Refinancing Student Loans Without a Cosigner: Is It Possible?

Refinancing Student Loans Without a Cosigner: Is It Possible?

As long as you meet lender requirements, it’s possible to refinance student loans without a cosigner. Refinancing means that a private lender bundles some or all of your loans, pays them off, and structures them into one new loan. A private lender can be a bank, school, credit union, or state agency. Federal student loans are funded by the federal government.

A cosigner is an individual with a good credit record who agrees to repay the loan if the primary borrower cannot. If you prefer to apply for a student loan without a cosigner, you may pay more for your loan over the long term through higher interest rates.

Keep reading for more information about student loan refinancing without a cosigner and what it involves.

What Is Student Loan Refinancing?

Student loan refinancing means that a private lender pays off your existing loans (which can be a mixture of private and federal student loans) and puts all of your loans under one roof. This means you don’t have to keep track of various loan payments.

Refinancing student loans allows you to lower your interest rates or extend your loan payoff. Your interest rate, which is a percentage of your principal amount borrowed, is the amount you pay to your lender in exchange for borrowing money. Extending your loan payoff means that you will increase the number of years you take to pay off your loan. It’s important to note that in this case, you will pay more over the life of your loan because you increase the number of years that you will pay for your loan.

You can refinance both federal and private student loans, but note that you must do so with a private lender. You cannot refinance any type of loan into a federal student loan. However, refinancing federal student loans means that you’ll lose access to federal protections such as federal loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans. Some lenders only refinance private student loans. Clearly, knowing if and when to refinance student loans is not a simple decision.

Benefits of Refinancing Student Loans Without a Cosigner

Take a look at the benefits of a student loan refinance with a cosigner and the drawbacks of refinancing student loans without a cosigner.

Pros of Refinancing With a Cosigner

Cons of Refinancing Without a Cosigner

Students may gain access to lower rates and terms. Students may not get approved for a loan without a cosigner.
Students may have a better chance of getting approved for refinancing student loan debt with a cosigner. Students may have to pay a higher interest rate without a cosigner on the loan.
Students may be able to build their credit in order to qualify for future loans and get a lower interest rate on other loans in the future.

Keep in mind that if the student stops making loan payments, cosigners may end up paying back the student loan. Not making payments can damage both the student’s and the cosigner’s credit score. Your credit score is a three-digit number that shows a lender how well you pay down debt.

If this happens, it can result in a strained relationship. A student loan refinance without a cosigner may be the best option for all parties involved.

Recommended: Guide to Student Loan Refinancing

How To Refinance Student Loans in 4 Steps

Refinancing student loans without a cosigner typically follows these four steps:

1. Prequalify

By submitting some personal information, you can compare the rates among lenders. Lenders will run a soft credit check which won’t hurt your credit. Lenders will ask for your name, address, school you attended, degree achieved, total student loan debt, income, credit score estimate, and more. The information you need to provide varies from lender to lender.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between a Hard and Soft Credit Check?

2. Get Multiple Rate Estimates

Each lender will likely give you several offers with various term lengths as well as fixed interest rates (those that don’t change) and variable interest rates (those that change depending on market fluctuations).

3. Complete the Application

Once you’ve chosen a lender and a loan, you can submit documentation that supports the soft credit check and any other information the lender needs, such as personal identification, pay stubs, or other income verification. You’ll undergo a hard credit check at this point.

4. Sign the Final Documents

Learn your final costs, or take a look at a student loan refinance calculator, to get a sense of your all-in costs so you know what you’ll have to pay every month.

What Refinancing Without a Cosigner Involves

Refinancing student loans without a cosigner involves special considerations:

Qualifying With Your Own Credit

Qualifying for a refinance with your own credit means that you aim to get a refinance using your own credit score. The credit score you need to qualify for a refinance will depend on a wide variety of factors, including your income and other information.

It’s important to put forth as high a credit score as you possibly can. The FICO® score range from 300 to 850 — 300 is the lowest and 850 is the highest credit score possible.

In addition to your credit check, you may also need to meet some basic eligibility requirements:

•   The legal age, or “age of majority,” in your state (typically 18)

•   A U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or non-permanent resident alien

•   Employed or have sufficient income from other sources

•   Graduated with an associate’s degree or higher from a qualified institution

Recommended: What is a bad credit score?

Debt-to-Income Ratio

When you get a refinance, a lender will also look at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This is a percentage that tells lenders how much of your money per month goes toward monthly debts versus how much money you have coming into your household.

You can figure out your DTI by adding up your monthly debts and dividing that figure by your gross monthly income (your income before taxes). The result is a percentage, and the lower the percentage, the less risk you present to lenders. Learn more about why debt-to-income ratio matters in student loan refinancing with cosigner and without a cosigner.

Employment Status

In many cases, you must be currently employed, earn income from other sources, or have an offer of employment to start within the next 90 days in order to get a refinance. However, various lenders may have different employment stipulations. Check with your lender to learn more.

Credit History

In order to qualify for a refinance, a lender will look at your credit history, which includes your current and past credit accounts, the amount you owe, and your payment history. Your credit history reveals how responsibly you repay your debts. Credit scores come from information on your credit reports.

What If You Can’t Get Approved Without a Cosigner?

If you can’t get approved without a cosigner, you may want to look for a lender with an alternative credit check. Lenders may offer an alternative process, including simply taking a look at your grade point average, field of study, graduation prospects, and estimated future earnings to determine your eligibility for a refinance or loan. Keep in mind that these alternative requirements may require you to pay a higher interest rate for your refinance.

You may also consider going ahead with a cosigner and then later applying for a student loan cosigner release. A cosigner release means that cosigner is released from a loan as long as you meet certain requirements, such as a minimum payment requirement. Once released, the cosigner is no longer obligated to take care of your debt if you cannot repay your loan.

Alternatives to Refinancing Without a Cosigner

One of the best ways to circumvent the need for a cosigner is to work on improving your credit score. You can do that by paying off debt — paying down credit cards, paying off loans that have gone into arrears — and not taking out too many other types of loans. Your credit score will increase over time as you make positive moves.

SoFi Student Loan Refinancing

It’s possible to refinance student loans without a cosigner, but you may end up with less desirable rates than if you did opt for a cosigner. However, consider the pros and cons of applying with and without a cosigner, including the potential for a strained relationship if you fail to make timely loan repayments. Another important factor to weigh is how likely you are to benefit from the current federal student loan forgiveness plan, as well as the protections that come with federal student loans.

If you think refinancing might make sense for your situation, consider refinancing your student loans with SoFi. You can refinance online and pay zero fees, whether you choose to refinance student loans with a cosigner or not.

Check out student loan refinance rates offered by SoFi.


Photo credit: iStock/paulaphoto

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Student Loans: Refinance vs. Income Driven Repayment

Refinancing Student Loans vs Income Driven Repayment Plans

Editors Note: Since the writing of this article, the federal Student Loan Debt Relief program has been blocked and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. While the case is being reviewed, the Biden administration is extending the federal student loan payment pause into 2023. The US Department of Education announced loan repayments may resume as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.

If you’re having trouble making your student loan payments or just want to know if you can make a change to your payments, it’s worth looking into the options, such as refinancing student loans or an income-driven repayment plan.

Student loan refinancing is available for both private and federal student loans, while income-driven repayment plans are only an option only for federal student loans. Proposed changes to income-driven repayment would lower monthly payments and curtail interest accrual, making the plans a better deal for borrowers. Here’s what to know about both options as well as the pros and cons of each.

What Is Student Loan Refinancing?

When you refinance a student loan, a private lender pays off your student loans and gives you a new loan with new terms. For example, the interest rate and/or the loan term may change. You can’t refinance loans through the federal government, however. You can only refinance federal student loans (or private student loans) through a private lender.

If you’re a graduate with high-interest Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans, a refinance can change how quickly you pay off your loans and/or the amount you pay each month.

Recommended: How Do Student Loans Work? Guide to Student Loans

Pros of Student Loan Refinancing

When considering refinancing your student loans, there are several benefits. You can:

•   Lower your monthly payments: Lowering your monthly payment means you can save money or spend more in other areas of your life instead of putting that cash toward paying student loans. (Depending on the length of the loan term, however, you may end up paying more in total interest.)

•   Get a lower interest rate than your federal student loan interest rates: This can result in paying less interest over the life of the loan (as long as you don’t extend your loan to a longer term). A student loan refinance calculator can show you the interest rate you qualify for.

•   Decrease your debt-to-income ratio (DTI): Your DTI compares your debt payments to your income. So if you lower your monthly payments, you could be lowering your DTI ratio — and a lower DTI can help when applying for a mortgage or other type of loan.

•   Remove a cosigner. Many borrowers who took out undergraduate loans did so with a parent or other cosigner. Refinancing without a cosigner allows you to regain some financial independence and privacy, provided you have a strong credit history.

Recommended: What’s the Average Student Loan Interest Rate?

Cons of Student Loan Refinancing

That said, refinancing federal loans can have some drawbacks as well. They include:

•   No longer being able to take advantage of federal forbearance: When you refinance your student loans through a private lender, you no longer qualify for federal student loan forbearance, such as the Covid-19-related payment holiday. However, it’s worth noting that some private lenders offer their own benefits and protections after you refinance.

•   No longer being able to tap into income-driven repayment plans, forgiveness programs, or other federal benefits: Refinancing federal student loans means replacing them with private loans — and forfeiting the protections and programs that come with them.

•   Possibly seeing your credit score get dinged: Your lender may do a hard credit history inquiry (or pull), which can affect your credit score.

For a deeper dive into the topic, check out our Student Loan Refinancing Guide.

What Are Income Driven Repayment Plans?

Put simply, income-driven repayment plans are plans that base your monthly payment amount on what you can afford to pay. Under the Standard Repayment Plan, you’ll pay fixed monthly payments of at least $50 per month for up to 10 years. On the other hand, an income-driven repayment plan considers your income and family size and allows you to pay accordingly based on those factors — for longer than 10 years and with smaller loan payments. Income-driven repayment plans are based on a percentage of your discretionary income.

You can only use an income-driven repayment plan for federal student loans. If you qualify, you could take advantage of four types of income-driven repayment plans:

•   Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan): You typically pay 10% of your discretionary income over the course of 20 years (for loans for undergraduate study) or 25 years (for loans for graduate or professional school).

•   Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan): You typically pay 10% of your discretionary income but not more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount over the course of 20 years.

•   Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan): As a new borrower, you typically pay 10% of your discretionary but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount over the course of 20 years. If you’re not a new borrower, you’ll pay 15% of your discretionary income but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount over the course of 25 years.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan): As a new borrower, you typically pay the lesser of the two: 20% of your discretionary income or a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted according to your income over the course of 25 years.

In August 2022, President Biden proposed changes to some income-driven repayment programs as part of his forgiveness plan. Payments for undergraduate borrowers would be reduced to 5% of discretionary income, and the loan term would be extended to 20 years (10 years for original loan balances less than $12,000). For more details, check out our Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness.

How do you know which option fits your needs? Your loan servicer can give you a rundown of the program that may fit your circumstances. You must apply for an income-driven repayment plan through a free application from the U.S. Department of Education.

Note: Every income-driven plan payment counts toward the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). So if you qualify for this program, you may want to choose the plan that offers you the smallest payment.

Recommended: How Is Income-Based Repayment Calculated?

Pros of Income Driven Repayment Plans

The benefits of income-driven repayment plans include the following:

•   Affordable student loan payments: If you can’t make your loan payments under the Standard Repayment Plan, an income-driven repayment plan allows you to make a lower monthly loan payment.

•   Potential for forgiveness: Making payments through an income-driven repayment plan and working through loan forgiveness under the PSLF program means you may qualify for forgiveness of your remaining loan balance after you’ve made 10 years of qualifying payments instead of 20 or 25 years.

•   Won’t affect your credit score: This may be one question you’re wondering, whether income-based repayment affects your credit score? The answer is: no. Since you’re not changing your total loan balance or opening another credit account, lenders have no reason to check your credit score.

Cons of Income Driven Repayment Plans

Now, let’s take a look at the potential downsides to income-driven repayment plans:

•   Payment could change later: The Department of Education asks you to recertify your annual income and family size for payment, which is recalculated every 12 months. If your income changes, your payments would also change.

•   Balance may increase: If your monthly payment ends up being lower than the interest accrued, the remaining interest could be added to your overall loan balance. However, new regulations would suspend excess interest accrual when monthly payments do not cover all accruing interest.

•   There are many eligibility factors: Your eligibility could be affected by several things, including when your loans were disbursed, your marital status, year-to-year changing income, and more.

Refinancing vs Income Driven Repayment Plans

Here are the factors related to refinancing and income-driven repayment plans in a side-by-side comparison.

Refinancing

Income-Driven Repayment Plan

Lowers your monthly payments Possibly Possibly
Changes your loan term Possibly Yes
Increases your balance Possibly Possibly
Is eventually forgiven if you still haven’t paid off your loan after the repayment term No Yes
Requires an application Yes Yes
Requires yearly repayment calculations No Yes

Choosing What Is Right for You

When you’re considering whether to refinance or choose an income-driven repayment plan, it’s important to take into account the interest you’ll be paying over time. It could be that you will pay more interest because you lengthened your loan term. If that’s the case, just make sure you are comfortable with this before making any changes. Many people who refinance their student loans do so because they want to decrease the amount of interest they pay over time — and many want to pay off their loans sooner.

That said, if you’re wondering whether you should refinance your federal student loans, you’ll also want to make sure you are comfortable forfeiting your access to federal student loan benefits and protections.

Refinancing Student Loans With SoFi

Refinancing your student loans with SoFi means getting a competitive interest rate. You can choose between a fixed or variable rate — and you won’t pay origination fees or prepayment penalties.

Find out if you pre-qualify to refinance your student loans with SoFi in just a few minutes.

FAQ

Is income-contingent repayment a good idea?

Right now, the federal government has put a hold on federal student loan repayment. However, once the payment pause expires, it might be a good idea for the right situation, particularly if you have a low income or are unemployed. Having trouble making your student loan payments and already “using up” options for unemployment deferment or economic hardship could make income-contingent repayment worth it.

You may defer payments if you receive public assistance, serve in the Peace Corps, make less than minimum wage or fit into the poverty guidelines. If you can’t find employment at all, you may defer payments for up to three years.

What are the disadvantages of income based repayment?

The biggest disadvantage of income-based repayment is that you stretch out your loan term from the standard repayment plan of 10 years to longer — up to 25 years. This means that more interest will accrue on your loans and you could end up paying more on your loan before your loan term ends.

Does income based repayment get forgiven?

Yes! Making payments through an income-driven repayment plan as well as working toward forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program means that after 10 years of qualifying payments, you could get any remaining loan balance forgiven, instead of after 20 or 25 years.


Photo credit: iStock/m-imagephotography

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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What Is a Student Loan Grace Period and How Long Is It?

As you prepare for life after graduation, one important step is figuring out whether you’re required to make monthly student loan payments right away or you have what’s called a “grace period.” The same question applies to students taking a break from full-time education.

Don’t forget: The pause on federal student loan payments and interest, announced in March 2020, is scheduled to expire in 2023, as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.

Below, we’ll explain what a grace period is, when it starts, and how you might extend yours. You’ll also find a simple financial to-do list to tackle before you start making student loan payments.

What Is a Grace Period for Student Loans?

A student loan grace period is a window of time after a student graduates and before they must begin making loan payments. The intent of a grace period is to give new graduates a chance to get a job, get settled, select a repayment plan, and start saving a bit before their loan repayment kicks in. Most federal student loans have a grace period, as well as some private student loans.

Grace periods also apply when a student leaves school or drops below half-time enrollment. Active members of the military who are deployed for more than 30 days during their grace period may receive the full grace period upon their return.

How Long Is the Grace Period for Student Loans?

The grace period for federal student loans is typically six months. Some Perkins loans can have a nine-month grace period. When private lenders offer a grace period on student loans, it’s usually six months, too.

Keep in mind that, as noted above, not all student loans have grace periods.

Does My Student Loan Have a Grace Period?

Whether you have a grace period depends on what kind of loans you have. Student loans fall into two main buckets: federal and private student loans.

Federal Student Loans

Most federal student loans have grace periods.

•   Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a six-month grace period.

•   Grad PLUS loans technically don’t have a grace period. But graduate or professional students get an automatic six-month deferment after they graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment.

•   Parent Plus loans also don’t have a grace period. However, parents can request a six-month deferment after their child graduates, leaves school, or drops below half-time.

Keep in mind: Borrowers who consolidate their federal loans lose their grace period. Once your Direct Consolidation Loan is disbursed, repayment begins approximately two months later. And if you refinance, the terms are up to your new private lender.

Private Student Loans

The terms of private student loans vary by lender. Some private loans require that you make payments while you’re still in school. When private lenders do offer a grace period, it’s usually six months for undergraduates and nine months for graduate and professional students.

Here at SoFi, qualified private student loan borrowers can take advantage of a six-month grace period before payments are due. SoFi also honors existing grace periods on refinanced student loans.

If you’re not sure whether your private student loan has a grace period, check your loan documents or call your student loan servicer.

Recommended: Student Loan Forgiveness for Current Students

Does Interest Accrue During the Grace Period?

During the student loan payment pause, from March 2020 to a to-be-announced date in 2023, interest is not accruing on federal student loans. However, that’s not the way it usually works.

For most federal student loans, interest is charged during the grace period — even though you aren’t making payments on the loan. This interest is then added to your total loan balance (a process called “capitalization”), effectively leaving you to pay interest on your interest.

However, there’s good news on the capitalization front: Beginning in July 2023, new federal regulations will eliminate the capitalization of interest when a borrower first enters repayment. This can save borrowers a considerable amount of money on interest.

How to Make the Most of Your Student Loan Grace Period

If you are in a financially tight spot after you graduate or during your break from school, a student loan grace period can offer much-needed breathing room. Here’s how you can put your grace period to good use:

Get Your Finances in Order

Take this time to create a new post-grad budget. Which approach you use is up to you: the 70-20-10 Rule, the Kakeibo method, zero-based budgeting. The important thing is to determine your monthly income and expenses, setting aside enough to pay down debts and save a little.

Set Up Autopay

Missed loan payments can incur penalties and hurt your credit score. Setting up autopay means one less thing you have to remember. Some student loan lenders will even discount your interest rate for setting up automatic payments (like SoFi!).

Consider Making Payments Ahead of Time

Just because you don’t have to make payments toward student loans during a grace period doesn’t mean you can’t. If you are in a financial position to make payments — even interest-only payments — during a grace period, you should. It can help keep your loan’s principal balance from growing. (Learn more in our take on making minimum student loans payments.)

Look into Alternative Repayment Plans

Once your grace period is over, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the Standard Repayment plan. However, if you’re concerned about making your payments, several income-driven repayment plans are available. These plans reduce your payment to a small percentage of your disposable income — sometimes as low as $0. And beginning in 2023, these plans will become an even better deal.

Consider Consolidating or Refinancing Your Student Loans

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between them. Both consolidation and refinancing combine and replace existing student loans with a single new loan.

A Direct Consolidation Loan allows you to combine several federal student loans into one new federal loan. The resulting interest rate is the weighted average of prior loan rates, rounded up to the nearest ⅛ of a percent. However, as noted above, borrowers who consolidate their federal loans lose their grace period.

Student loan refinancing is when you consolidate your student loans with a private lender and receive new rates and terms. Your interest rate — which is hopefully lower — is determined by your credit history.

Can You Extend Your Student Loan Grace Period?

If your loan doesn’t qualify for a grace period or you want to extend your grace period, you have options. You may still delay your federal student-loan repayment through deferment and forbearance.

What’s the difference? Both are similar to a grace period in that you won’t be responsible for student loan payments for a length of time. The difference is in the interest.

When a loan is in forbearance, loan payments are temporarily paused, but interest will accrue during the forbearance period. This can lead to substantial increases in what you’ll pay for your federal loans over time. You’ll want to consider forbearance very carefully, and look into other options that might be available to you, like income-driven repayment plans.

While grace periods are automatic, you’ll need to request a student loan deferment or forbearance and meet certain eligibility requirements. In some cases — during a medical residency or National Guard activation, for example — a lender is required to grant forbearance.

The Takeaway

Federal student loan grace periods are typically six months from your date of graduation, during which you don’t have to make payments. Most federal student loans have grace periods (though sometimes they’re dubbed “deferments” instead). Private student loan terms vary by lender. However, some lenders, like SoFi, match federal grace periods for undergrad loans. During your grace period, you may want to make payments anyway, even interest-only payments, to prevent your balance from growing. The grace period is a good time to create a new budget, choose a repayment plan, and set up autopay. Although student loan payments and interest have been paused since March 2020, they are set to start up again in 2023.

If you have trouble making your payments, you have options, from income-driven repayment to consolidation to refinancing. It’s important to point out that refinancing federal student loans with a private lender, including SoFi, renders them ineligible for certain protections and benefits, like loan forgiveness and deferment.

If you want to find out whether refinancing your student loans could help you lower your monthly payments or reduce interest, you can take a look at SoFi’s Student Loan Refinance Calculator, which lets you plug and play various scenarios to see how you might benefit. If you’re ready to take that next step, checking your rate won’t affect your credit.

Learn more about managing your student loans with SoFi.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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How To Handle Student Loans During a Job Loss

Editors Note: Since the writing of this article, the federal Student Loan Debt Relief program has been blocked and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. While the case is being reviewed, the Biden administration is extending the federal student loan payment pause into 2023. The US Department of Education announced loan repayments may resume as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.

Getting laid off? Not great. Getting laid off with student loans? Even worse. Although the payment pause for federal student loans has been extended well into 2023, now is a good time to plan ahead and rethink your payment plan.

Fortunately, there are options for borrowers to lean on when they lose their jobs or experience another change in circumstances.

While many of these repayment plans can increase the amount you pay over time, including interest, they can make your student loans more affordable during a temporary period of financial hardship.

How COVID Affected Student Loans

COVID-19 led to pretty major derailments for some of us. Whether you were just starting your career or had a rapidly growing resume, there’s a good chance your job situation looks different now than before the pandemic.

Unemployment filings reached a record high at the end of March 2020, meaning a slew of people wondered how to pay their student loans with no job. Educational debt can be difficult to keep up with under the best of circumstances, let alone in the midst of a crisis. Fortunately, the government made some moves to offer federal student loan borrowers some solace.

The Trump administration suspended both principal and interest payments on federal student loans through January 2021. President Biden then extended the forbearance several times, most recently until the second half of 2023. Payments automatically stopped on March 13, 2020, and the suspension doesn’t affect the borrower’s eligibility for student loan forgiveness programs.

To be clear, the ruling doesn’t affect privately held student loans, like the ones through lenders like Sallie Mae® or smaller providers. However, private loan holders may still have options that can help keep their loans from becoming financially overwhelming.

Recommended: How Do Student Loans Work? Guide to Student Loans

Talk to Your Student Loan Servicer

If your loans haven’t been automatically suspended, you can still reach out to your student loan servicer about a modified repayment agreement if you’ve lost your job or are otherwise experiencing trouble with your current plan.

Sallie Mae, for instance, has “instituted additional options for customers experiencing financial difficulty” due to COVID-19. The company invites borrowers to contact them via online chat or phone to discuss alternatives and assistance.

No matter who your lender is, there’s a good chance they can offer you a temporary solution if you’re unable to make your payments. You may be able to pause your payments, for instance — though you’ll probably still accrue interest during the pause.

Either way, it’s worth reaching out to lenders to update them on your situation and hear what they might be able to offer.

File for Unemployment

Unemployment insurance — commonly referred to simply as “unemployment” — is a joint federal-state benefit that offers cash relief to eligible workers who lose jobs through no fault of their own.

Each state has its own requirements and filing processes, which you can learn more about by selecting your state in the drop-down menu .

Unemployment benefits may offer you enough cash flow to make some payments toward your student loans, especially if you were able to modify your payment plan with your servicer. But if not, there are alternatives to consider.

Options for Paying Off Student Loans While Unemployed

Life moves in unexpected ways. Student loan servicers know that, which is why most have specific protocols in place for borrowers whose plans change in one way or another.

Here are some that might be helpful in the case of sudden joblessness.

Forbearance

Student loan forbearance allows borrowers to pause student loan payments or make a smaller payment for a set period of time. It’s available for both federal and private student loans, and it can take a big load off your monthly budget.

In many cases, it’s worth exploring other options before turning to forbearance. You may still be accruing interest during the forbearance period, which can drive up your total debt quickly.

You also may not be making any progress toward potential student loan forgiveness programs.

Recommended: Will Pausing Payments Affect My Credit Score?

Deferment

Another option that may be right for you is student loan deferment, which works similarly to forbearance: You won’t be required to make payments for a temporary period, but you’ll still be responsible for the interest that will accrue during that time.

The main difference between forbearance and deferment is that deferments are usually granted in response to a certain life change, such as going back to school at least half-time or actively serving in the military, whereas you can always apply for forbearance (though it may not be granted).

Losing your job is another life change that may make you eligible for student loan unemployment deferment. Again, it’s important to understand that you’ll likely still be responsible for the interest generated during the deferment period, which could mean you pay more for your loan overall.

Certain types of federal student aid may not incur interest during the deferment, such as Direct Subsidized Loans, but you’ll want to double-check with your servicer before you make any decisions.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

If you have federal student loans, you can look into income-driven repayment programs, which allow borrowers to adjust their payments based on what they can afford.

The government offers a variety of income-driven repayment plans, including the Pay As You Earn Plan (PAYE), the Income-Contingent Plan (ICR), and the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR).

Income-driven repayment plans generally reduce your payments to 10% of your discretionary income, which could bring your payments down to $0. The plans adjust once you’re making money again, ensuring that your payments are affordable. But because they might extend your overall repayment period, you can also end up paying significantly more interest in the long run.

In August 2022, President Biden proposed changes to some income-driven repayment programs as part of his forgiveness plan. Payments for undergraduate borrowers would be reduced to 5% of discretionary income instead of the current 10%.

Recommended: REPAYE vs PAYE: What’s the Difference?

Student Loan Forgiveness

A variety of programs allow certain borrowers to have their student loans forgiven, canceled, or discharged if they meet certain requirements.

In many cases, you will be required to have made a certain number of qualifying monthly payments on the loan and meet the terms for the specific forgiveness program you’re considering.

Many student loan forgiveness programs are contingent on the borrower being employed in a specific industry or by a nonprofit organization. That means this option might not help you during unemployment. But it’s worth keeping in mind over the life of your student loan. You might want to bookmark our guide to student loan forgiveness.

Dealing With Late Student Loan Payments

When you’re late making a federal student loan payment, your account quickly becomes past due or “delinquent.” You’ll likely face a late fee, which is usually a percentage of the missed payment.

If you cannot make the payment, it’s important to call your loan servicer right away to make arrangements, such as deferment, forbearance, or a new repayment plan. Otherwise your account will remain delinquent, even if you continue to make subsequent payments on time.

If you are delinquent on your federal student loan for 90 days or more, your lender will report it to the three major national credit bureaus. Your credit score will take a hit, making it more difficult to qualify for good terms on loans and credit cards.

After 270 days, your loan will go into default. Defaulting on your student loan has serious consequences. First, the entire amount you owe on your loan, including interest, becomes due immediately. You won’t be able to take out any other student loans, and you’ll no longer qualify for deferment or forbearance. The government may take your tax refund and federal benefits and garnish your wages to pay off your loan.

Terms and fees for private student loans vary by lender, but the fallout from missed payments is essentially the same.

All you have to do to avoid delinquency and default is talk to your lender or loan servicer as soon as you can. The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Paying It Off: New Jobs, Side Hustles, and More

Although COVID led to layoffs, furloughs, and hiring freezes, many companies are now actively recruiting again. If you’re back at work but still struggling to make payments, consider ways to bring in some extra money each month.

That’s where the side hustle comes in. Many people have turned their crafting hobby into a small business on Etsy. Others are delivering groceries or pre-made meals with a service like Instacart. Check out our roundup of 9 ways to pay off student loans.

Once you’re back on your feet, refinancing student loans is one way to reduce your debt burden. It can be difficult to refinance while unemployed: Income is one of the factors lenders look at when assessing potential borrowers. But when you’re ready, refinancing private student loans, or a combo of private and federal loans, can lower monthly payments, the interest rate, or both. And that can make loans more affordable in both the short and long term.

It is important to remember that if you refinance your loans with a private lender, you forfeit all of federal benefits, including student loan forgiveness and deferment.

The Takeaway

After a job loss, student loan borrowers have options. Deferment and forbearance allow you to pause payments during times of financial hardship. Just be aware you’ll still be responsible for the interest that accrues during the payment pause. Income-driven repayment plans are another option that can lower your monthly loan bill to as little as $0. Talk to your lender as soon as you foresee a problem paying your bill. That way you can protect your credit score and reduce the stress that comes with loan delinquency or default.

If you’re hoping to reduce your monthly student loan payment, SoFi offers student loan refinancing with a simple online application. There’s no origination fee, and borrowers get access to exclusive member benefits that include an unemployment protection program*.

Hoping to get a handle on student debt? Refinancing with SoFi can help lower your payments or save money over the long term.



*If you become involuntarily unemployed, deferred payments may be applied for a maximum of 12 months, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. Additional terms and conditions apply; see SoFi.com/faq-upp for details.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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How To Negotiate Medical Bills

How to Negotiate Medical Bills

In 2020, the average health insurance deductible was $4,364 for individuals, and a staggering $8,439 for families. (Thanks a lot, high-deductible health plans.) That’s a lot to pay upfront before insurance kicks in. What many people don’t know is that the medical bills you receive aren’t always set in stone. You may be able to work with the hospital, doctor, or ambulance service to negotiate a lower price.

We’ll explain how to research your medical bills, dispute overcharges, and negotiate a more fair and affordable price.

Preparing for Medical Bill Negotiation

Save Your Explanation of Benefits

Soon after you’ve received medical care, you should receive an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your insurance company. It may look like a bill, but it isn’t — it’s a breakdown of the following:

•   Medical services you were provided

•   What the doctor or hospital charged

•   What your insurance covered (and didn’t cover)

•   How much your insurance agreed to pay

•   The amount you’re expected to pay

The EOB can help you be sure you’re receiving the full benefits to which you are entitled under your insurance plan. And it can be useful to compare the information your insurance company has to the actual bill(s) you receive. Your EOB may even offer a better description of the services you received than what’s on your medical bills.

If your EOB seems incomplete, it may be because it doesn’t reflect the most recent charges or payments. If you’re confused or suspect an error, call the number listed on the EOB to get help.

Be sure to save your EOB when it comes in the mail, or download it when you receive an email that it’s ready. You may need it when you speak to your insurance company or doctor.

Recommended: Types of Personal Loans

Be Clear About Who’s Billing You

One visit to the emergency room can result in multiple medical tabs. You might be billed by the ambulance, the hospital, and the specialist who saw you.

Adding to the complexity, the invoice you receive may come from a doctor or hospital’s internal billing department, or it might come from a company that’s been hired to handle all invoicing and payments for a hospital, doctor, or group practice.

To avoid mix-ups, carefully track who sent each bill as it arrives, note if the billing was outsourced or done in-house, and mark down who you talked to about errors or making payments. Don’t forget to keep a copy of your EOB with those statements (either paper or digital) so you’re always prepared with the right information.

Don’t Delay Getting Help

As soon as you realize there’s a problem with a bill — either because it’s incorrect or it’s just too high for you to manage — get in touch with the provider who sent it.

As long as your debt remains with the original service provider, medical bills won’t show up on your credit report. But if the bill goes to collections, it can affect your credit score. You may also have fewer options for negotiating once the debt goes to collections.

Ways To Negotiate a Medical Bill

Can you really negotiate medical bills? Absolutely, and there are a few different strategies you can adopt when talking down healthcare costs. If one tactic fails, don’t give up — simply move on to another. The most effective method for negotiating a hospital bill may depend on your situation and the doctor. Here are a few to consider:

Dispute Any Errors

Errors on medical bills are surprisingly common. Look for things like duplicate charges, charges for procedures that didn’t happen, errors in your insurance information, mistakes regarding whether a provider was in-network or out-of-network, and misstated quantities of medications and supplies.

Billing codes for diagnoses and treatments can also be entered wrong, which can confuse the insurance company and slow down or stop payment on a bill. If you suspect your bill was miscoded (and you’re feeling motivated), you can look them up online. There are two different databases:

•   Diagnosis codes, called ICD codes (for International Classification of Diseases) can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website .

•   Treatment and service codes, called CPT codes (for Current Procedural Terminology), are available on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid website . Just accept the usage waiver, and a spreadsheet of codes will download automatically.

A billing representative can answer almost any questions you have regarding your bill, so don’t hesitate to ask what certain line items are. If you catch any errors that inflate your bill, you may want to file a dispute to get the charges reduced or eliminated.

Offer To Pay a Lump Sum

Many hospitals prefer to get a slightly lower payment at the time of billing than wait for a bill to drag through collections. You can offer to pay the bill immediately — ideally in cash rather than by credit card — if the provider will accept less than the total amount due.

A good rule of thumb is to start high when suggesting a discount, leaving room for the provider to negotiate downward. It’s perfectly reasonable to start by requesting a 50% discount. Even if you don’t pay the entire bill at once, ask whether the provider offers a self-pay discount for those paying out-of-pocket.

Show Evidence of Overcharges

This is where doing your homework comes in handy. If you can show evidence that you were charged more than the average price points in your area, you may have leverage for requesting a discount on your bill. Besides checking online resources and calling competitors, you can also cite the amount Medicare allows for the service. Frame your request as a desire to pay what is “usual, customary, and reasonable .”

Negotiate a Payment Plan

Some facilities will agree to a payment plan that replaces the original bill’s due date with a schedule that’s feasible for you. See if you can sign on to a plan with zero interest. If that’s not an option, you can try asking for a lower interest rate. And just because you negotiate a payment plan doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try asking for a discount on the total as well.

Research Hospital and Government Resources

When you’re sick or recovering, online research and phone calls can exhaust your limited energy reserves. But you don’t have to go it alone. There are several resources you may be able to tap for assistance.

Hospital Help

Hospitals often offer discounts or financial relief programs, such as forgiveness, for patients whose income falls below a certain threshold and for uninsured patients. The hospital may refer to this help as “charity care,” “bridge assistance,” or simply “financial assistance.”

Even if you don’t meet income guidelines for government programs, it’s worth checking on what’s available at the hospital level.

Government Financial Assistance

If you weren’t on Medicaid but would have qualified for it when the original medical charges were generated, you may be able to get retroactive help. Depending on the state you live in, Medicaid (a federally authorized, state-administered insurance program for low-income individuals) may cover bills received up to three months before the month you apply for the program. You can check your eligibility on Medicaid.gov

Ask for an Advocate

When you need additional help negotiating with your insurance company or medical provider, consider a patient advocacy organization, such as the Patient Advocate Foundation at PatientAdvocate.org, or state or local consumer protection agency at USA.gov/State-Consumer

Come Prepared To Negotiate

If you’re new to negotiating, here are some basics that can help:

Try to Stay Calm and Polite

Do your best to keep your emotions under control while communicating with billing department representatives. Expressing your requests in a clear and collected way will make it easier for them to understand your situation and can improve the chances that the representatives you deal with will want to help. If you’re angry or despairing, cool off before picking up the phone.

Do Your Homework

You may have a better chance of succeeding if you’ve researched the average costs of the treatments you received — especially if you use data that’s specific to your area. You can find this information with a little online searching or by consulting resources like HealthcareBluebook.com

Insurance Terms to Know

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Empathy

Explain economic or other hardships you’re facing and why you’re struggling with repayment. Perhaps you’ve recently lost your job, or you just got out of college and you’re on your own for the first time. Calling on the other person’s sense of compassion and humanity may help your cause.

Write Down Everything

Keep clear notes with the dates, names, and affiliations for every phone call you have, as well as reference numbers if applicable. It’s easy to forget what you spoke about and with whom. Keep everything in one place. And ask to receive the final details of any agreement you make in writing.

Don’t Hesitate to Escalate

Start with the contact phone number on your bill. But if the person you’re speaking with seems unwilling or unable to help, don’t be afraid to ask for a supervisor. Be prepared to explain the situation, over and over again, to each person you speak with.

If all else fails, apply a bit of pressure. While remaining courteous, state that you probably won’t use this provider or facility again if they can’t meet you halfway. Mention that you’ll share your negative experience with your network, including on social media.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Medical Bills?

The worst thing you can do with overwhelming medical bills is ignore them. If you don’t make a payment by the due date on your bill, what happens next depends on the laws in your state.

After a few months, if you still haven’t paid, the hospital may pass your bill on to a debt collections agency, and that agency may report the past due balance to the credit bureaus that put together your credit reports. From there, individuals with medical debt have about six months to fix insurance or billing problems.

Once that grace period is over, however, an unpaid bill can impact your credit score for years. And if a court issues a judgment in the hospital’s favor, your wages could be garnished. This means money could be taken directly from your paycheck and sent to the creditor, even without your consent.

Borrowing Money To Pay Medical Bills

Even if you use all the strategies described above, negotiation doesn’t always work. If you can’t get your bill reduced or eliminated by negotiating, there are other options, such as taking on debt by using a credit card or taking out an unsecured personal loan.

Credit Card

Using a credit card to pay medical bills is not generally recommended because of their typically high interest rates. However, if you have exhausted all negotiating tactics and are still having trouble paying your outstanding balance after the six months’ grace period given by credit reporting agencies, it might be better to pay the balance with a credit card than to have your account sent to collections and see your credit score drop.

Personal Loan

Another option you might consider is taking out an unsecured personal loan to pay your medical bills. Personal loans interest rates can be significantly lower than those of credit cards, particularly if you have a healthy credit score. They can be used for many purposes. And since a fixed-rate personal loan is installment debt — in contrast to the revolving debt of credit cards — the balance is paid on a fixed payment schedule.

If you qualify for a personal loan with a manageable interest rate and monthly payment, you can use it to pay off your medical bills immediately and avoid accruing late fees or having the bill move into collections. SoFi’s personal loan calculator can help you run the numbers.

Recommended: How To Get Approved for a Personal Loan

The Takeaway

Medical bills can be stressful, especially when added to the stress of having medical treatment. But it’s best not to ignore them. Armed with the right tactics, you may be able to negotiate the amount due or get assistance to make the expense manageable.

If that doesn’t work, a SoFi personal loan can prevent medical bills from dragging you into a vicious cycle of debt. An unsecured personal loan from SoFi offers competitive, fixed rates; no fees; and loan terms that can work with a variety of budgets.

Pay for medical costs — without sinking into high-interest debt.

FAQ

Do medical bills affect your credit?

As long as your medical bill remains with the original doctor or facility, it won’t show up on your credit report. But if the bill goes to collections, it can affect your credit score.

Should I pay a medical bill that’s gone to collections?

Yes, paying off medical collections will remove the negative information from your credit report and help you build up your credit again. Under new guidelines, paid medical collections will no longer remain on your report.

How long do I have to pay a medical bill?

Medical bills are typically due 30 days from the date of the bill. Doctors and facilities usually send several rounds of bills before turning the debt over to a collections agency. If you’re struggling to pay your medical bills, call the doctor or facility to negotiate either a lower price or a payment plan that you can afford.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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