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:
- 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.
- 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.
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