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Student Loan Repayment: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche

December 10, 2019

By Kat Tretina

Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been featured in publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and more. She is focused on helping people pay down their debt and boost their income.

 

To cope with the high cost of college, you likely took out several different student loans. According to Saving For College, the average 2019 graduate left school with eight to 12 different student loans.

 

With so much debt and so many different individual loans, you may be overwhelmed and can’t decide where to start with your repayment. If you want to pay off your loans ahead of schedule, there are two main strategies that financial experts recommend: the debt avalanche and the debt snowball.

 

Here’s how each of these strategies work and how to decide which approach is right for you.

 

The difference between the debt snowball and debt avalanche strategies

Both the debt avalanche and debt snowball methods are strategies for paying off your debt early. However, how they work is quite different.

 

Debt avalanche

With the debt avalanche method, you list all of your student loans from the one with the highest interest rate to the one with the lowest interest rate. You continue making the minimum payments on all of your loans. However, you put any extra money you have toward the loan with the highest interest rate.

 

Under the debt avalanche, you keep making extra payments toward the debt with the highest interest rate. Once that loan is paid off, you roll over that loan’s monthly payment and pay it toward the loan with the next highest interest rate.

 

For example, let’s say you had the following loans:

  • $10,000 Private student loan at 7% interest
  • $15,000 Private student loan at 6.5% interest
  • $5,000 Direct Loan at 4.45% interest

 

In this scenario, you would make extra payments toward the private student loan at 7% interest first with the debt avalanche method. Once that loan was paid off, you’d make extra payments toward the private student loan at 6.5% interest, and then finally you’d tackle the Unsubsidized Direct Loan.

 

Debt snowball

The debt snowball method is more focused on quick wins. With this approach, you list all of your student loans according to their balance, rather than their interest rate. You continue making the minimum payments on all of them, but you put extra money toward the loan with the smallest balance first.

 

Once the smallest loan is paid off, you roll your payment toward the loan with the next lowest balance. You continue this process until all of your debt is paid off.

 

If you had the same loans as in the above example and followed the debt snowball method, you’d pay off the Direct Loan with the $5,000 balance first since it’s the smallest loan. Once that loan was paid off, you’d make extra payments toward the $10,000 private loan, and then you’d pay off the $15,000 private loan.

 

Pros and cons of the debt avalanche method

The debt avalanche strategy has several benefits and drawbacks:

 

Pros

  • You save more in interest: By tackling the highest-interest debt first, you’ll save more money in interest charges over the length of your loan. Compared to the debt snowball method, using the debt avalanche method can help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  • You’ll pay off the loans faster: Because you’re addressing the highest-interest debt first, there’s less time for interest to accrue on the loan. With less interest building, you can pay off your loans much earlier.

 

Cons

  • You don’t see results as quickly: Because you’re tackling the debt with the highest interest rate rather than the smallest balance, it can take longer before you can pay off a loan.
  • You may lose focus: It takes longer to pay off each loan, so it’s easier to lose motivation.

 

Pros and cons of the debt snowball method

The debt snowball method has the following pros and cons:

 

Pros

  • You get results quickly: Since you’re targeting the loan with the lowest balance first, you’ll pay off individual loans quicker than you would with the debt avalanche method.
  • Frees up money to pay down the next loan: You’ll be able to pay off loans quickly and roll the payments toward the next loan, helping you stay focused on your goals.

 

Cons

  • You’ll pay more in interest fees: By paying extra toward the loan with the smallest balance rather than the highest interest rate, you’ll pay more in interest fees than you would if you followed the debt avalanche method.
  • It could take longer to pay off your debt: Because you aren’t targeting the loans with the highest interest rate first, more interest can accrue over the length of the loan. The added interest means it will take longer to pay off your loans.

 

Which strategy is best for paying off student loans?

So which strategy is best for paying off student loans: the debt avalanche or the debt snowball? If your goal is to save as much money as possible and pay off your loans as quickly as you can, the debt avalanche method makes the most financial sense.

 

Psychologically, the debt snowball may have the advantage. According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, the debt snowball method is the most effective approach over the long-term, as borrowers are more likely to stick to their repayment strategy. However, which strategy is best for you is dependent on your mindset, motivation level, and your determination to pay off your debt.

 

Managing your student loan debt

Regardless of which repayment strategy you choose, you could save even more money or pay off your loans earlier by refinancing your student loans. When you refinance student loans, you apply for a loan from a private lender for the amount of your current student loans, including both private and federal loans.

 

The new loan has completely different repayment terms than your old ones, including interest rate, repayment term, and monthly payment. Even better, you’ll only have one student loan with one monthly payment to remember.

 

Use ELFI’s Find My Rate tool to get a rate quote without affecting your credit score.*

 


 

*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.

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Millennial reading news about student loans in coffee shop.
2020-07-10
This Week in Student Loans: July 10, 2020

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:
US Capitol

GOP Concerns Over Costs Could Limit Student Loan Relief In Next Stimulus

GOP Senate leaders are showing increasing concern about the costs of additional economic relief, particularly when it comes to student loan relief, as they weigh a second stimulus bill.

Source: Forbes

 

State Senate Chambers

Democrats Fail to Override Trump Veto on Student Loan Policy

This Friday, House Democrats were unable to override the Trump Administration's veto on a proposal to reverse the Education Department's strict policy on loan forgiveness for students misled by for-profit colleges. The House voted 238-173 in support of the override measure, coming up short of the two-thirds majority needed to send it to the Senate.

Source: ABC News

 

question mark

Study Finds Gen Z Borrowers Are Unaware of COVID-19 Student Loan Relief Programs

While the CARES Act allowed those with federal student loans to pause payments until September, a recent survey from Student Debt Crisis shows that Gen Z borrowers, in particular, were the least aware of the relief program.  

Source: CNBC

 

note saying pay off debt

Author Shares Her Big 'Wake Up Call' That Led Her to Pay Off $81,00 in Student Debt

35-year-old Melanie Lockert, the author of "Dear Debt," shared with CNBS the story of how she was able to pay off $81,000 in student loan debt over 9 years, with her big wake up call coming five years into repayment.  

Source: CNBC

    That wraps things up for this week! Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or LinkedIn for more news about student loans, refinancing, and achieving financial freedom.  
 

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.

picture of different loan term lengths
2020-07-08
Dash Through the Debt: How a Shorter Student Loan Term Adds Up

If you’re like most college graduates, you’re sick of your student loans. If you want to get rid of your debt once and for all, refinancing your loans and opting for a shorter student loan term is a smart strategy. You can secure a lower rate and pay off your loans years ahead of schedule while saving thousands.    Here’s what you need to know about shortening your loan term, as well as how much shortening your student loan term could save you.   

How long does the average graduate take to repay their student loans? 

When you graduate from college, you likely expect to pay off your student loans quickly. However, life often gets in the way of your plans, even if you make a good salary.    While the
Standard Repayment Plan for federal student loans is ten years, many students extend their repayment terms with income-driven repayment plans, forbearance or deferment periods, or by missing payments altogether. According to the One Wisconsin Institute, the average length of repayment for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is 19.7 years. If you have graduate student loans, the average repayment period is even longer.    With such a longer repayment term, you’ll pay thousands of dollars in interest charges on top of what you initially borrowed, adding to your loan's total cost. And, carrying such a heavy financial burden for decades can force you to put off other goals, like buying a house, starting a business, or even getting married.   

How to get a shorter student loan term

When you take out a student loan, you sign a loan agreement or promissory note where you promise to pay the loan back according to set repayment terms. The agreement will outline the loan’s interest rate, payments, and loan term.    Many borrowers don’t realize that you’re not stuck with those terms forever. If you’re unhappy with your current loan’s repayment terms or your finances improve, there is a way to change them: student loan refinancing.*    When you refinance your debt, you apply for a loan from a lender like Education Loan Finance for the amount of your total existing student loan debt. If you have both federal and private student loans, you can combine them so you’ll have just one loan to manage and one monthly payment to remember.*    The new loan will have different terms than your old ones, including the interest rate and monthly payment. When you apply for the loan, you can choose your own loan term that works for your goals and budget. For example, if you currently have a ten-year loan term, you can select a five or seven-year loan if you'd prefer a shorter term.   

Benefits of a shorter student loan term

Instead of making payments for 20 years or more, it’s a good idea to select a shorter loan term, if you can afford it. Opting for a shorter student loan term has many advantages:   

1. You can get a lower interest rate

When you have a long loan term, lenders consider you to be a riskier borrower and they charge you a higher interest rate. You’ll have a lower monthly payment, but the longer loan term will cost you more money in interest charges over time.    By contrast, lenders reserve their lowest interest rates for credit-worthy borrowers who choose the shortest loan terms. If you want the best possible rate, opting for a shorter loan term will allow you to save money.    You’re probably wondering, “How much can I save by shortening my loan term?” Let’s look at an example.    Pretend you had $30,000 in student loans with a ten-year loan term at 5% interest. By the end of your repayment term, you would repay a total of $38,184; interest charges would cost you $8,184.    If you refinanced your loans and chose a five-year loan and qualified for a 3.19% interest rate, you’d repay just $32,496 over the life of your loan. By refinancing your debt and selecting a shorter loan term, you’d save $5,688.   

Original Loan

Balance: $30,000 Interest Rate: 5% Loan Term: 10 Years Minimum Payment: $318 Total Interest: $8,184 Total Repaid: $38,184  

Refinanced Loan

Balance: $30,000 Interest Rate: 3.19% Minimum Payment: $542 Total Interest: $2,496 Total Repaid: $32,496

2. You’ll pay off your debt earlier 

When you choose a shorter loan term, you’ll be able to pay off your debt years ahead of schedule. Not only will you save a significant amount of money in interest charges, but you’ll also have the psychological benefit of not having to worry about debt any longer. If your student loan balance was causing you stress, that’s a significant advantage, and a huge weight off your shoulders.   

3. You’ll free up cash flow

Once you’ve paid off your student loans, you’ll free up extra cash flow. You’ll no longer have to make your monthly loan payment, so you can instead direct that money toward other goals, such as saving for retirement, boosting your emergency fund, or buying a home. If you use the above example, you’d have $542 per month you could use to fund your financial goals.    To put that in perspective, let’s say you paid off your loans by the time you turned 27. After that, you invested the $542 you were paying toward your student loans into your retirement nest egg. If you contributed $542 every month into your retirement fund and earned an 8% annual return, on average, your account would be worth over $1.8 million by the time you reached the age of 67.   

The bottom line

While extending your loan term may seem like a good idea to get a lower monthly payment, that can be a costly mistake. You’ll have to pay a higher interest rate and, over time, the longer loan term will cause you to pay back far more in interest charges.    Instead, consider refinancing your loans and selecting a shorter student loan term. You’ll be debt-free sooner, and you may save a substantial amount of money.    To find out how much you can save, use the student loan refinance calculator.*  
  *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.
tax documents
2020-07-06
How Can I Get the Most Out of My Tax Return?

If you haven’t already filed your 2019 taxes, you don’t have much more time. The deadline to file your federal taxes this year has been extended to July 15, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So if you still need to file this year, or if you’re looking for ways to maximize your tax return for the future, here are some important things to keep in mind.   By Kat Tretina  

Tax Implications of Student Loans 

If you have student loans that you have been making payments on, there is a major benefit you may be able to take advantage of.  

Student Loan Interest Deduction

Each year you pay back your student loans, you may be eligible to deduct up to $2,500 in interest costs off your taxable income. Here are the important things to know about the deduction:
  • The deduction is only for the interest portion of your loan payment. Your monthly loan payment consists of paying back the principal of the loan and interest, so you will not be able to deduct your entire loan payment. 
  • You can take advantage of the deduction whether you have private student loans or federal student loans. 
  • You do not need to itemize your tax return to take advantage of this deduction. This can be taken in conjunction with the standard deduction on your return. This deduction will lower your income, thereby lowering your tax liability. 
  • You have to meet income requirements. You are eligible for the deduction if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) was below $70,000 ($140,000 for married couples filing jointly) the previous tax year. You may be eligible to deduct a reduced amount if your income is higher, however, the deduction does not apply once your MAGI is over $85,000 or $170,000 for joint filers. 
  • You cannot claim this deduction if someone else claims you as a dependent on their tax return. 
  • The loan must have been taken out for a qualified education expense for you, your spouse, or a person who was a dependent when you borrowed the loan. 
 

How The Tax Deduction Works

A deduction is taken to reduce your income that taxes are assessed on, unlike a credit that reduces your taxes owed. For a simple example of how this works, if your income is $50,000 and you paid $1,000 in student loan interest, you can deduct the full $1,000 and your income would be reduced to $49,000 and taxes would be assessed on that amount. Whereas if you claimed any credits, discussed below, the amount of the credit would be taken off of your taxes owed. If you owe $1,500 in taxes and the credit is $500 you now owe $1,000 in taxes.     It’s important to obtain the tax information from your loan servicer when you are ready to file your return. If you have paid more than $600 in interest, your servicer will most likely automatically provide you the 1098-E form. The form will show the total amount of interest you have paid for the year.     If seeing the amount of interest you have paid gives you a shock, you may want to look into refinancing your student loans. Refinancing is when you obtain a new loan to pay off current student loans and can be a simple process that results in savings. Refinancing may help you obtain a lower interest rate, thereby saving you in interest costs. It can also help you lower your monthly payment. Use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator to see how much you may be able to save.*      

Other Ways to Maximize Your Return

If you are looking for other ways to get the most out of your return, check to see if any of these could apply to you:  

Education Tax Credits 

If you are still in school paying for tuition, you may be eligible to take a tax credit, even if you used student loans to pay the expenses. Here are the two available for 2019 taxes.  

American Opportunity Tax Credit

This allows you to take a credit of up to $2,500 per year for four tax years. You must be enrolled in school at least half time and be working towards a degree. Parents who are paying for the college tuition of their dependents can take this credit or the student themselves can take the credit. Make sure to obtain Form 1098-T from the school to show how much tuition has been paid. This credit is not available for graduate students. In addition, there are income requirements to meet.    

Lifetime Learning Credit

If you are working towards a college degree or enrolled in courses to help with your career, you may be eligible to take a credit of up to $2,000 per tax year for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. There is no limit on how many years this credit can be taken. There are income requirements to meet for this credit as well.    

Save More and Reduce Taxes

If you have an IRA or a Health Savings Account and you did not contribute the maximum amount allowed for the year, the deadline is extended to allow contributions until July 15. The money saved in an IRA and HSA is not subject to federal income taxes. So you are able to save more in these accounts and avoid federal income taxes on your savings.      Hopefully, you can take advantage of some of these savings to get the most out of your tax return. As with any tax advice, make sure to use a reputable program or speak with an experienced tax preparer for your specific situation. The most important thing to remember is to file and pay your federal income taxes by the deadline, July 15, 2020.   
  *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.