Understanding Value Investing: Principles, Strategies, and Risks

Value investing is an investment philosophy that takes an analytical approach to selecting stocks based on a company’s fundamentals — such as earnings growth, dividends, cash flow, book value, and intrinsic value. Value investors don’t follow the herd when it comes to buying and selling, which means they tend to ignore tips and rumors they hear from coworkers and talking heads on TV.

Instead, they look for stocks that seem to be trading for less than they should be, perhaps because of a negative quarterly report, management scandal, product recall, or simply because they didn’t meet some investors’ high expectations.

What Is Value Investing?

A value investor’s goal is to find stocks that the market may be undervaluing. And after conducting their own analysis, an investor then decides whether they think the targeted stocks have potential to accrue value over time, and to invest.

In effect, value investing is an investment strategy that involves looking for “deals” in the market, and taking portfolio positions accordingly.

Historical Background and Evolution

Value investing has been championed and used by some of the most storied investors in history. For example, Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, also known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is probably the most famous (and most quoted) value investor of all time.

From 1965 to 2017, Buffett’s shares in Berkshire Hathaway had annual returns of 20.9% compared to the S&P 500’s 9.9% return.

Buffett’s mentor was Benjamin Graham, his teacher at Columbia Business School and later his employer, who is known as “the father of value investing.” Columbia professor David Dodd, another Graham protegee and colleague, is recognized for helping him further develop several popular value investing theories.

Billionaire Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corp., was another super-investor who followed Graham and Dodd’s approach. And billionaire investor Seth Klarman , chief executive and portfolio manager of the Baupost Group, is a longtime proponent.

Joel Greenblatt, who ran Gotham Capital for over two decades and is now a professor at Columbia Business School, is the co-founder of the Value Investors Club.

The Core Principles of Value Investing

The main goal of value investing is to buy a security at a price that is near or less than its intrinsic value. That is, the investor is not paying a premium or markup on the stock — they’re getting a “deal” when they invest in it. There can be many elements at play when determining a value stock, including intrinsic value, margin of safety, and market inefficiencies.

Intrinsic Value and Margin of Safety

Intrinsic value refers to a stock’s “true” value, which may differ from its “market” value. It can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but at its core, determining a stock’s intrinsic value can help an investor determine whether they’re actually finding a value stock, or if they’d potentially be overpaying for a stock. That’s why the concept of intrinsic value is critical to value investors.

Similarly, investors need to incorporate a “margin of safety,” which accounts for some wiggle room when they’re trying to determine a stock’s intrinsic value. In other words: Investors can be wrong or off in their calculations, and calculating a margin of safety can give them some margin of error when making determinations.

Belief in Market Inefficiencies

Value investors also tend to believe that the market is rife with inefficiencies. That means that the market isn’t perfect, and doesn’t automatically price all stocks at their intrinsic values — opening up room to make value investments. If you, conversely, believe that the market is perfectly efficient, then there wouldn’t be any stocks that are priced below their intrinsic value.

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Strategies and Techniques in Value Investing

Value investing isn’t about finding a big discount on a stock and hoping for the best, or making a quick buck on a market trend.

Value investors seek companies that have strong underlying business models, and they aren’t distracted by daily price fluctuations. Their decisions are based on research, and their questions might include:

•   What is the potential for growth?

•   Is the company well managed?

•   Does the company pay consistent dividends?

•   What is the company doing about unprofitable products, projects, or divisions?

•   What are the company’s competitors doing differently?

•   How much do I know about this company or the business it’s in?

Investors who are familiar with an industry or the products it sells (either because they’ve worked in that business or they use those goods or services) can tap that knowledge and experience when they’re analyzing certain stocks.

The same line of thought can be applied to companies that sell products or services that are in high demand. That brand might be expected to remain in demand into the future because the company has a reputation for evolving as times (and challenges) change.

Identifying Undervalued Stocks

Identifying undervalued stocks requires time, patience, and some good, old-fashioned analysis. That mostly includes fundamental analysis, which is a method of evaluating securities by looking at its underlying financial health. That typically involves digging into financial statements and records.

Analyzing Financial Statements and Reports

Investors who are time-crunched or still learning the basics might find the homework daunting. Deep diving into earnings reports, balance sheets, and income statements, and pondering what the future might hold isn’t for everyone.

Understanding Market Dynamics and Herd Mentality

Doing what feels right on a personal level instead of going with the flow is a big part of value investing. And it isn’t always easy.

If everyone around you is talking about a particular stock, that enthusiasm can be contagious. Which is why a typical investor’s decision making is often heavily influenced by relatives, co-workers, friends, and acquaintances.

For an investor who believes the pursuit of market-beating performance is more about randomness than research, emotions (fear, greed, FOMO) can be their worst enemy. Behavioral biases can lead to knee-jerk reactions, which can result in investing mistakes. It takes patience and discipline to stick with a value investing strategy.

This is all to say that investors should do their best to get a handle on overarching market dynamics, rather than investing emotionally or going with the crowd.

Value investors don’t follow the herd. They eschew the efficient market hypothesis, which states that stock prices already reflect all known information about a security (market inefficiencies!).

Value investors take the opposite approach. If a well-known company’s stock price drops, they look for the reasons why the company might be undervalued. And if there are strong signs the company could recover and even grow in the future, they consider investing.

Value vs Growth Investing

Value investing is often discussed alongside growth investing. Value versus growth stocks represent different investment styles or approaches.

Differences and Performance Comparisons

In a general sense, value stocks are stocks that have fallen out of favor in the market, and that may be undervalued. Growth stocks, on the other hand, are shares of companies that demonstrate a strong potential to increase revenue or earnings thereby ramping up their stock price.

In terms of performance value stocks may not be seeing much price growth, whereas growth stocks may be experiencing rapid price appreciation.

Pros and Cons of Each Approach

Both value and growth investing have their pros and cons.

Value investing, for instance, may see investors experience lowering volatility when investing, and also getting more dividends from their investments. But their portfolio might accrue value more slowly — if at all. Conversely, growth investing may see investors accrue more gains more quickly, but also with higher levels of volatility and risk.

The Process of Value Investing

As noted, value investing is a type of investing strategy, but it’s similar to how a value shopper might operate when hoping to buy a certain brand of a smartwatch for the lowest price possible. If that shopper suddenly saw the watch advertised at half the price, it would make them happy, but it also might make them wonder: Is there a new version of the watch coming out that’s better than this one? Is there something wrong with the watch I want that I don’t know about? Is this just a really good deal, or am I missing something?

Also as discussed, their first step would likely be to go online and do some research. And if the watch was still worth what they thought, and the price was a good discount from a reliable seller, they’d probably go ahead and snap it up.

Investing in stocks can work in much the same way. The price of a share can fluctuate for various reasons, even if the company is still sound. And a value investor, who isn’t looking for explosive, immediate returns but consistency year after year, may see a drop in price as an opportunity.

Value investors are always on the lookout to buy stocks that trade below their intrinsic value (an asset’s worth based on tangible and intangible factors). Of course, that can be tricky. From day to day, stocks are worth only what investors are willing to pay for them. And there doesn’t have to be a good reason for the market to change its mind, for better or worse, about a stock’s value.

But over the long run, earnings, revenues, and other factors — including intangibles such as trademarks and branding, management stability, and research projects — do matter.

Finding and Evaluating Value Stocks

Value investors use several metrics to determine a stock’s intrinsic value. A few of the factors they might look at (and compare to other stocks or the S&P 500) include:

Price-to-earnings Ratio (P/E)

This ratio is calculated by dividing a stock’s price by the earnings per share. For value investors, the lower the P/E, the better; it tells you how much you’re paying for each dollar of earnings.

Price/earnings-to-earnings Ratio (PGE)

The PEG ratio can help determine if a stock is undervalued or overvalued in comparison to another company’s stock. If the PEG ratio is higher, the market has overvalued the stock. If the PEG ratio is lower, the market has undervalued the stock. The PEG ratio is calculated by taking the P/E ratio and dividing it by the earnings growth rate.

Price-to-book Ratio (P/B)

A company’s book value is equal to its assets minus its liabilities. The book value per share can be found by dividing the book value by the number of outstanding shares.

The price-to-book ratio is calculated by dividing the company’s stock price by the book value per share. A ratio of less than one is considered good from a value investor’s perspective.

Debt-to-equity Ratio (D/E)

The debt-to-equity ratio measures a company’s capital structure and can be used to determine the risk that a business will be unable to repay its financial obligations. This ratio can be found by dividing the company’s total liabilities by its equity. Value investors typically look for a ratio of less than one.

Free Cash Flow (FCF)

This is the cash remaining after expenses have been paid (cash flow from operations minus capital expenditures equals free cash flow).

If a company is in good shape, it should have enough money to pay off debts, pay dividends, and invest in future growth. It can be useful to watch the ups and downs of free cash flow over a period of a few years, rather than a single year or quarter.

Over time, each value investor may develop their own formula for a successful stock search. That search might start with something as simple as an observation — a positive customer experience with a certain product or company, or noticing how brisk business is at a certain restaurant chain.

But research is an important next step. Investors also may wish to settle on a personal “margin of safety,” based on their individual risk tolerance. This can protect them from bad decisions, bad market conditions, or bad luck.

Long-Term Considerations and Patience

An important thing to remember when it comes to value investing is that investors are likely on the hook for the long term. Many value stocks are probably not going to see huge value increases over short periods of time. They’re fundamentally unsexy, in many respects. For that reason, investors may do well to remember to be patient.

Risks and Challenges in Value Investing

As with any investment strategy, value investing does have its risks. It tends to be a less-risky strategy than others, but it has its risks nonetheless.

For one, investors can mislead themselves by making faulty or erroneous judgments about certain stocks. That can happen if they misunderstand financial statements, or make inaccurate calculations when engaging in fundamental analysis. In other words, investors can make some mistakes and bad judgments.

Investors can also buy stocks that are overvalued – or, at least overvalued compared to what the investor was hoping to purchase it for. There are also concerns to be aware of as it relates to diversification in your overall portfolio (you don’t want a portfolio overloaded with value stocks, or any other specific type of security).

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The Takeaway

Value investing is a type of investment strategy or philosophy that involves buying stocks or securities that are “undervalued.” In effect, an investor determines that a stock is worth more than the market has valued it, and purchases it hoping that it will accrue value over time. While it’s a strategy that has its risks, it’s been used by many high-profile investors in the past, such as Warren Buffett.

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For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.


What are the pros and cons of value investing?

Pros of value investing include that it tends to be a less risky investing strategy, and that value stocks may experience less volatility. Some of the cons are that value stocks may not see sizable value increases over short periods of time, and that it’s possible investors can make a mistake and purchase an overvalued stock, rather than an undervalued one.

Is value investing high risk?

Value investing is generally considered to be a lower-risk investment strategy, as investors tend to buy securities that they perceive to be undervalued, rather than overvalued.

Can you make money value investing?

Yes, investors can make money utilizing a value investing strategy. Many of the most successful investors in history, such as Warren Buffett, used a value investing strategy to great success.

How do you do value investing?

Value investing involves purchasing stocks or other securities that an investor has determined to be “undervalued” by the market. Investors purchase those securities, with the hope that they’ll accrue value over time.

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How to Complete the FAFSA Step by Step

Editor’s Note: The new, simplified FAFSA form for the 2024-2025 academic year is available, although applicants are reporting a number of glitches. Try not to worry, take your time, and aim to submit your application as soon as possible.

As a student, you must submit a new FAFSA each school year. It’s the only way to learn the types of federal aid you qualify for, including student loans, grants, and work-study programs. Plus, other student aid programs piggyback off the FAFSA, so it’s worth submitting even if you’re not expecting federal aid.

Keep reading to find detailed instructions on how to complete the new, simplified 2024-2025 FAFSA. We’ll walk you through the required fields and highlight changes from last year’s form.

Documents You’ll Need

Before you sit down to fill out the online FAFSA application , it’s best to have the following documents or information handy, especially if you want to fill out the FAFSA as quickly as possible. Documents needed include:

•   Completed tax returns

•   Parents’ SSNs if you’re a dependent student

•   Child support records

•   Cash, savings, and checking account balances

•   Investment, business, or farm net worth

How to Fill Out the FAFSA in 6 Steps

How to Fill Out the FAFSA

Ready to file the FAFSA? First, check your watch.

Ensure you have up to an hour to fill it out. Most people find that it takes less than one hour to complete, including gathering the personal and financial information you need.

Here’s how to fill out the FAFSA step by step.

Step 1: Create an Account

The preferred way to complete the FAFSA is online, as you’re likely already aware.

But where do you fill out the FAFSA?

You can do so for free at fafsa.ed.gov — remember that you should never pay any site to file the FAFSA.

Create a StudentAid.gov account before you start the FAFSA. Ensure your name and Social Security number (SSN) look exactly as they do on your Social Security card.

The individuals who must include information on the form — a spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or your parent’s spouse — must all have an FSA ID (account username and password). However, contributors without an SSN can create an account to fill out their portion of the 2024-2025 form.

A contributor is anyone required to provide information and approval to have their federal tax information transferred directly into the FAFSA form. This person, while not required to pay for a student’s college education, may include a student’s spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or a stepparent.

Step 2: Provide Personal Information

After logging in, select either “student” or “parent,” depending on whether you are the student or parent filling out the form. We’ll assume that you’re filling it out as a dependent student for the next few steps.

What is a dependent student vs. independent student? Check out the full list of dependent vs. independent qualifications . Independent students will also answer the same basic set of questions and add spouse information if they are married.

You’ll start by filling out basic personal information, such as:

•   Name

•   Birthdate

•   SSN

•   Email address

•   Mobile phone number

•   Mailing address

Next, as a dependent student, you’ll indicate personal circumstances, such as marital status, college or career school plans, and any unusual personal circumstances.

You’ll answer questions about your parents and “invite” your parents to fill out the FAFSA information. You’ll also answer questions about:

•   Gender identity (though you can select “prefer not to answer”)

•   Race and ethnicity (you can also select “prefer not to answer” here)

•   Citizenship status

•   Parent education status

•   Whether a parent was killed in the line of duty

•   Student’s high school completion status

•   High school information

Step 3: Add Dependent Student Financials

Next, you’ll fill out information about your tax returns and assets (including any cash, savings, and checking accounts you have, or businesses, investments, farms, and/or real estate).

Step 4: Select Colleges

In this section, select colleges you’re considering. You can choose up to 20 colleges or universities where you want your FAFSA recognized. You can search based on city, state, or college name.

Step 5: Review Page and Add Signature

The review page shows the responses you’ve added to the FAFSA. You can review all responses by clicking “Expand All” or show each section individually. Select the question’s hyperlink to edit. Once you invite a parent to the form, you can see the status of the parent invitation.

Finally, you acknowledge the terms and conditions of the FAFSA form and sign, which means you’ve submitted your section of the FAFSA form. It’s not considered complete, however, until a parent signs their portion.

Recommended: Who Qualifies for FAFSA? FAFSA Requirements

Step 6: Parents Add Information

Once a dependent student invites a parent and they log in, the parent will receive information about onboarding. They will add their:

•   Name

•   Birthdate

•   SSN

•   Email address

•   Mobile phone number

•   Mailing address

The parent must provide consent to transfer federal tax information directly from the IRS into the Parent Financials section.

The FAFSA form will also ask the parent about:

•   Demographic information

•   Marital status

•   State of legal residence

•   Finances

•   Federal benefits

•   Tax filing status

•   Family size

•   Number of kids in college in the household

•   Tax return information

•   Assets

Next, the FAFSA will prompt questions about that parent’s spouse or partner, walk through a review page similar to the student review page, and ask for a signature where the parent acknowledges the terms and conditions of the FAFSA form. Finally, the parent signs that section.

Can a parent fill out the entire form on a student’s behalf, without student consent or signature?

Yes. A parent can fill out the entire FAFSA on behalf of the student indicating from the very beginning that they are filling it out as a parent.

If You Need Additional Help Filling Out the FAFSA

If you need help filling out the FAFSA form, you can click on the white question mark icon next to each FAFSA question to reveal a tip on how to answer that question. You can also visit the FAFSA Help Center to learn more about the recently updated form, look at our FAFSA guide, or watch the FAFSA tutorial video .

You can also chat with Aidan, the virtual assistant, or access the Federal Student Aid Information Center .

Finally, you can get help through the financial aid office at the college or career/trade school you plan to attend. They will often walk through the form with you.

Recommended: Avoid These Common FAFSA Mistakes

What Happens After You Submit the FAFSA?

After you hit the “submit” button, you should receive an email version of the submitted confirmation page and a notification via email that your FAFSA form was processed and sent to the schools you requested.

Types of Government Student Aid

Finally, the government calculates your Student Aid Index (SAI), which lets schools determine the amount of aid you can receive. It also helps schools determine the financial aid you can receive from that particular institution. The financial aid office at each school will send you a financial aid award letter, which may include types of government aid such as:

•   Direct Subsidized Loans

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans

•   Work-study

•   Pell Grants

•   TEACH Grants

•   Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

Recommended: How Financial Aid Works

Who Should Complete the FAFSA?

Anyone who could benefit from college financial aid has nothing to lose by filling out the FAFSA. Many students leave money on the table every year by failing to complete it, and low-income families are often less likely to complete the form than wealthier ones.

Even if you’re not eligible for federal aid, it’s worth your while to complete the FAFSA because most schools and states use FAFSA information to award non-federal aid. Non-federal aid includes private student loans, scholarships, state aid, employee-sponsored aid, and more.

To qualify for federal grants, work-study, and different types of student loans, you must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen. You’ll need a valid SSN, with few exceptions, and a high school diploma, GED, or another recognized equivalent. You’ll also need to enroll in an eligible educational program and maintain satisfactory academic progress.

You may become ineligible for federal aid if you owe money on a previous federal student grant or are in default on a previous federal student loan.

Some types of federal aid are available only to people who demonstrate financial need. This includes the Federal Pell Grant and Direct Subsidized Loans. For the latter, the government pays the accrued interest while the borrower is in college or during most of their deferment periods.

💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

What If I Don’t Qualify for Any or Enough Aid?

The amount of FAFSA money you receive depends on a variety of factors, including the institution you’re applying to, your assets, your parents’ assets, and more.

Merit aid, based on academic excellence, talent, and/or certain achievements, is also available. Some colleges won’t consider you for any of their merit scholarships until you’ve submitted the FAFSA, according to the Department of Education. Businesses, nonprofits, cultural organizations, and local groups also offer merit scholarships.

You can also look into state grants and scholarships. Every state has its own money and process for distributing aid. Some only require a completed FAFSA; others, a separate application.

Then, there are private student loans, which are issued by banks, credit unions, and online lenders (as opposed to the government). You can check to see what various lenders offer and what types of student loans you’d qualify for.

Although private student loans don’t come with the benefits and protections that federal student loans have — like income-driven repayment plans and federal forbearance — they may help bridge funding gaps.

Recommended: Cash Course: A Student’s Guide to Money

The Takeaway

The bottom line: Learning how to complete the FAFSA application doesn’t have to take hours of your time. In fact, it typically takes less than an hour to complete from start to finish. Use our guide to walk you through how to fill out the FAFSA step by step in order to see how much federal aid you’ll qualify for and what types of aid you’re eligible to receive.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


What’s the due date for the new FAFSA?

The FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59pm central time (CT) on June 30, 2025. You can submit corrections or updates by 11:59pm CT on Sept. 14, 2025.

Can I fill out FAFSA myself?

Yes, students can and should complete the FAFSA on their own. The new FAFSA application instructions are much easier to understand, making it easier than ever for students to fill out. You can then invite your parents to enter information like their Social Security numbers and income figures.

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

It takes less than an hour to fill out the FAFSA, including absorbing the FAFSA application instructions. However, it may take you longer to complete if you don’t gather important information ahead of time, such as your family’s Social Security cards.

What disqualifies you from getting FAFSA?

To file the FAFSA, you must meet certain FAFSA requirements. For example, you must demonstrate financial need for need-based federal student aid programs, be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a valid SSN except in certain situations, be enrolled or accepted at an eligible institution as a regular student, maintain satisfactory academic progress, provide consent for federal tax information to go to the FAFSA, sign the certification statement on the FAFSA, and show you qualify to obtain higher education.

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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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No Prepayment Penalty: Avoid Prepayment Penalties

You may feel proud of yourself for paying off a debt early, but doing so could trigger prepayment fees (ouch). The best way to avoid those charges is to read the fine print before you take out a loan that involves this kind of fee.

If you neglected to do that, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with a prepayment penalty. Read on to learn ways to avoid paying loan prepayment penalties.

What Is a Prepayment Penalty?

A prepayment penalty is when a lender charges you a fee for paying off your loan before the end of the loan term. It can be frustrating that a lender would charge you for paying off a loan too early. After all, many people may think a lender would appreciate being repaid as quickly as possible.

In theory, a lender would appreciate getting repaid quickly. But in reality, it’s not that simple. Lenders make most of their profit from interest, so if you pay off your loan early, the lender is possibly losing out on the interest payments that they were anticipating. Charging a prepayment penalty is one way a lender may recoup their financial loss if you pay off your loan early.

Lenders might calculate the prepayment fee based on the loan’s principal or how much interest remains when you pay off the loan. The penalty could also be a fixed amount as stated in the loan agreement.

💡 Quick Tip: Before choosing a personal loan, ask about the lender’s fees: origination, prepayment, late fees, etc. SoFi personal loans come with no-fee options, and no surprises.

Can You Pay Off a Loan Early?

Say you took out a $5,000 personal loan three years ago. You’ve been paying it off for three years, and you have two more years before the loan term ends. Recently you received a financial windfall and you want to use that money to pay off your personal loan early.

Can you pay off a personal loan early without paying a prepayment penalty? It depends on your lender. Some lenders offer personal loans without prepayment penalties, but some don’t. A mortgage prepayment penalty is more common than a personal loan prepayment penalty.

Recommended: When to Consider Paying off Your Mortgage Early

Differences in Prepayment Penalties

The best way to figure out how much a prepayment penalty would be is to check a loan’s terms before you accept them. Lenders have to be upfront about how much the prepayment penalty will be, and they’re required by law to disclose that information before you take on the loan.

Personal Loan Prepayment Penalty

If you take out a $6,000 personal loan to turn your guest room into a pet portrait studio and agree to pay your lender back $125 per month for five years, the term of that loan is five years. Although your loan term says it can’t take you more than five years to pay it off, some lenders also require that you don’t pay it off in less than five years.

The lender makes money off the monthly interest you pay on your loan, and if you pay off your loan early, the lender doesn’t make as much money. Loan prepayment penalties allow the lender to recoup the money they lose when you pay your loan off early.

Mortgage Prepayment Penalty

When it comes to mortgages, things get a little trickier. For loans that originated after 2014, there are restrictions on when a lender can impose prepayment penalties. If you took out a mortgage before 2014, however, you may be subject to a mortgage prepayment penalty. If you’re not sure if your mortgage has a prepayment penalty, check your origination paperwork or call your lender.

Checking for a Prepayment Clause

Lenders disclose whether or not they charge a prepayment penalty in the loan documents. It might be in the fine print, but the prepayment clause is there. If you’re considering paying off any type of loan early, check your loan’s terms and conditions to determine whether or not you’ll have to pay a prepayment penalty.

How Are Prepayment Penalties Calculated?

The cost of a prepayment penalty can vary widely depending on the amount of the loan and how your lender calculates the penalty. Lenders have different ways to determine how much of a prepayment penalty to charge.

If your loan has a prepayment penalty, figuring out exactly what the fee will be can help you determine whether paying the penalty will outweigh the benefits of paying your loan off early. Here are three different ways the prepayment penalty fee might be calculated:

1. Interest costs. If your loan charges a prepayment penalty based on interest, the lender is basing the fee on the interest you would have paid over the full term of the loan. Using the previous example, if you have a $6,000 loan with a five-year term and want to pay the remaining balance of the loan after only four years, the lender may charge you 12 months’ worth of interest as a penalty.

2. Percentage of balance. Some lenders use a percentage of the amount left on the loan to determine the penalty fee. This is a common way to calculate a mortgage prepayment penalty fee. For example, if you bought a house for $500,000 and have already paid down half the mortgage, you might want to pay off the remaining balance in a lump sum before the full term of your loan is up. In this case, your lender might require that you pay a percentage of the remaining $250,000 as a penalty.

3. Flat fee. Some lenders simply have a flat fee as a prepayment penalty. This means that no matter how early you pay back your loan, the amount you’ll have to pay will always be the prepayment penalty amount that’s disclosed in the loan agreement.

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Avoiding a Prepayment Penalty

Trying to avoid prepayment penalties can seem like an exercise in futility, but it is possible. The easiest way to avoid them is to take out a loan or mortgage without prepayment penalties. If that’s not possible, you may still have options.

•   If you already have a personal loan that has a prepayment penalty, and you want to pay your loan off early, talk to your lender. You may be offered an opportunity to pay off your loan closer to the final due date and sidestep the penalty. Or you might find that even if you pay off the loan early and incur a penalty, it might be less than the interest you would have paid over the remaining term of the loan.

•   You can also take a look at your loan origination paperwork to see if it allows for a partial payoff without penalty. If it does, you might be able to prepay a portion of your loan each year, which allows you to get out of debt sooner without requiring you to pay a penalty fee.

For example, some mortgages allow payments of up to 25% of the purchase price once a year, without charging a prepayment penalty. This means that while you might not be able to pay off your full mortgage, you could pay up to 25% of the purchase price each year without triggering a penalty.

Some lenders shift their prepayment penalty terms over the life of your loan. This means that as you get closer to the end of your original loan term, you might face lower prepayment penalty fees or no fees at all. If that’s the case, it might make sense to wait a year or two until the prepayment penalties are less or no longer apply.

When it comes to your money, you don’t want to make any assumptions. You still need to do your due diligence by asking potential lenders if they have a prepayment penalty. The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) requires lenders to provide documentation of any loan fees they charge, including a prepayment penalty. Also, under the TILA, consumers have the right to cancel a loan agreement within three days of closing on the loan without the lender taking any adverse action against them.

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The Takeaway

A prepayment penalty is one fee that can be avoided by asking questions of the lender and looking at the loan documents with a discerning eye. This may hold true both when you are shopping for a loan and when you are paying your loan off.

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.

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