Interest Rates: Definition, How They Work, and Different Types

Whether you’re borrowing money from a lender or depositing money in a savings account, interest rates will play into your financial picture. And understanding exactly how they work is crucial to making the best possible decisions for your money.

Here’s the scoop.

Interest Rate Definition

Interest rate is the cost of borrowing or the payoff of saving. Specifically, it refers to the percentage of interest a lender charges for a loan as well as the percentage of interest earned on an interest-bearing account or security.

Interest rates change frequently, but the average personal loan interest rate is dependent on several factors, including the amount borrowed, credit history, and income, among others. A borrower with an excellent credit score and a dependable income, for instance, will likely be considered low risk and may be offered a lower interest rate. On the flip side, some vehicles like payday loans are considered riskier for lenders and tend to have higher interest rates.

Recommended: What Is a No-Interest Loan? A Personal Loan Guide

How Interest Rates Work

Whether you’re borrowing or saving money, the interest rate is applied to the balance during set periods of time called compounding periods.

For borrowers, this extra charge can add to outstanding debt. For savers, savings interest can be one way to earn money without much effort.

Let’s look at some specific examples.

You might take out a personal loan with an APR of 5.99%. That means you’ll pay an additional 5.99% of the loan balance each year in addition to the principal payments, which is paid to the lender for servicing the loan.

Or, if you hold a high-yield savings account that offers a 1% APY return, you can expect that account to grow by 1% of its balance each year.

Of course, the interest you might earn in a savings account is usually substantially lower than what you might earn on higher-risk investments.

And when it comes to any of the multiple uses of a personal loan, paying interest means you’re paying substantially more than you would if you were able to cover the expense out of pocket.

Fixed vs Variable Interest Rates

Lenders charge fixed or variable interest rates. What’s the difference between the two? Let’s take a look.

As the name suggests, fixed interest rates remain the same throughout a set period of time or the entire term of the loan. Fixed rates can be higher than variable rates. Borrowers who prefer more predictable payments — or are borrowing when interest rates are low — may decide to go with a fixed-rate loan.

Pros of Fixed Interest Rates

Cons of Fixed Interest Rates

Rates won’t increase Fixed rates can be higher than variable rates
Predictable monthly payments Borrowers would need to refinance to get a lower rate, which may involve paying more in fees
Consistent payment schedule can make budgeting easier Borrowers won’t benefit if interest rates decrease

Variable interest rates change periodically, depending on changes in the market. This means the amount of your payments will vary. Generally speaking, variable-rate loans can be riskier for consumers, so they tend to have lower initial rates than fixed-rate loans. However, it’s important to note that when interest rates rise, so can the cost of borrowing. When borrowers decide to renegotiate from a variable-rate to a fixed-rate loan, they may face additional fees and a new loan length.

A variable-rate loan may be a good move for borrowers who plan to pay off the loan quickly or can take on the risk.

Pros of Variable Interest Rates

Cons of Variable Interest Rates

Monthly payments may go down when interest rates decrease Interest rates fluctuate depending on changes in the market
Rates can be lower (at first) than fixed-rate loans Repayment amounts can vary, which can make budgeting difficult
Borrowers may receive better introductory rates when taking out a loan May face extra fees and extended payoff time if you renegotiate to a fixed-rate loan

Types of interest rates

Types of Interest

While all interest does one of two things — accrue as a result of saving money or in payment to the bank for a loan — it can be calculated and assessed in different ways. Here are a few common types of interest rates explained.

Simple Interest

Simple interest is interest that is calculated, simply, based on the balance of your account or loan. This is unlike compound interest, which is based on the principal balance (the original money you borrowed) as well as interest accrued over time.

Most mortgages and auto loans are calculated using simple interest. That means you won’t pay additional interest on any interest charged on the loan.

For example, let’s say a driver takes out a simple interest loan to pay for a new car. The loan amount is $31,500, and the annual interest rate on the loan is 4%. The term of the loan is five years. The driver will pay $580.12 per month. After five years, when the loan is satisfied, they will have paid a total of $34,807.23.

Compound Interest

Compound interest, on the other hand, means that interest is charged on not only the principal but also whatever interest accrues over the lifetime of that loan.

Say you take out an unsecured personal loan in the amount of $20,000 to pay for home remodeling. The loan is offered to you at an interest rate of 6.99% compounded monthly, and you must also pay an upfront fee of $500 for the loan. You’ll pay it back over the course of five years.

Over the course of those 60 payments, you’ll pay $3,755.78 in interest, not including the $500 extra you paid in fees. Each month, you’ll pay back some of the principal as well as the interest charged to you.

By the time you’re done with your home remodel, you’ll have paid $24,255.78 altogether, and that’s on a personal loan with a fairly low rate. In other words, you’ll have paid 20% more for the project than you would have if you’d funded it out of pocket.

Recommended: Simple Interest vs. Compound Interest

Amortized Interest

Amortizing loans are common in personal finance. If you have a home loan, auto loan, personal loan, or student loan, you likely have an amortizing loan.

Amortization is when a borrower makes monthly (usually equal) payments toward the loan principal and interest. Early payments largely go toward the calculated interest, while payments closer to the end of the loan term go more toward the principal.

The interest on an amortized loan is calculated based on the balance of the loan every time a payment is made. As you make more payments, the amount of interest you owe will decrease.

To see how payments are spread out over the life of the loan, borrowers can consult an amortization schedule. A mortgage calculator also shows amortization over time for a loan.

But here’s a look at a sample calculation:

Let’s say you take out a $200,000 mortgage over 10 years at a 5% fixed interest rate. Your monthly payments will be $2,121.31. Next, divide the interest rate by 12 equal monthly payments. That equals 0.4166% of interest per month. This means that in the first month of your loan, you’ll pay $833.33 toward interest and the remaining $1,287.98 toward your principal.

Now, how about the second month? To calculate what you’ll owe, deduct your monthly payment from the starting balance. (This will give you the “balance after payment” for the chart.) Be sure to add to the chart the $833.33 you paid in interest and the $1,287.98 you paid toward the principal. Repeat the calculation of monthly interest and principal breakdown for the rest of the chart, which includes 12 months of payments.

Date

Starting Balance

Interest

Principal

Balance after payment

July 2023 $200,000 $833.33 $1,287.98 $198,712.02
August 2023 $198,712.02 $827.97 $1,293.34 $197,418.68
September 2023 $197,418.68 $822.58 $1,298.73 $196,119.95
October 2023 $196,119.95 $817.17 $1,304.14 $194,815.80
November 2023 $194,815.80 $811.73 $1,309.58 $193,506.23
December 2023 $193,506.23 $806.28 $1,315.03 $192,191.19
January 2024 $192,191.19 $800.80 $1,320.51 $190,870.68
February 2024 $190,870.68 $795.29 $1,326.02 $189,544.66
March 2024 $189,544.66 $789.77 $1,331.54 $188,213.12
April 2024 $188,213.12 $784.22 $1,337.09 $186,876.03
May 2024 $186,876.03 $778.65 $1,342.66 $185,533.37
June 2024 $185,533.37 $773.06 $1,348.25 $184,185.12

Precomputed Interest

Loans that calculate interest on a pre-computed basis are less common than loans with either simple or compound interest. They’re also controversial and have been banned in some states. Precomputed interest has been banned nationally since 1992 for loans with terms longer than 61 months.

This method of computing interest is also known as the Rule of 78 and was originally based on a 12-month loan. The name is taken from adding up the numbers of the months in a year (or a 12-month loan), the sum of which is 78.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12 = 78

Interest is calculated ahead — precomputed — for each month and added to each month’s payment, giving more weight to interest in the beginning of the loan and tapering off until the end of the loan term. In the case of a 12-month loan, the first month’s interest would be 12/78 of the total interest, the second month’s interest would be 11/78 of the total interest, and so on.

Here’s an example: Let’s say a borrower takes out a personal loan with a 12-month term that will accrue $5,000 in interest charges. According to the Rule of 78, here’s what the borrower would pay in interest each month:

Month

Fraction of total interest charged

Monthly interest charge

1 12/78 $769
2 11/78 $705
3 10/78 $641
4 9/78 $577
5 8/78 $513
6 7/78 $449
7 6/78 $385
8 5/78 $321
9 4/78 $256
10 3/78 $192
11 2/78 $128
12 1/78 $64

A loan with precomputed interest has a greater effect on someone who plans to pay off their loan early than one who plans to make regular payments over the entire life of the loan.

APR vs APY

Whether compound or simple, interest rates are generally expressed as APR (Annual Percentage Rate) or APY (Annual Percentage Yield). These figures make it easier for borrowers to see what they can expect to pay or earn in interest over the course of an entire year of the loan or interest-bearing account’s lifetime.

However, APY takes compound interest into account, whereas usually APR does not — but on the other hand, APR takes into account various loan fees and other costs, which APY might skip.

APR (Annual Percentage Rate)

APY (Annual Percentage Yield)

Expresses what you pay when you borrow money Expresses what you earn on an interest-bearing account
Factors in base interest rate over the course of one year Factors in base interest rate over the course of one year
Factors in fees and other loan costs Does not factor in fees and other loan costs
Does not factor in compounding Factors in compounding

Recommended: APY vs. Interest Rate: What’s the Difference?

factors that determine interest

How Are Interest Rates Determined?

Lenders use several factors to determine the interest rate on a personal loan, including details about your financial background and about the loan itself. What kind of financial questions can you expect?

When lenders talk about a borrower’s creditworthiness, they’re usually referring to elements of your financial background. This may include:

•   Your credit history

•   Your income and employment

•   How much debt you already have

•   Whether you have a cosigner

The loan terms can also affect the rate. For example, personal loan rates can be affected by:

•   The size of the loan

•   The duration of the loan

Loan term is something borrowers should be thinking about as well. A longer loan term might sound appealing because it makes each monthly payment lower. But it’s important to understand that a longer-term loan may cost you significantly more over time due to interest charges.


💡 Quick Tip: In a climate where interest rates are rising, you’re likely better off with a fixed interest rate than a variable rate, even though the variable rate is initially lower. On the flip side, if rates are falling, you may be better off with a variable interest rate.

Interest Rates and Discrimination

Generally speaking, the higher your credit score and income level, the easier it is to qualify for loans with better terms and lower interest rates — which, of course, can make it more difficult for people in lower socioeconomic positions to climb their way out.

Discriminatory lending has had a long history in the U.S. Before federal laws protecting against discrimination in lending practice, lenders would regularly base credit decisions on factors such as applicant’s race, color, religion, sex, and other group identifiers rather than their creditworthiness.

The practice of “redlining” was begun in the 1930s as a way to restrict federal funding for neighborhoods deemed risky by federal mortgage lenders. It persisted for decades, and the detrimental effects can still be felt today by residents of minority neighborhoods.

Since residents of redlined neighborhoods were excluded from approval for regular mortgage loans, they were forced to look for other financing options, which were often exploitive. If they could not find any lender willing to loan to them, they continued renting, unable to gain equity in homeownership.

The Takeaway

The interest rate is the cost of borrowing money — it’s a percentage of the total amount of the loan. It can also refer to the rate at which interest is earned on money in a savings account, certificate of deposit, or certain investments. The amount of interest you’ll pay is usually expressed using percentages, which will be listed as either APR (Annual Percentage Rate) or APY (Annual Percentage Yield), depending on which kind of financial product you’re talking about.

Lenders charge fixed or variable interest rates. Fixed interest rates remain unchanged for a set period of time or for the life of the loan, and may be a smart choice for borrowers who want a predictable payment schedule or are taking out a loan when interest rates are low. Variable interest rates can change depending on the market, which means the payment amount will vary. Though potentially riskier, these loans may offer lower initial rates. However, when interest rates rise, so can the cost of borrowing.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

FAQ

What is the definition of interest rate?

An interest rate is expressed as a percentage and is used to calculate how much interest you would pay on a loan in one year (APR), or how much you would earn on an interest-bearing account in one year (APY).

What is an example of an interest rate?

Simple, compound, or precomputed interest rates are types of interest rates commonly used.

What is the difference between interest and interest rate?

Interest is the money you’re charged when you take out a loan — or earn for leaving your money in a deposit account to grow. Interest rate is the percentage you’re being charged or are earning.

What happens when interest rates are high?

Interest rate increases tend to lead to higher interest rates on personal loans, mortgages, and credit cards. It can also mean costlier financing for borrowers.

Can you adjust the interest rate on a personal loan?

Possibly. One way to lower the interest rate on a personal loan is to refinance it with another lender.


Photo credit: iStock/Remitski

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.


Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

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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Understanding How Income Based Repayment Works

All You Need to Know About Income-Based Student Loan Repayment

Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.

If you’re on the standard 10-year repayment plan and your federal student loan payments are high relative to your income, a student loan income-based repayment plan may be an option for you.

New changes to the plans, including a new plan called SAVE that was introduced by the Biden Administration, will reduce many borrowers’ payments. Read on to learn whether income-based student loan repayment might be right for your situation.

What Is Income-Based Student Loan Repayment?

Income-based student loan repayment plans were conceived to ease the financial hardship of government student loan borrowers and help them avoid default when struggling to pay off student loans.

Those who enroll in the plans tend to have large loan balances and/or low earnings. Graduate students, who usually have bigger loan balances than undergrads, are more likely to enroll in a plan.

The idea is straightforward: Pay a percentage of your monthly income above a certain threshold for 20 or 25 years and you are eligible to get any remaining balance forgiven. (The SAVE plan would forgive balances after 10 years for borrowers with original loans of $12,000 or less.)

By the end of 2022, 45% of Direct Loan borrowers were enrolled in an income-based repayment plan, according to Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. But borrowers have often failed to recertify their income each year, as required, and are returned to the standard 10-year plan.


💡 Quick Tip: Often, the main goal of refinancing is to lower the interest rate on your student loans — federal and/or private — by taking out one loan with a new rate to replace your existing loans. Refinancing makes sense if you qualify for a lower rate and you don’t plan to use federal repayment programs or protections.

4 Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment Plans

While people often use the term “income-based repayment” generically, the Department of Education calls them income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. There are four.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), which replaces the previous Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan

Your payment amount is a percentage of your discretionary income, defined for IBR and PAYE as the difference between your annual income and 150% of the poverty guideline for your family size.

For the SAVE plan, discretionary income is the difference between your annual income and 225% of the poverty line for your family size. This new plan could substantially reduce borrowers’ monthly payment amounts compared to other IDR plans.

For the ICR plan, discretionary income is the difference between your annual income and 100% of the poverty guideline for your family size.

For IBR, PAYE, and SAVE the payment is generally 10% of your discretionary income. Changes to SAVE that are scheduled to go into effect in July 2024 would lower payments to 5% of discretionary income for undergrads, and expand the pool of borrowers making $0 monthly payments.

For ICR, the payment is the lesser of these: 20% percent of discretionary income or what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over 12 years, adjusted using a formula that takes income into account.

Parent PLUS borrowers may access ICR if they consolidate into a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Got it? But wait; there’s more. Note the number of years in which consistent, on-time payments must be made and after which a balance may be forgiven, as well as who qualifies.

Plan

Monthly Payment

Term (Undergrad)

Term (Graduate)

Who Qualifies

ICR 20% of discretionary income (or income-adjusted payment on 12-year plan) 25 years 25 years Any borrower (this is the only plan that includes parent PLUS Loan holders if they consolidate)
IBR 15% of discretionary income (but never more than 10-year plan) 25 years 25 years Borrowers who took out loans before July 1, 2014
Newer IBR 10% of discretionary income (but never more than 10-year plan) 20 years 20 years Borrowers who took out their first loans after July 1, 2014
PAYE 10% of discretionary income (but never more than 10-year plan) 20 years 20 years Borrowers who took out first loan after Sept. 30, 2007, and took out a new loan or consolidated existing loans after Sept. 30, 2011
SAVE Currently 10% of discretionary income, with no cap (will be lowered to 5% in July 2024) Currently 20 years (starting in July 2024, it will be 10 years for borrowers with original loan balances of $12,000 or less) 25 years (starting in July 2024, it will be 10 years for borrowers with original loan balances of $12,000 or less.) Any borrower

How Income-Based Student Loan Repayment Works

In general, borrowers qualify for lower monthly loan payments if their total student loan debt at graduation exceeds their annual income.

To figure out if you qualify for a plan, you must apply at StudentAid.gov and submit information to have your income certified. Your monthly payment will then be calculated. If you qualify, you’ll make your monthly payments to your loan servicer under your new income-based repayment plan.

You’ll generally have to recertify your income and family size every year. Your calculated payment may change as your income or family size changes.


💡 Quick Tip: When rates are low, refinancing student loans could make a lot of sense. How much could you save? Find out using our student loan refi calculator.

What Might My Student Loan Repayment Plan Look Like?

Here’s an example:

You are single and your family size is one. You live in one of the 48 contiguous states or the District of Columbia. Your adjusted gross income is $40,000 and you have $45,000 in eligible federal student loan debt.

The 2023 government poverty guideline amount for a family of one in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia is $14,580, and 150% of that is $21,870. The difference between $40,000 and $20,385 is $18,130. That is your discretionary income.

If you’re repaying under the PAYE plan or if you’re a newer borrower with the IBR plan, 10% of your discretionary income is about $1,813. Dividing that amount by 12 results in a monthly payment of $151.08.

Under the SAVE Plan, however, your discretionary income is the difference between your gross income and 225% of the poverty line, which comes out to $32,805. The difference between $40,000 and $32,805 is $7,195, which is your discretionary income; 10% of your discretionary income is about $720. That amount divided by 12 results in a monthly payment of $60.

Under the ICR plan, if your income is $40,000 and 100% of the poverty guideline is $13,590, your discretionary income is $26,410. If you qualify to pay 20% of your discretionary income, your monthly payment would be about $440.

The Federal Student Aid office recommends using its loan simulator to compare estimated monthly payment amounts for all the repayment plans.

Which Loans Are Eligible for Income-Based Repayment Plans?

Most federal student loans are eligible for at least one of the plans.

Federal Student Aid lays out the long list of eligible loans, ineligible loans, and eligible if consolidated loans under each plan.

Of course, private student loans are not eligible for any federal income-driven repayment plan, though some private loan lenders will negotiate new payment schedules if needed.

Serious savings. Save thousands of dollars
thanks to flexible terms and low fixed or variable rates.


Pros and Cons of Income-Based Student Loan Repayment

Pros

•   Borrowers gain more affordable student loan payments.

•   Any remaining student loan balance is forgiven after 20 or 25 years of repayment; and, as of July 2024, after 10 years of repayment for those in the SAVE plan with original loan balances of $12,000 or less.

•   An economic hardship deferment period counts toward the 20 or 25 years.

•   The plans provide forgiveness of any balance after 10 years for borrowers who meet all the qualifications of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

•   The government pays all or part of the accrued interest on some loans in some of the income-driven plans.

•   Low-income borrowers may qualify for payments of zero dollars, and payments of zero still count toward loan forgiveness.

•   New federal regulations will curtail instances of interest capitalization and suspend excess interest accrual when monthly payments do not cover all accruing interest.

Cons

•   Stretching payments over a longer period means paying more interest over time.

•   With some IDR plans negative amortization may occur when your loan payment is less than the new interest that accrues that month, causing the total balance to grow. However, with the SAVE, PAYE, or IBR plans, if your monthly payment amount doesn’t cover all of the interest that accrues on your loans, the government will pay all or a portion (the amount depends on the plan) of the remaining accrued interest due each month. With SAVE, for instance, the government will pay all of the interest that isn’t covered by your payment.

•   Forgiven amounts of student loans are free from federal taxation through 2025, but usually the IRS treats forgiven balances as taxable income (except for the PSLF program).

•   Borrowers in most income-based repayment plans need to recertify income and family size every year.

•   On some plans, if a borrower gets married and files taxes jointly, the combined income could increase loan payments. (This is not the case with the SAVE Plan.)

•   The system can be confusing to navigate.

Student Loan Refinancing Tips From SoFi

Income-driven repayment plans were put in place to tame the monthly payments on federal student loans for struggling borrowers. For instance, the new SAVE Plan offers the lowest monthly payments of all IDR plans. (Those who have private student loans don’t qualify for IDR plans.)

If your income is stable and your credit is good, and you don’t need federal programs like income-driven repayment plans or deferment, refinancing your student loans is an option. (To be clear, refinancing federal student loans makes them ineligible for federal protections and programs like income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness for public service.) With refinancing, the goal is to pay off your existing loans with one new private student loan that ideally has a lower interest rate.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

FAQ

Is income-based repayment a good idea?

For borrowers of federal student loans with high monthly payments relative to their income, income-based repayment can be a good idea. Borrowers may want to check out the new SAVE Plan, which provides the lowest monthly payments of all the income-driven repayment options.

What is the income limit for income-based student loan repayment?

There is no limit. If your loan payments under the 10-year standard repayment plan are high for your income level, you may qualify for income-based student loan repayment.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of income-based student loan repayment?

The main advantage is lowering your monthly payments, with the promise of eventual loan forgiveness if all the rules are followed. A disadvantage is that you have to wait for 10, 20, or 25 years depending on the plan you’re on and how much you owe.

How does income-based repayment differ from standard repayment?

With the standard repayment plan, your monthly payments are a fixed amount that ensures your student loans will be repaid within 10 years. Under this plan, you’ll generally save money over time because your monthly payments will be higher. With income-based repayment, your monthly loan payments are based on your income and family size. These plans are designed to make your payments more affordable. After a certain amount of time ranging from 10 to 25 years, depending on the plan, any remaining balance you owe is forgiven.

Who is eligible for income-based repayment plans?

Under the new SAVE plan, any student loan borrower with eligible student loans can participate in the plan. With the PAYE and IBR plans, in order to be eligible, your calculated monthly payments, based on your income and family size, must be less than what you would pay under the standard repayment plan. Under the ICR plan, any borrower with eligible student loans may qualify. Parent PLUS loan borrowers are also eligible for this plan.

How is the monthly payment amount calculated in income-based repayment plans?

With income-based repayment, your monthly payment is calculated using your income and family size. Your payment is based on your discretionary income, which is the difference between your gross income and an income level based on the poverty line. The income level is different depending on the plan. With the SAVE Plan, for instance, your discretionary income is the difference between your gross annual income and 225% of the poverty line for your family size.

For IBR, PAYE, and SAVE your monthly payment is generally 10% of your discretionary income. Changes to SAVE that are scheduled to take place in July 2024 would reduce your payments to 5% of your discretionary income.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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 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-criteria 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.


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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woman figuring out finances

What to Know About Debt Settlement Companies

When struggling to pay off debt, especially a high amount, it’s not uncommon to come across companies offering debt consolidation. However, many for-profit companies offering “consolidation” are actually selling a debt settlement service.

Debt settlement is where a third-party company can try to reduce someone’s debt by negotiating with their creditors or debt collectors on their behalf. While some debt settlement companies might be successful in lowering the amount of debt, these programs can be risky because of how they are structured.

Paying off less debt might sound like an easy win, but debt settlement can come with some big financial risks, possibly affecting the debtor’s credit score and ability to access credit in the future, and costing more along the way.

What Is Debt Settlement and How Does It Work?

Debt settlement is an agreement with a creditor to pay less than the total amount owed. It’s sometimes referred to as “debt relief” or “debt adjustment.”

Typically, a debt settlement program focuses on unsecured debts, which aren’t tied to a physical asset like a house or car. Examples of this include credit cards, store cards, personal loans, and medical bills. Other types of debt, such as mortgages, car loans, student loans, and tax debt, usually don’t qualify for these programs.

While debt settlement might provide some relief for debtors who are at the end of their financial rope, it’s by no means a simple solution. The process may take years, could require you to pay high fees, and can damage your credit score. Plus, it won’t wipe out all of your debts.

Though it’s a potential alternative to bankruptcy, it should be considered as a last resort.


💡 Quick Tip: A low-interest personal loan from SoFi can help you consolidate your debts, lower your monthly payments, and get you out of debt sooner.

How Debt Settlement Works

How does debt relief work? Let’s take a look.

You can negotiate a debt settlement on your own. If you decide to go this route, start by contacting each creditor and confirming whether you owe the debt. If you do, determine a realistic payment plan, and propose it to the creditor. During the negotiating process, you’ll continue to make regular payments on what you owe.

However, the debt settlement process can be confusing and could take years to complete. You might decide to enlist the help of a trusted third party, like a debt settlement company, to negotiate on your behalf.

During the negotiation process, you may be required to enter a debt settlement program. These programs typically encourage debtors to stop paying creditors and instead make monthly payments into a savings account. Once a settlement is reached, the company may take its fees out of that account first and use the balance to pay off the debt.

It’s important to note that if you choose to stop paying creditors, your credit score may be negatively impacted and you could face late fees and penalties.

What Do Debt Relief Companies Do?

The goal of debt settlement companies, also known as debt relief companies, is to work with people to get a better payment plan to help reduce debt. They typically charge fees for these services, usually between 15% to 25% of the total enrolled debt. However, you should only be charged once your debts have been settled or resolved.

Debt relief companies often require an initial consultation so they can determine whether you qualify for their debt relief program and which option might fit your situation. You also might be asked to provide basic information regarding your current creditors, debt balances, monthly income, and expenses.

Once you enroll in a debt relief program, you’ll probably be required to make monthly payments into a bank account that you’ll control. Typically, the debt settlement company will negotiate with a creditor once the account contains enough money for them to make a lump-sum offer.

In the meantime, the company may also advise you to stop paying your creditors. Note that doing so may cause your account(s) to flow further into delinquency or even charge-off, which can cause significant harm to your credit health and your ability to access credit in the near and long term.

Why Is Debt Settlement Risky?

Though debt settlement can be a viable alternative to bankruptcy, it has drawbacks. Here are risks to keep in mind:

Debt Settlement Can Be Expensive

By law, a debt relief company can’t charge you any fees until after they settle or reduce at least one of your debts. And you won’t have to pay if a creditor flat-out refuses your settlement. But once a debt is lowered or settled, you’ll likely incur charges that, when added up, could end up being more than what you originally owed.

What’s more, you may have to pay taxes on any debt that’s been forgiven, as the IRS considers that as income. Consider talking to a tax professional about any tax repercussions you may face if you settle your debt.

Debt Settlement Can Damage Your Credit

If you stop paying your creditors, you may be hit with late fees, penalty payments, higher interest charges, and other fees that can increase your overall debt. Late or missed payments can also be reported to the credit bureaus, and your credit score will likely be seriously damaged.

Something else to keep in mind: Though not as serious as bankruptcy, settled accounts are generally seen as negative events in credit history and can stay on credit reports for up to seven years.

There’s No Guarantee Debt Settlement Will Work

Creditors are under no obligation to accept a settlement proposal, and not all creditors will negotiate with a debt relief company. If your settlement is rejected, you may want to consider creating a debt management plan and start making payments.

How Does Debt Settlement Affect Your Credit Scores?

When you’re trying to settle a debt, your credit scores can take a hit. Late or missed payments, being sent to a collection agency, and even a settled account can all have a negative impact on your credit scores for years afterward.

What’s more, if you try to settle a debt and fail — and you have no other options — you may end up considering bankruptcy as a solution. Depending on the type of bankruptcy settlement you choose to file, it could stay on your credit report for seven to 10 years. It may also make it difficult to get credit, buy a home, or in some cases, get hired for a job.

How Is Debt Relief Different From Debt Consolidation?

Though these two debt payoff strategies sound similar, debt relief and debt consolidation work differently.

With debt consolidation, you take out a loan or line of credit and use it to pay off other debts. Once you consolidate those existing loans into a single loan, you have just one predictable, monthly payment and one (hopefully better) interest rate. Consolidation can help make budgeting and bill paying easier, and if you’re able to secure a lower interest rate, you may even save money by reducing how much interest you pay over time.

Debt settlement, on the other hand, involves negotiating the terms of your debt with your creditor so you end up paying less than what you owe, usually in one lump sum.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Working With a Debt Settlement Company?

Before jumping into debt settlement, there are some pros and cons a debtor might want to consider first. On the plus side, that anxiety about answering phone calls for fear a collection agency is on the line could go away.

In addition, all those debts could be consolidated into a single bill, so the debtor wouldn’t have to pay numerous bills a month on debt. And, of course, debt settlement could reduce debt long term and help avoid bankruptcy.

However, there are some potential negative financial implications:

•   Debt settlement companies typically encourage those who enroll in their services to stop sending payments to creditors during the negotiation period. This can seriously affect credit scores, incur late fees, and build up interest, actually digging a deeper hole. Creditors can also sue for repayment even when a debtor is working with a debt settlement company, and can take money directly from someone’s wages or force repayment in other ways.

•   Creditors are not under any obligation to work with debt settlement companies. Even saving the monthly amount the programs require is no guarantee the two parties will be able to settle some of the debts.

•   Debt settlement companies could still charge fees even if the entire debt wasn’t settled. While debt settlement agencies cannot charge fees until a settlement is reached, and at least one payment is made as part of the agreement, each time they successfully settle a debt with one creditor, the company can charge another portion of its full fee.

Beware of Debt Settlement Scams

Before deciding to enroll in a debt settlement program, it’s important to check the company with the local state attorney general and local consumer protection agency . These agencies can help determine if there are any customer complaints on file about the debt settlement company.

Also, a quick internet search of the company name and “complaints” could reveal any current lawsuits or deceptive and unfair practices. One easy method to find the top debt settlement companies is to look for those with good grades from the Better Business Bureau.

Some common red flags when researching any company promising to settle debt:

•   Charging any fees before settling any debt. This is prohibited by the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule.

•   Promising to settle all debt for a specific percentage. Debt settlement companies cannot guarantee the amount of money or percentage of debt that could be saved by using their services. They also can’t guarantee how long the process will take.

•   Claiming there is a “new government program” that they are assisting with

•   Guaranteeing to eliminate debt entirely

•   Explicitly giving instructions to stop communications with creditors, and not explaining the serious financial consequences of doing so

•   Saying they can stop all debt collection calls or lawsuits

•   Starting enrollment without any review of an individual’s financial situation

The FTC advises people to avoid any sort of organization, whether they are offering credit counseling, debt settlement, or any other financial service, that fails to explain the risks associated with their programs, makes grandiose promises, and asks for any money upfront.

Debt Settlement Alternatives

Credit counseling

In contrast to some debt settlement companies that are profit-driven, reputable credit counseling organizations might be available to offer help with managing money and debts, developing a budget, and providing free educational tools and workshops.

Counselors should be certified and trained and help develop an individual plan for solving money problems. One place to start could be this list of nonprofit agencies certified by the Justice Department, which offer counseling and debt management plans.

Credit counselors might suggest a debt management plan, where one monthly payment is made to the credit counseling organization, and then they make all of the individual monthly payments to creditors. Counselors do not typically negotiate any reduction in debts owed, but could help lower monthly payments by working to increase the loan terms or lower interest rates.

Talking to Creditors

A debtor could take the DIY approach and talk to the creditor personally, even if negotiations for a lower rate or debt reduction have not worked in the past. Instead of paying a company to talk to a credit card company or other debt creditor on their behalf, remember that anyone can do it themselves for free.

The conversation could be approached with the goal of figuring out a modified payment plan to reduce payments to a manageable level.

Creditors and their collection agencies are typically willing to negotiate, even if they have already written off a debt as a loss.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many creditors and debt collectors will not negotiate how much they are willing to settle for, meaning debt settlement companies likely can’t get better terms than an individual could get by talking to the creditors themselves.

Balance Transfer

A balance transfer could also help when it comes to consolidating credit card debt.

A balance transfer is when someone moves debt from one credit card to another, usually taking advantage of a 0% interest offer on the newer card. While the 0% rate only lasts for a specific amount of time, this offers the opportunity to pay off more of the credit card debt during that promotional period since new interest isn’t accruing.


💡 Quick Tip: If you’ve got high-interest credit card debt, a personal loan is one way to get control of it. But you’ll want to make sure the loan’s interest rate is much lower than the credit cards’ rates — and that you can make the monthly payments.

Fixed-Rate Personal Loan

Rather than looking to a debt settlement company to fix high debt, another alternative that could be considered is a fixed-rate personal loan, which might be easier to manage and could help save money in the long run. By consolidating qualifying high-interest debt into one low-interest personal loan, a borrower could simplify by only having one fixed monthly payment.

The Takeaway

In certain situations, debt relief programs can be a viable alternative to bankruptcy — and for some, a debt solution that provides some relief. But in general, they’re seen as a last resort for those at the end of their financial rope. The process may take a long time and often involves paying high fees, which could bite into any savings you would have received from a settlement. And if you decide to stop paying your creditors and instead pay into a savings account, you may incur penalties, and your credit score will likely be damaged. There are alternatives to debt relief programs that may be worth considering, including negotiating with creditors yourself, credit counseling, and balance transfers.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.


SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.


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.


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 website .

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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Pay Off Your Personal Loan

Unlike student loans or mortgages, personal loans have a relatively short repayment timeline — typically around two to five years. Still, there may be situations when you want to pay off the remaining balance on a personal loan even faster. Is that possible? The short answer is “yes” and, in many cases, it can be a wise decision.

But if there’s a prepayment penalty, then this loan payoff may be more costly than you’d expect. Learning how a prepayment penalty might affect your payoff amount can be helpful in making the decision whether or not to pay off a personal loan early. And if you’re gathering information about a personal loan early payoff without incurring a prepayment penalty, you do have some options.

How to Manage Your Personal Loans

Securing a personal loan may be top of mind for borrowers, but just as important is figuring out how to repay the debt. Having some basic info on hand — such as your monthly take-home pay, the cost of your essentials and non-essentials, and short- and long-term savings goals — will help.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to budgeting, here are two popular budgeting methods to consider:

•   50/30/20 budget. With the 50/30/20 budget strategy, your take-home pay falls into three main buckets, according to percentages: 50% to “needs” (housing, utilities, groceries, etc.), 30% to “wants” (take-out meals, entertainment, travel costs, etc.), and 20% to savings (emergency fund; IRA or other retirement contributions; debt repayment and extra loan payments, etc.)

•   Zero-Sum Budget. This type of budget calls for earmarking every dollar you earn for either savings or discretionary spending. First, you assign monthly after-tax income dollars to non-negotiable bills, such as rent and groceries. Then you assign leftover funds to discretionary spending and saving, which could include making extra payments on a personal loan.

Tips to Pay Down Your Personal Loan

Creating a budget is one tool to consider, but here are other loan repayment strategies you may want to explore if you want to pay off the debt faster.

•   Switch to biweekly payments. Ramping up payments from once a month to twice a month could help you reduce the principal amount of a loan — and potentially pay off the debt — faster. It may even decrease how much interest you end up paying over the life of the loan.

•   Make extra payments when possible. Exceeding your minimum loan payments
may help accelerate your loan repayment and potentially minimize the cost of high interest rates.

•   Tap a second source of income. Starting a side hustle is one way to boost your income, and you can put the extra cash toward your debt. You can also use tax returns, work bonuses, even birthday gifts to pay down a personal loan faster.

•   Refinance your loan. When you refinance a loan, you’re essentially replacing your old loan with a new loan that has a different rate and/or repayment term. Depending on the new rate and term, you may be able to save money on interest and/or lower your monthly payments.

•   Round up monthly payments. Over time, rounding up payments to the nearest $50 or $100 could slightly accelerate your payment schedule.

It’s important to note that many personal loans come with early payment fees, which could undo whatever money you would have saved on interest. More on that below.


💡 Quick Tip: Fixed-interest-rate personal loans from SoFi make payments easy to track and give you a target payoff date to work toward.

pay down your personal loan

Can You Pay Off a Personal Loan Early?

It’s unlikely that a lender would refuse an early loan payoff, so yes, you can pay off a personal loan early. What you have to calculate, though, is whether it’s financially advantageous to do so. If a personal loan early payoff triggers a prepayment penalty, it might not make financial sense to do so.

Understand Prepayment Penalties

If and how a prepayment penalty is charged on a personal loan will be stipulated in the loan agreement. Reviewing this document carefully is a good way to find out if the penalty could be charged and how your lender would calculate it.

If you can’t find the information in the loan agreement, ask your lender for the specifics of a prepayment penalty and for them to point out where it is in the loan agreement.

There are a few different ways a lender might calculate a prepayment penalty fee:

•   Interest costs. In this case, the lender would base the fee on the interest you would have paid if you had made regular payments over the total term. So, if you paid your loan off one year early, the penalty might be 12 months’ worth of interest.

•   Percentage of your remaining balance. This is a common way for prepayment penalties to work on mortgages, for example, and you’d be charged a percentage of what you still owe on your loan.

•   Flat fee. Under this scenario, you’d have to pay a predetermined flat fee for your penalty. So, whether you still owed $9,000 on your personal loan or $900, you’d have to pay the same penalty.

It may sound strange that a lender would include this kind of penalty in a loan agreement in the first place. Some lenders may, though, to ensure you’ll pay a certain amount of interest before the loan is paid off. It is an extra fee that, when charged, helps lenders recoup more money from borrowers.

Avoiding Prepayment Penalties

If your loan has a prepayment penalty, it could be in effect for the entire loan term or for a portion of it, depending upon how it’s defined in the loan agreement. However, you have some options.

For starters, you could simply decide not to pay the loan off early. This means you’ll need to continue to make regular payments rather than paying off the personal loan balance sooner. But this will allow you to avoid the prepayment penalty fee.

Or, you could talk to the lender and ask if the prepayment penalty could be waived.

If your prepayment penalty is not applicable throughout the entire term of the loan, you could wait until it expires before paying off your remaining balance.

Another strategy is to calculate the amount of remaining interest owed on your personal loan and compare that to the prepayment penalty. You may find that paying the loan off early, even if you do have to pay the prepayment penalty, would save money over continuing to make regular payments.

Recommended: How to Avoid Paying a Prepayment Penalty

Does Paying Off a Personal Loan Early Affect Your Credit Score?

Personal loans are a type of installment debt. In the calculation of your credit score, your payment history on installment debt is taken into account. If you’ve made regular, on-time payments, your credit score will likely be positively affected while you’re making payments during the loan’s term.

However, once an installment loan is paid off, it’s marked as closed on your credit report — “in good standing” if you made the payments on time — and will eventually be removed from your credit report after about 10 years.

So does paying off a loan early hurt your credit? Short answer, yes. Paying off the personal loan early might cause it to drop off of your credit report earlier than it would have, and it may no longer help your credit score.

If You Pay Off a Personal Loan Early, Do You Pay Less Interest?

Since a personal loan is an installment loan with a fixed end date, if you pay off a personal loan early, you won’t pay less interest. You won’t owe any interest anymore because the loan will be paid in full.

Recommended: Average Personal Loan Interest Rates & What Affects Them

Advantages and Disadvantages of Paying Off a Personal Loan Early

There are definitely some advantages to personal loan early payoff. One obvious benefit is that you could save on interest over the life of the loan.

For example, a $10,000 loan at 8% for 5 years (60 monthly payments) would accrue $2,166.50 in total interest. If you could pay an extra $50 each month, you could pay the loan off 14 months early and save $518.42 in interest.

Not owing that debt anymore can be a psychological comfort, potentially lowering bill-paying stress. If you’re able to make that money available for something else each month — maybe creating an emergency fund or adding to your retirement account — it might even turn into a financial gain.

If you no longer owe the personal loan debt, you’ll essentially be lowering your debt-to-income ratio, which could positively affect your credit score.

That said, if your personal loan agreement includes a prepayment penalty, paying off your personal loan early might not be financially advantageous. Some prepayment penalty clauses are for specific time frames in the loan’s term, e.g., during the first year.

If you pay off the loan during the penalty time frame, it could cost you just as much money as it might if you had just paid regular principal and interest payments over the life of the loan.

You might be thinking of a personal loan early payoff so you can put your money to work somewhere else. But if the interest rate on the personal loan is relatively low, it might make financial sense to put your extra money toward higher-interest debt, or to contribute enough to an employer-sponsored retirement plan so you can get the employer match, if one is offered.

Another thing to consider is whether paying off your personal loan early will hurt your credit. As mentioned above, making regular, on-time payments to an installment loan like a personal loan can have a positive effect on your credit score. But when the loan is paid off, and marked as such on your credit report, it’s not as much help.

Advantages of early personal loan payoff

Disadvantages of early personal loan payoff

Interest savings over the life of the loan Possible prepayment penalty
Could alleviate debt-related stress Extra money could be better used in another financial tool
Lowering your debt-to-income ratio Removing a positive payment history on the loan early could negatively affect your credit
More cushion in your monthly budget Taking money from another budget category might leave an unintentional financial gap

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Back a Personal Loan?

Let’s say your personal loan payment is due by the 1st of every month. One month, the 10th arrives and you realize you haven’t paid what you owe. You’ll likely be considered delinquent on the loan. You may also be hit with a late fee, and your credit score could be impacted.

When Is a Loan Considered to Be in Default?

What happens if you stop making payments on a loan altogether? Then you’ll likely be considered in default on the loan. Note that there’s no set amount of time when a loan is considered in default — a borrower may be one payment behind or they may have missed 10 in a row. It depends on the type of loan, the lender, and the loan agreement.

What Happens When You Default on a Personal Loan?

When you default on a personal loan, you’ll likely be charged late fees. But you may face other consequences, such as:

•   Your credit may be damaged. Creditors may report payments that are more than 30 days late to the credit bureaus. The missing payments could end up on your credit reports and stay there for up to seven years. This could cause your credit scores to drop and may pose an issue the next time you apply for new credit.

•   You may need to deal with debt collectors. If you fall far enough behind to be contacted by a debt collector, you may encounter aggressive behavior on the part of the collection agency. However, keep in mind that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits just how far debt collectors can go in trying to recover a debt. If you feel a debt collector has gone too far, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

•   You could be sued. A lender or collection agency may file suit against you if they believe you aren’t going to repay the money you owe on a personal loan. If the judgment goes against you, your wages could be garnished, or the court could place a lien on your property.

•   Your cosigner may be impacted. If you have a cosigner or co-applicant on your personal loan, and you default on that loan, they could be impacted. For example, a debt collector could contact you and your cosigner about making payments. And if your credit score drops because of a default, theirs may drop, too.

If you’re facing a loan default, there are some things you can do now to help yourself. A good first step is to contact the lender, preferably before your next payment is due. Explain your situation to them, and find out if they can offer you any relief measures — for example, temporarily deferring loan payments.

You may also want to reach out to a credit counselor. They can work with you to create a budget that covers the essentials and frees up funds so you can pay down what you owe.

Depending on your situation, it may also be a good move to contact a lawyer. Having legal assistance is especially crucial if you’ve been served with a lawsuit.

Recommended: Better Money Management Tips

Types of Personal Loans

In general, there are two types of personal loans — secured and unsecured. Secured loans are backed by collateral, which is an asset of value owned by the loan applicant, such as a vehicle, real estate, or an investment account.

Unsecured personal loans are backed only by the borrower’s creditworthiness, with no asset attached to the loan. You might hear unsecured personal loans referred to as signature loans, good faith loans, or character loans. Typically, these are installment loans the borrower repays at a certain interest rate over a predetermined period of time.

Awarded Best Online Personal Loan by NerdWallet.
Apply Online, Same Day Funding


Personal Loan Uses

Acceptable uses of personal loan funds cover a wide range, including, but not limited to:

•   Consolidation of high-interest debt

•   Medical expenses not covered by health insurance

•   Home renovation or repair projects

•   Wedding expenses

While there are benefits to taking out a personal loan, it might not always be the right financial move for everyone. Personal loans offer a lot of flexibility, but they are still a form of debt, so it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons before signing a personal loan agreement.


💡 Quick Tip: With low interest rates compared to credit cards, a personal loan for credit card consolidation can substantially lower your payments.

The Takeaway

If you’re able to pay off your personal loan early, that’s terrific. Doing so could help you save on interest over the life of the loan, provide more of a cushion in your monthly budget, lower your debt-to-income ratio, and alleviate debt-related stress.

However, before you pay off the balance, it’s a smart idea to calculate whether it’s a good financial decision or not. If your personal loan agreement includes a prepayment penalty that could take a bite out of any savings you might see on interest costs. Removing a history of regular payments on a loan too early can have a slight negative impact on your credit. Plus, the extra money might be put to better use in another financial tool.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.


SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

FAQ

Is it good to repay a personal loan early?

Paying off a personal loan early can be a good financial decision, as long as any prepayment penalty charge doesn’t cost more than you might pay in interest.

If I pay off a personal loan early, do I pay less interest?

Paying off a personal loan early doesn’t affect the interest rate you’ve been paying up until that point. It would mean, however, that the total amount of interest you’d pay over the life of the loan would be less than anticipated.

Does paying off a personal loan early hurt your credit?

Because making regular, on-time payments on an installment loan such as a personal loan is a positive record on your credit report, removing that history early can have a slight negative affect on your credit.

What is the smartest way to pay off a loan?

There are a number of ways you can go about paying down debt. Two popular methods include the avalanche method (which focuses on making extra payments toward highest-interest rate debt first) and the snowball method (which calls for paying off the smallest debt first, the moving on the next largest debt, and so on).

Do you save money if you pay off loans early?

Paying off loans early could save borrowers money in interest. However, they may be hit with a prepayment penalty, which could negate those savings.

Are shorter or longer loans better?

It depends on your financial needs and goals. Generally speaking, borrowers with longer-term loans tend to pay more interest. By comparison, borrowers with shorter-term loans typically have lower interest costs but higher monthly payments.

How long can you stretch out a personal loan?

Lenders offer a range of loan term lengths, though generally speaking, most are between two and seven years.


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.


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 website .

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

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 Use a Personal Loan for Loan Consolidation

How to Use a Personal Loan for Loan Consolidation

If you have multiple loans or credit cards with high interest rates, you might feel like you are continually paying interest and not making much headway on the principal of the debt. By consolidating those debts into one loan — ideally with a lower interest rate — you may be able to reduce your monthly payments or save on interest. Using a personal loan to consolidate debt can be one way to accomplish this goal.

This guide tells you everything you need to know about how loan consolidation works, what types of loans benefit from consolidation, and when to start the consolidation process.

Key Points

•   Loan consolidation is the process of combining multiple debts into one, usually using a new loan or line of credit to pay off existing debts.

•   Types of loan consolidation include student loan consolidation, credit card consolidation, and general loan consolidation.

•   Loan consolidation can help simplify finances, lower interest rates, and shorten the time until debt is paid off.

•   Downsides to loan consolidation include potentially high interest rates, fees, and the possibility of adding to debt if credit cards are used again.

•   Using a personal loan for loan consolidation can be a financially savvy move if you have a good credit history and score.

What Is Loan Consolidation?

Loan consolidation, at its most basic, is the process of combining multiple debts into one. Usually, this means using a new loan or line of credit to pay off your existing debts, consolidating multiple payments into one.

For example, imagine you have the following debt:

•   $5,000 on a private student loan

•   $10,000 in credit card debt on Card A

•   $10,000 in credit card debt on Card B

Your private student loan may have a high interest rate, and your credit card interest rates probably aren’t much better. Each month you’re making three different payments on your various debts. You’re also continuing to rack up interest on each of the debts.

When you took out those loans, maybe you were earning less and living on ramen you bought on credit. But now you have a steady job and a good credit score. Your new financial reality means that you may qualify for a better interest rate or more favorable terms on a new loan.

A personal loan, sometimes called a debt consolidation loan, is one way to help you pay off the $25,000 you currently owe on your private student loan and credit cards in a financially beneficial way.

Using a debt consolidation loan to pay off the three debts effectively condenses those debts into one single debt of $25,000. This avoids the headache of multiple payments with, ideally, a lower interest rate or more favorable repayment terms.

Recommended: Using Credit Cards vs. Personal Loans

What Types of Loan Consolidation Are Available?

There are different types of loan consolidation. Which one is right for you depends on your financial circumstances and needs.

Student Loan Consolidation

If you have more than one federal student loan, the government offers Direct Consolidation Loans for eligible borrowers. This program essentially rolls multiple federal student loans into one. However, because the new interest rate is the weighted average of all your loans combined, it might be slightly higher than your current interest rate.

You may also be able to consolidate your student loans with a personal loan. If you’re in a healthy financial position with a good credit score and a strong income (among other factors), a personal loan might give you more favorable repayment terms, including a lower interest rate or a shorter repayment period.

Consolidating federal student loans may not be right for every borrower. There are some circumstances in which consolidating some types of federal student loans may lead to a loss of benefits tied to those loans. By the way, you don’t have to consolidate all eligible federal loans when applying for a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Credit Card Consolidation Loan

If you’re carrying balances on multiple credit cards with varying interest rates — and those interest rates are fairly high — a credit card consolidation loan is one way to better manage that debt.

Credit card loan consolidation is the process of paying off credit card debt with either a new, lower interest credit card or a personal loan that has better repayment terms or a lower interest rate than the credit cards. Choosing to consolidate with a personal loan instead of another credit card means potential balance transfer fees won’t add to your debt.

General Loan Consolidation

Let’s say you have multiple debts from various lenders: some credit card debt, some private student loan debt, and maybe a personal loan. You may be able to combine these debts into a single payment. In this case, using a personal loan to consolidate those debts would mean you would no longer have to deal with multiple monthly payments to multiple lenders.

Awarded Best Personal Loan by NerdWallet.
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Why Consider Loan Consolidation?

There are many reasons to consider loan consolidation, but here are some of the most common:

•   You’re a minimalist. Did you join in the “pandemic purge”? If your home looks less cluttered and you’d like your finances to match, you might be thinking about financial decluttering by consolidating some of your high-interest debt into one personal loan that has a lower interest rate or terms that work better for your budget.

•   Your financial circumstances have improved. Maybe you spent some time living off student loans to finish your degree, and now you’ve started your dream job. You have a steady salary, and you’ve taken control of your finances. Because of your financial growth, you may be able to qualify for lower interest rates than when you first took out your loans. Loan consolidation can reward all that hard work by potentially saving you money on interest payments.

•   Your credit card interest rates are super high. If thinking about the interest rate on your current credit cards makes you want to hide under your desk, consolidating those cards with a personal loan may be just what you’re looking for. High interest rates can add up over the time it takes to pay off your credit card. Using a personal loan to consolidate those cards can potentially reduce your interest rate and help you get your debt paid off more quickly.

Are There Downsides to Loan Consolidation?

Using a personal loan to consolidate debt may not be the right move for everyone. Here are some things to think about if you’re considering this financial step.

Potentially High Interest Rate

Not everyone can qualify for a personal loan that offers a lower interest rate than the credit cards you want to pay off. Using a credit card interest calculator will help you compare rates and see if consolidating credit cards with a personal loan is worth it for your financial situation.

Fees May Apply

Looking for a lender that offers personal loans without fees can help you avoid this potential downside. Keep an eye out for application fees, origination fees, and prepayment penalties.

Recommended: Find Out How a Balance Transfer Credit Card Works

Putting Your Assets at Risk

If you choose a secured personal loan, you pledge a particular asset as collateral, which the lender can seize if you don’t pay the loan according to its terms.

Possibility of Adding to Your Debt

The general idea behind consolidating debt is to be able to pay off your debt faster or at a lower interest rate — and then have no debt. However, continuing to use the credit cards or lines of credit that have zero balances after consolidating them into a personal loan will merely lead to increasing your debt load. If you can get to the root of why you have debt it may make it easier to remain debt free.

The Takeaway

Using a personal loan to consolidate debt can be a financial savvy move — especially if you have the credit history and score to qualify for a low interest rate and favorable loan terms. Consolidating multiple credit cards and loans with a single personal loan can help simplify your finances, lower the interest you pay, and shorten the time until you’re debt free.

If you’re thinking about consolidating credit card or other debt, a SoFi Personal Loan is a strong option to consider. SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

Learn more about unsecured personal loans from SoFi.


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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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