Why Student Loans Are Hard to Pay Off: Challenges & SolutionsDecember 16, 2022
According to recent U.S. Department of Education data, around 16% of U.S. student loan borrowers are in default. While the CARES Act payment pauses and 0% interest rates helped some struggling borrowers with their student loans, the relief was temporary. With payments resuming, many face challenges repaying their student loans—challenges they didn’t initially anticipate when financing their education.
Here’s why many borrowers are struggling and potential solutions to these persistent problems.
Why are student loans so hard to pay off?
While some might argue that borrowers knew what they were signing up for when they applied for federal student loans, this often isn’t the case. That’s because accruing interest on loans can make it difficult to predict monthly payment amounts. It can also make monthly student loan payments significantly more expensive.
For borrowers with subsidized federal student loans, interest doesn’t accrue while they’re attending college at least half-time or in the six-month grace period after graduation. But interest does accrue on unsubsidized federal loans in school during the grace period and periods of deferment.
Interest on subsidized and unsubsidized loans can also add up during forbearance and for those participating in income-driven repayment plans where monthly payments amount to less than the total interest accruing on the loan.
The current interest rate for federal subsidized and unsubsidized undergraduate loans sits at 4.99%. While that might seem fairly low, compounding interest can cause loan balances to balloon quickly, especially with Direct Loans, which accrue interest daily.
So let’s say you borrowed $34,000 in unsubsidized loans during college with a 4.99% rate, and you elected not to make interest payments during school or the grace period. Here’s how to calculate the amount of interest that will accrue:
- Determine the daily interest rate
- .0499 / 365 = 0.000136
- Determine the daily interest accruing
- 34,000 x 0.000136 = 4.65
- Calculate the total interest accrued
- 4.65 x 1,638 = 7,616.70
You’d accrue a total of $7,616.70 in interest, which would be added to your original loan balance, so your new balance would be $41,616.70. With a 10-year loan term, your monthly principal and interest payments would be around $441 on the new balance.
Certain lenders may capitalize your interest or charge interest on top of interest, which results in higher charges. Capitalized interest can make it challenging to make a dent in your total student loan balance. If you’re wondering, why do student loans take so long to pay off? Capitalized interest may be the culprit.
Complicating the issue is the fact that borrowers who opt for an income-driven repayment plan after graduating may not be earning enough to keep up with the total interest accrued. With most income-driven plans, borrowers pay a total of 10% of their discretionary income toward their student loans each month. If a new grad has $1,500 in monthly discretionary income, their student loan payments would be around $150. But with interest continuing to accrue on the total balance, that $150 per month wouldn’t necessarily make a dent in what they owe.
What are some potential solutions?
Given that interest on student loans can accumulate fairly quickly, especially in cases where it’s capitalized, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will help struggling borrowers. But there are some options that could help.
If you’re working during school, you might consider making payments before you graduate to help reduce the burden of interest charges. Putting a percentage of windfalls, like tax returns or gifted money, toward your student loans could also help. Consider creating a budget to help determine what you can comfortably afford to pay each month, and then automatically pay that amount toward your balance.
While federal student loan forgiveness has been a hot topic lately, relying on this as a guaranteed option doesn’t make sense. That said, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness after making payments for a set time period if you work in public service or education. Certain borrowers may be able to lower their burden by researching loan forgiveness programs available to them.
Refinancing federal loans with a private lender may be another option. While you’ll sacrifice certain benefits, you might end up with a lower interest rate or a longer term that could make your payments more manageable.
While there’s no simple solution to the costly student loan debt issue, certain steps can make the burden a little easier to bear. Whether you’re still in college or you’ve already graduated, consider employing some of the strategies mentioned to help better manage your debt.