If you’re finding your student loan debt difficult to manage, one option for tackling it is by leveraging your home equity. It’s possible to do this through the student loan cash-out refinance program offered by Fannie Mae or through a general cash-out refinance.
Either option would allow you to use the excess value of your home to pay off student loan debt directly. Plus, because borrowers would be consolidating their student loan debt into their mortgage, they’d have to make just one payment each month. They might also secure a lower interest rate than they had on their student loans.
Still, there are major downsides to consider before paying off student loans with home equity.
For one, the student loan debt won’t actually go away — you’ll still owe that money. Additionally, borrowers will lose access to student loan benefits and protections. And, if you aren’t able to stay on top of monthly payments, your home is on the line.
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Using a Student Loan Cash-Out Refinance to Pay Off Student Loans
With a cash-out refinance, you take out a new mortgage for an amount that exceeds what you currently owe. You then get the difference in cash, which you could then use to pay off your student loan debt.
One option for doing this is through Fannie Mae’s Student Loan Solutions program, which is specifically designed to allow homeowners to use their home equity to pay off student loans. To qualify, borrowers must use the funds from the cash-out refinance to fully pay off at least one of their student loans. Additionally, it’s stipulated that this loan must belong to the individual who applied for the refinance.
For borrowers who don’t qualify for the Fannie Mae program, or who want to use their cash for costs other than student loan repayment, it’s also possible to get a general cash-out refinance through another lender.
Whether you go with Fannie Mae or another lender, there are typically certain requirements that a borrower must meet to qualify for a cash-out refinance. Generally, there are stipulations for credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and the amount of equity in the home after closing. As such, it’s helpful to determine before applying how much equity you have in your home.
Should I Tap Into My Home Equity to Pay Off Student Loans?
Using the equity you’ve earned in your home to pay off your student loans may sound like an easy fix. But before you commit to refinancing, you’ll want to weigh the decision carefully. While it may make sense for some, a student loan cash-out refinance won’t work for everyone. Here are a few pros and cons to consider as you make your decision.
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Benefits of Paying Off Student Loans with Home Equity
Like most financial decisions, paying off your student loans with the equity you’ve earned on your home is a multifaceted decision. Here are some of the ways you could find it beneficial:
• You may be able to get a better rate. Securing a lower interest rate is potentially the most appealing reason to use the equity in your home to pay off student loans. As part of your decision-making process, consider reviewing mortgage options at a few different lenders. While reviewing rate quotes from each lender, do the math to determine if paying off student loans with home equity will truly reduce the amount of money you spend in interest. If there are any fees or prepayment penalties, make sure to factor those in. Keep in mind this isn’t the only way to get a better rate either — another option to explore is student loan refinancing.
• You may get more time to pay off your loan. When making your decision, also take into account the length of the mortgage term. The standard repayment plan for student loans has a 10-year term, unless you have already consolidated them, in which case you could have a term of up to 25 years. With a mortgage, term lengths can be as long as 30 years. Just keep in mind that while repaying your debt over a longer time period could lower monthly payments, it may also mean you pay more in interest over the life of the loan.
• You can streamline your payments. Another benefit is reducing the number of monthly payments you need to keep track of. Instead of paying your mortgage and each of your student loans, those bills will get consolidated into a single payment. Streamlining your payments could help you stay on top of your payments and make your finances a little bit easier to manage.
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Downsides of Paying Off Student Loans with Home Equity
There are a few potential negatives that could impact your decision to pay off student loans with your home equity:
• You risk foreclosure. Using your home equity to pay off your student loans could potentially put your home at risk. That’s because you’re combining your student loans and mortgage into one debt, now all tied to your home. That means if you run into any financial issues in the future and are unable to make payments, in severe cases, such as loan default, your home could be foreclosed on.
• Your student debt won’t really disappear. When you use your home equity to pay off your student loans, you’ll still owe that debt. Only now, it’s part of your mortgage.
• You’ll lose access to student loan benefits and protections. When you do a student loan cash-out refinance, you’ll no longer be eligible for borrower protections that are afforded to borrowers who have federal loans. These benefits include deferment or forbearance, as well as income-driven repayment plans. If you’re pursuing student loan forgiveness through one of the programs available to federal borrowers, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, consolidating your student loan debt with your mortgage would eliminate you from the program. As such, it may not make sense to use the equity in your home to pay off your student loans if you’re currently taking advantage of any of these options.
• You could owe more than your home is worth. As you weigh your options, consider comparing the available equity in your home to the amount you owe in student loans. In some cases, you may owe more in student loan debt than you have available to use in home equity under the various loan guidelines. If you end up owing more than what your home is worth, that could make it tough to sell your home, as you’d need to add your own funds to repay your loan balance.
When It’s Time to Leverage Your Home Equity
Cashing in on your home equity isn’t as easy as withdrawing money from your checking account, but it’s also not as difficult as you might think. A good first step is to contact a mortgage lender, who will order an appraisal of your home and help you to get started on the paperwork.
It could also be a good idea to check your credit score. To secure a cash-out refinance, lenders will likely require a credit score of 620 or higher. That being said, the minimum score required depends on many factors, such as credit, income, equity, and more. If you don’t meet the minimum FICO score requirement for your chosen program, you might want to try to improve your credit score before applying.
At the very least, you’ll likely need to gather necessary documents so you have them handy. Get together your latest tax filings, pay stubs, and bank statements. Lenders use those documents to evaluate whether you have the savings and cash flow to pay back a fatter mortgage, and they may ask for when you apply to refinance.
When used responsibly, home equity can be a useful tool in helping to improve your overall financial situation — including using home equity to pay off student loans. While there could be upsides, such as streamlining payments and securing a better rate, it’s important to also weigh the drawbacks, like losing access to student loan protections and putting your home on the line.
Beyond a student loan cash-out refinance, another way to access your home’s equity is a home equity line of credit (HELOC). When you take out a HELOC, you can borrow only as much as you need at a given time. Plus, with SoFi, you can access up to 95% (or $500,000) of your home’s equity, so you’ll have plenty of funds to work with.
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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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