on unnecessary items goes straight to debt payments, emergency fund or any other financial goal you have.      If student loans are one source of financial stress, check to see if student loan refinancing is a good fit for you.* For many people, refinancing is a beneficial way to cut expenses and save in interest costs.    

Conclusion

Debt may be a part of your finances right now, but won’t always be. Make a plan and try to incorporate some of these methods to help make the debt payoff journey easier. Before you know it, you will have your next debt payoff milestone met and will be on your way to a debt-free life. Good luck!  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   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.