Test Your Financial Literacy

Financial literacy is a way of saying that you have a good working knowledge of the basics of managing money and using it to reach your goals. It typically means you understand budgeting; you know how different financial products can help you protect and grow your cash; and you are aware of how the financial climate (from inflation to interest rates) can impact your personal situation.

Building financial literacy is a valuable move because it helps you achieve goals like saving for the down payment on a house, affording your kid’s college costs, and being prepared for retirement.

Read on to take a financial literacy quiz, learn more about financial literacy, and find out how to build it.

Why Financial Literacy Is Important

Higher levels of financial literacy have been consistently linked to responsible money management. This can help consumers:

•   Avoid high-cost debt

•   Plan for financial goals

•   Avoid defaulting on mortgages

•   Build an emergency savings fund

•   Earn higher interest on investments

Boosting your financial literacy can be a great way to be confident that you have the information and insight you need to manage your finances well, today and tomorrow.

💡 Quick Tip: Banish bank fees. Open a new bank account with SoFi and you’ll pay no overdraft, minimum balance, or any monthly fees.

Are You Financially Literate?

If you feel as if you are not fully financially literate, it might be a case of not having focused on this aspect of your life. After all, financial literacy isn’t usually a part of the curriculum in high school or college.

Also, age plays a factor in financial literacy. The younger you are, the less money know-how you are likely to have. One recent study found that Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) had less financial savvy than Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. Which could be understandable: The younger a person is, the less likely it can be that they’ve gone mortgage shopping, waded deeply into retirement planning, or researched health insurance.

Typically, financial literacy based on such key components of this type of knowledge as:

•   Knowing how to create an effective budget so that you’re aware of and accountable for where your money is going

•   Understanding how interest works when you save and invest, as well as how it works when you borrow, including the concept of compound interest

•   Saving, whether that means for emergencies or for a specific goal, such as a big-ticket item or even a house

•   Knowing the facts about credit card debt, managing your debt well, and avoiding the credit card debt roller-coaster

•   Protecting your identity and otherwise using practices to safeguard your funds

•   Investing wisely, and understanding how the average stock market return

Financial Literacy Quiz

Educating Yourself

If you’ve taken our quiz, the financial literacy questions will likely have helped you to pinpoint if you need to bolster your understanding of money matters.

Financial topics can be challenging, but fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you increase your knowledge. Your bank may have a library of information as well as tools and calculators to help you do some number crunching and give you a better picture of your finances.

Your local library and book retailers, as well as financial magazines and websites, probably have plenty of information too. It can be a smart move to veer towards those publications that are well-regarded vs. following, say, an influencer without credentials but a lot of lofty promises on social media.

Podcasts, newsletters, and continuing-ed classes are other options. It can also make good sense to find a financial planner, who can walk you through your own unique challenges and opportunities.

đź’ˇ Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more each month? Grow your personal savings by opening an online savings account. SoFi offers high-interest savings accounts with no account fees. Open your savings account today!

Government Resources for Building Financial Literacy

There are also government resources, including those available at the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC), connected to the Treasury Department. This commission was founded to boost literacy.

Another government site, one created by FLEC, is dedicated to financial education: MyMoney.gov . This site provides practical information about each of what they call the five building blocks for money management (MyMoney Five), which are:

•   Earn: Understand your pay and benefits to make the most out of what you earn.

•   Save and Invest: Start as soon as you can to save for future goals, even if you need to begin by saving small amounts.

•   Protect: Create an emergency savings fund, choose the right insurance for your needs, and otherwise take precautions to protect your finances.

•   Spend: Shop around and compare prices and products to get a good value on purchases, especially with larger ones.

•   Borrow: Borrowing allows you to make essential purchases and also helps you to build credit, so it makes sense to understand how to borrow in the smartest way possible for your situation.

You can also access the government resource known as Federal Reserve Education , which provides resources for educators and students alike, while also empowering consumers to boost their understanding of banking. Topics include central banking and monetary policy, economics/macroeconomics, our government’s role in money regulation, personal finances, and more.

Here’s one more financial literacy resource from the federal government: FDIC’s Money Smart . This program provides resources to help people learn how to improve their financial management skills, from computer-based educational games to podcasts that focus on saving and borrowing.

Another Way to Gain Financial Literacy

Another way to help with your financial literacy is to opt for a banking partner that delivers insight into your spending and saving.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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.

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.

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What Is a College Acceptance Letter? Examples Included

What Is an Acceptance Letter for College? What to Expect

An acceptance letter is a college’s formal invitation for you to enroll in their programs as a student. Depending on the type of admission you applied for, letters will be delivered from December through April. Once received, you have the option to accept or decline the offer.

Financial aid offer letters may look similar to an acceptance letter, but differ in key points. Financial aid offer letters, also known as award letters, will outline financial aid (if any) and a summary of the cost of attendance. Generally, an acceptance letter and an offer letter are sent together. In some cases, though, offer letters may be sent after acceptances.

Read on to learn more about what an acceptance letter is, what an offer letter is, when to expect an acceptance letter, and how to respond to an acceptance letter.

Basic Definition of an Acceptance Letter

Acceptance letters will generally contain the three following components:

1.    A university’s offer to enroll and reasons the applicant stood out.

2.    Details about on-campus events for prospective students.

3.    Important deadlines and information on ancillary documents, such as a financial offer letter.

Students who apply for regular decisions generally receive their decision letters in March and April, but early decision and early action decision letters may be sent as soon as December.

Offer Letter vs Acceptance Letter for College

As mentioned, an acceptance letter details whether or not a student has been admitted into a specific college. Financial aid offer letters, also known as financial aid award letters, break down the tuition cost, scholarships and grants awarded, work-study programs offered, and federal student loan options available.

In order to apply for federal financial aid, students are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®, annually. The information provided on the FAFSA helps determine the types of aid, and aid amounts, that students qualify for.

Scholarships and grants are funds awarded to students that do not need to be repaid. Loans are either provided by the government or a private entity and are repaid by the borrower, though only federal student loans would be included as a part of a student’s federal aid package. Work-study is a federal program that offers employment to students who qualify and have filed a FAFSA.

Furthermore, colleges use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine awards based on needs and merit.

In cases when federal aid isn’t enough to pay for college, students may consider private student loans to help fill in funding gaps. Keep in mind, though, that private student loans aren’t necessarily afforded the same borrower protections as federal loans — things like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. That is why private student loans are generally only considered after all other options have been depleted.

College Acceptance Letter College Offer Letter

•   Formal acceptance into college program

•   Excludes Cost of Attendance (COA) info

•   Shares details of optional prospective student campus events

•   Contains important deadlines, usually the date to accept/decline the offer to enroll

•   Sent with or after acceptance letter

•   Outlines Cost of Attendance (COA)

•   Shares details of scholarships and grants awarded, as well as suggested loans

•   Contains deadline to accept/decline financial offer



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College Acceptance Letter Dates

College application deadlines vary by college and so will college acceptance letter dates. Furthermore, acceptance letters are sent out on dates depending on the type of application you submitted: regular, early action, restrictive early action, or early decision.

Applying for college early is one way prospective students can complete the application and acceptance process on an early timeline. It can be a path for those who have researched colleges thoroughly and want to get into a specific college.

Early action gives you a chance to apply to several colleges at once. Restrictive early action typically allows you to apply early to a single college, with the exception of public universities. Applicants who choose these routes are not obligated to accept their offer if admitted.

Early decision applicants apply to one school early decision and, if accepted, are required to commit. If an early decision applicant is accepted, they must withdraw their application from all other schools.

Additionally, some schools offer a more flexible rolling admission process. Instead of waiting to evaluate applications after specific deadlines, schools review applications as they are submitted (on a rolling basis). Generally, they’ll continue accepting applications until all of the open slots in their program are filled.

This table provides an overview of the types of applications, their general deadlines, and information on when students may accept a decision. Keep in mind that these dates are broad guidelines, and students should confirm all deadlines with the schools of interest.

Application

Application Deadline

Decision Dates (General)

Regular Decision December, January, February March-April
Early Action November December-January
Restrictive Early Action November December
Early Decision November 1-15 (some December and January) December-January
Rolling Admission Varies by school Typically within four to six weeks of submitting an application

When Do College Acceptance Letters Arrive?

Depending on the type of application, your college acceptance letter will arrive between December and April. Financial aid offer letters will be sent with or may follow acceptance letters.

What Does a College Acceptance Letter Say?

A college letter of acceptance will share the admission decision and may offer a list of upcoming events, such as when orientation will take place. It will also contain a deadline for you to submit a final decision.

The Decision

The first paragraph gets straight to the point: you’re in! It may also detail why you stood out from other applicants.

Prospective Student Events

Your letter may contain information on upcoming event dates and inform you on incoming ancillary documents, such as your financial offer letter.

Acceptance Deadline

The last portion of your letter will have important deadlines, including the date to accept the college’s offer. May 1st has become widely known as the deadline for students to make decisions about the college they’ll enroll in. Keep in mind that while this is a popular date for decision deadlines, colleges may have their own deadlines and applicants who applied early may have an earlier deadline.

Recommended: 7 Tips to Prepare for College Decision Day

How to Respond to College Acceptance Letter

Colleges inform students electronically, both online and by mail, or by mail only.

Some colleges will send forms to formally decline or accept their offer. Others may have you submit your decision via an online portal.

Be sure to educate yourself and stay connected to your top choice colleges’ admissions offices on how to respond to their college acceptance letter and to prevent missing important communications.

1. Weigh Your Options

College tuition is rapidly increasing — and can play a major role in your decision.

Compare financial offer letters to determine the best deal. If a college offers more aid, but has a substantial cost, then another college with less aid and a smaller price tag might impact your decision.

There are no standard offer letter forms, so cross-checking their website with your offer letter and getting advice can be helpful. You can also follow up with college admissions offices with your questions.

2. Choose Which College You Want to Attend

Of course, other factors will weigh into your decision-making. According to publisher Princeton Review , students are split nearly down the middle on how they choose colleges: 40% say they choose a college based on “best for their career interests,” and 40% say they choose a college that is the “best overall fit.”

You can break down your decision even further with the following questions:

•   How strong is the academic rigor of the program I’m pursuing? Is the program a fit for me?

•   How important is the location to me?

•   What stands out to me about the campus culture?

•   Is this institution the right fit for my financial situation?

•   Does it have strong career preparation programs and resource offices?

Choosing a college will take time. But with research and guidance, you can have more confidence in making your final decision.

3. Find Funding for the School You Choose

Financial aid from schools, private entities, and the government may help put an expensive college within reach. If your top choice is not fully covered by out-of-pocket finances and other sources of financial aid, applying for a private student loan is an option.

Also, getting a job during the summer or working while in school can help with tuition and daily needs.

Recommended: How to Pay for College

4. Decline Other College Acceptance Letters

Once you’ve accepted a school offer, be sure to notify other colleges that accepted you right away. This enables them to offer your spot to waitlisted prospective students.

The Takeaway

Your college admission acceptance letter and financial aid offer letter are key to deciding your next steps. From as early as December until April, you may receive college decision letters. Unless you applied early decision, waiting to receive all college acceptance letters can help you evaluate your options.

Funding your education will be one of the most important decisions you make. Compare your financial aid offer letters to determine which school offers the best value. Most colleges will give you until May 1 to accept or decline their offer and financial aid package (if any).

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.

Photo credit: iStock/Adene Sanchez


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.


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.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Credit Hours: What Are They & What You Need to Know

Credit Hours: What Are They & Why They Matter

Credit hours are the building blocks of a college career. They measure progress, and define full- and part-time status and degree types such as bachelor’s and master’s. And these factors determine federal aid eligibility.

A credit hour is defined as one classroom hour and two hours of student work per week. Students who take 12 or more credit hours a semester are considered full-time. University semesters are a minimum of 15 weeks.

What Is a Credit Hour?

A credit hour is a system to measure college course loads. They were invented in 1906.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Carnegie Foundation created the credit hour system to determine how to give scholarship funds to colleges. However, it quickly became a useful tool for universities to measure higher ed programs and student progress. Nearly every U.S. university adopted the system within six years.

Credits are also key in accreditation, an evaluation process that ensures a college’s academic merit. It’s granted to universities that have met minimum credit requirements and other academic standards.


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1 Credit Hour Is Equal to How Many Hours?

One credit hour is equal to one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and at least two hours of out of class student work per week. That means you can expect to spend three hours of work and classroom instruction per week in a one-credit course.

How Many Hours of Study Time per Credit Hour Online?

Credit hours are no different in-person than online, depending on the type of online course. There are two types: synchronous and asynchronous programs.

Synchronous programs are virtual classes that students can attend in real time. These courses may involve digital lectures, class discussions, presentations, and other styles of scheduled interactive learning. Students also work together outside of class, whether virtually or in-person. This type of program offers ease of access.

In asynchronous programs, students access pre-recorded classes and forums on their own time. Students in these programs set their own pace and manage coursework completion deadlines. Virtual attendance is not required and students may communicate with staff and their peers in board-style forums and email.

Synchronous programs have a similar structure to in-person college classes — and therefore have similar credit hour requirements. Some universities suggest more study hours for online credits. For instance, the University of North Carolina suggests four to five hours of study time each week per credit for a bachelor’s degree program.

Asynchronous programs, on the other hand, have more loosely defined requirements for credit courses. Students meet program requirements by fulfilling coursework needs on deadline.


💡 Quick Tip: Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too.

Credit Hour Calculator

To determine total time spent on classes in a semester, add the credits of all your courses. Multiply that number by two hours, or more depending on your university’s requirements. Then multiply that total with the weeks in a semester.

Courses can be one to six credit hours. Below is an example credit hour calculator chart to determine total hours spent on one or more credits. Rice University has a great example of a chart that converts credits to study time.

Credits

Study Hours Per Credit

Total Study and In-Person Hours Per Semester (15 Weeks)

1 2 Hours 45
3 6 Hours 135
12 24 Hours 540

How Many Credit Hours Do You Need to Graduate?

The credit hours you need depend on the degree type — but the federal minimum is the same for all. The range of credit hours required also varies by major, so be sure to check with your registrar that you have all the information you need.

Higher education programs include associate, bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctorate degrees. Depending on the degree, students can expect to complete around 30 to 120 credit hours.

Bachelor’s Degree Credit Hours

Bachelor’s degrees are generally 120 credits minimum and usually take four years to complete. Schools that operate on a quarterly basis (four terms a year), usually require 180 credits to graduate.

Students enrolled in a bachelor’s program complete core curriculum and various credit hour types: general education, major/minor, and elective credits.

General education courses are required courses for a degree. They often cover foundational subjects such math, English, and sciences. However, the core curriculum might vary by major. For instance, a student majoring in marketing might take intro economics courses, whereas an architect student may take intro art history courses.

Major and minor credit hours are classes related to a student’s field of study. They are categorized into lower- and upper-division credits. Students must complete lower-division courses in order to enroll in upper level courses. Internships may also be mandatory and are converted into credits (up to six).

Finally, bachelor’s programs require elective credits — courses unrelated to a student’s major and general requirements. Students sign up for courses out of interest or to complement their major.

Recommended: What Is the Difference Between BA and BS Degrees?

Master’s Degree Credit Hours

A master’s degree can range from 30 to 60 credits, and usually lasts two years. Students complete a thesis or project at the end of the program.

Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Business Administration (MBA) are common types of masters, but vary widely in credit requirements. MAs and MSs tend to be 30 credits, while MBAs can take up to 60 credits to complete.

How Many Credit Hours Does a Course Have?

As mentioned, a college class must be at least one hour of classroom instruction and two hours of student coursework per week — the federal minimum. Courses can range from one to six credits — but typically are three to four credits.

How Do Semester Credit Hours Influence GPA?

With credit hours and GPAs, the general rule is this: More credits are better.

Your weighted GPA point values determine your GPA — where the weights are the number of credits for each class. To determine your college GPA with credits, multiply your GPA Point Value with the course’s total credits. Then divide the GPA point value total by the credit total.

For example, if you score an A in your three-credit chemistry class, it has more impact on your overall GPA than the A in your one-credit photography class. Below is an example of the impact of an 18-credit semester and a 12-credit semester on GPAs.

Course

Grade

Credits

GPA Point Value

Quality Points

Chemistry A 3 4 12
Microeconomics A 3 4 12
Psychology B 1 3 3
Computer Science B 1 3 3
Photography B 1 3 3
English A 3 4 12
Total 12 45
Quality Points/Credits 3.75 GPA

If you score all As in your three-credit courses, but all Bs in your one-credit courses, you still walk away with a 3.75 GPA.

Course

Grade

Credits

GPA Point Value

Quality Points

Chemistry B 3 3 9
Microeconomics B 3 3 9
Psychology A 1 4 4
Computer Science A 1 4 4
Photography A 1 4 4
English B 3 3 9
Total 12 39
Quality Points/Credits 3.25 GPA

In contrast, if all your one-credit courses are As, and three-credit courses are Bs, you end up with a lower GPA. The weight of the courses’ credits impacts your GPA.

What Is the Cost per Credit Hour?

The average college credit costs $477 — or about $1,431 per 3-credit class, according to the Education Data Initiative. Private four-year universities charge $1,200 per credit, or $3,600 for a three-credit class. These averages exclude Cost of Attendance (COA) such as room and board, books, and daily living expenses.

University tuition inflation has an impact on figures too. In 1963, the cost per credit was $21 per credit hour, or $187 adjusted for inflation. That’s a 255% increase to today’s credit hour rate of $477!

Recommended: What Is the Average Cost of College Tuition?

Paying for College

Higher education is a substantial spend, so it’s worth researching ways to earn aid and cut costs.

Determine what your family is expected to cover, as measured by the Student Aid Index (SAI). Apply for scholarships and grants from your school, fill out the FAFSA®, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is used to determine federal aid, and look into cutting expenses like room and board.

Finally, look into undergraduate student loan options and understand the difference between private student loans vs federal student loan options. Federal loans often have lower interest rates, more flexible repayment plans, and offer subsidized loan options for students who demonstrate financial need. However, there is an annual borrowing maximum for students.

Private lenders offer competitive rates for qualifying borrowers. Repayment plans are generally determined by the individual lender. Unlike most federal student loans, private lenders will generally evaluate a borrower’s credit score and history, among other factors. Potential borrowers may be able to apply with a cosigner if they aren’t able to qualify for a private student loan on their own.

While private student loans can be a powerful tool to help fill financing gaps for college, they don’t always offer the same benefits as federal student loans, so are generally borrowed as a last-choice option.

Recommended: How to Pay for College

The Takeaway

Understanding how universities build programs with college credits will help you understand its cost. College credits define degree types, such as master’s and bachelor’s programs. The amount can also determine a student’s status and progress. Finally, these dictate the eligibility rules for federal and private lenders.

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.


Photo credit: iStock/asbe

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.


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.


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.

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.

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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Traditional vs Roth IRA: How to Choose the Right Plan

The two most common types of IRA are the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. It’s helpful to understand the difference between Roth and traditional IRA options when saving for retirement.

Traditional IRAs are funded with pre-tax dollars, while a Roth IRA is funded with after-tax contributions. The same annual contribution limits apply to both types of IRAs, including catch-up contributions for savers aged 50 and older. For 2024, the annual contribution limit is $7,000, with an additional $1,000 allowed in catch-up contributions. For 2023, the annual contribution limit is $6,500, with an additional $1,000 allowed in catch-up contributions.

Whether it makes sense to open a traditional or Roth IRA can depend on eligibility and the types of tax advantages you’re seeking. With Roth IRAs, for example, you get the benefit of tax-free distributions in retirement but only taxpayers within certain income limits are eligible to open one of these accounts. Traditional IRAs, on the other hand, offer tax-deductible contributions, with fewer eligibility requirements.

In weighing which is better, traditional or Roth IRA plans, it’s important to consider what you need each plan to do for you. Opening a Roth IRA vs. regular IRA can allow you to save money for retirement and invest it in a variety of ways. But you may find one type of tax break (i.e. tax-deductible contributions vs. tax-free distributions) more valuable than another.

The Differences Between Roth and Traditional IRAs

When choosing which type of retirement account to open, it’s helpful to fully understand the difference between Roth and traditional IRA options. Specifically, that means knowing:

•  Eligibility rules for making contributions to a Roth or traditional IRA
•  Tax treatment of both IRA contributions and IRA withdrawals, including early withdrawal penalties
•  Required minimum distribution requirements

The IRS has specific guidelines governing who can contribute to an IRA, the amount of contributions you can make, and how you’ll pay taxes on the money you save for your retirement. Navigating the rules can seem confusing, so it’s helpful to look at each guideline individually to get a sense of whether a Roth or traditional IRA is the better fit.

Roth IRA Traditional IRA
Good for… Individuals who are income-eligible and want the benefit of tax-free withdrawals in retirement Individuals who want an upfront tax break in the form of deductible contributions
Age Limit No, you can make contributions at any age as long as you have income for the year No, you can make contributions at any age as long as you have income for the year
Income Eligibility Yes, you must earn below a certain income limit to be able to contribute No, anyone with income for the year can contribute
Funded With Funded with after-tax contributions Funded with pre-tax dollars
Annual Contribution Limits (2024 Tax Year) $7,000, plus an additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older $7,000, plus an additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older
Tax-Deductible Contributions? No Yes, based on income, filing status and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan at work
Withdrawal Rules Contributions can be withdrawn penalty-free at any time; earnings can be withdrawn penalty-free and tax-free after 5 years
and age 59½
Penalty-free withdrawals after age 59½; taxed as ordinary income
Early Withdrawal Penalties Early withdrawals of earnings may be subject to a 10% penalty and ordinary income tax Early withdrawals of contributions and earnings may be subject to a 10% penalty and ordinary income tax
Required Minimum Distributions? No Yes, beginning at age 72
Tax Penalty for Missing RMDs N/A 50% of the amount you were required to withdraw

Which IRA Is Right for You?

Taking this traditional vs. Roth IRA quiz can give you a better idea of how each IRA works and which type might be best suited to your needs.

Eligibility Differences

Anyone below age 72 who earns taxable income can open a traditional IRA.

Roth IRAs have no such age restriction—individuals can make contributions at any age as long as they have income for the year.

Roth IRAs, however, have a key restriction that a traditional IRA does not: An individual must earn below a certain income limit to be able to contribute. In 2024, that limit is $146,000 for single people (people earning more than $146,000 but less than $161,000 can contribute a reduced amount). For those individuals who are married and file taxes jointly, the limit is $230,000 to make a full contribution and between $230,000 to $240,000 for a reduced amount.

In 2023, that limit is $138,000 for single people (people earning more than $138,000 but less than $153,000 can contribute a reduced amount). For those individuals who are married and file taxes jointly, the limit is $218,000 to make a full contribution and between $218,000 to $228,000 for a reduced amount.

The ceilings are based on modified adjusted gross income, which is basically the adjusted gross income listed on one’s tax return with certain deductions added back in.

SoFi’s Roth IRA calculator lets individuals plug in income and other factors, to see which account they can contribute to and how much they can put in.

Tax Differences

With a traditional IRA, individuals can deduct the money they’ve put in (aka contributions) on their tax returns, which lowers their taxable income in the year they invest. Come retirement, investors will pay income taxes at their ordinary income tax rate when they withdraw funds. This is called tax deferral. For individuals who expect to be in a lower tax bracket upon retirement, a traditional IRA might be preferable.

The amount of contributions a person can deduct depends on their adjusted gross income (AGI), tax filing status, and whether they have a retirement plan through their employer. This chart, based on information from the IRS , illustrates the deductibility of traditional contributions for the 2023 tax year.

 

Filing Status If You ARE Covered by a Retirement Plan at Work If You ARE NOT Covered by a Plan at Work
Single or Head of Household You can deduct up to the full contribution limit if your modified AGI is $73,000 or less. You can deduct up to the full contribution limit, regardless of income.
Married Filing Jointly You can deduct up to the full contribution limit if your AGI is $116,000 or less. You can deduct up to the full contribution limit, regardless of income, if your spouse is also not covered by a plan at work.

If your spouse is covered by a plan at work, you can deduct up to the full contribution limit if your combined modified AGI is $218,000 or less.

Married Filing Separately You’re allowed a partial deduction if your modified AGI is less than $10,000. You’re allowed a partial deduction if your modified AGI is less than $10,000.

 

With a Roth IRA, on the other hand, contributions aren’t tax-deductible. But investors won’t pay any taxes when they withdraw money they’ve contributed at retirement, or when they withdraw earnings, as long as they’re at least 59.5 years old and have had the account for at least five years.

For people who expect to be in the same tax bracket or a higher one upon retirement—for example, because of high earnings from a business, investments, or continued work—a Roth IRA might be the more appealing choice.

Contribution Differences

Contributions are the same for both Roth and traditional IRAs. The IRS effectively levels the playing field for individuals saving for retirement by setting the same maximum contribution limit across the board.

For the 2024 tax year the IRA contribution limit is $7,000, with an extra $1,000 contribution for those age 50 or older. Individuals have until the April tax filing deadline to make IRA contributions for the current tax year. To fund an IRA for the 2024 tax year, investors have until the April 2025 tax filing deadline to do so.

For the 2023 tax year the IRA contribution limit is $6,500, with an extra $1,000 contribution for those age 50 or older. Individuals have until the April tax filing deadline to make IRA contributions for the current tax year. To fund an IRA for the 2023 tax year, investors have until the April 2024 tax filing deadline to do so.

With a Roth IRA, investors can continue making new contributions into their account, regardless of age. That might appeal to an investor who plans to delay retirement past the traditional age of 65 or 66 and continue working. As long as a person has income for the year, they can keep adding money to their Roth account.

Traditional IRAs, on the other hand, don’t allow individuals to make contributions indefinitely. As long as a person is working, they can make contributions—but only up to age 72. After that, they can no longer continue putting money into their account.

Withdrawal Differences

Generally with IRAs, the idea is to leave the money untouched until retirement. The IRS has set up the tax incentives in such a way that promotes this strategy. That said, it is possible to withdraw money from an IRA before retirement.

With a Roth IRA, an individual can withdraw the money they’ve contributed (not counting any money earned in appreciation) at any time. They can also withdraw up to $10,000 in the earnings they’ve made on investing that money without paying penalties as long as they’re using the money to pay for a first home (under certain conditions).

With a traditional IRA, an investor will generally pay a 10% penalty tax if they take out funds before age 59.5. There are some exceptions to this rule, as well.

These are the IRS exceptions for early withdrawal penalties:
Disability or death of the IRA owner. In this case, disability means “total and permanent disability of the participant/IRA owner.”

Qualified higher education expenses for you, a spouse, child or grandchild.
Qualified homebuyer. First time homebuyers can withdraw up to $10,000 for a down payment on a home.
Unreimbursed medical expenses. These include health insurance premiums paid while unemployed and expenses greater than 7.5% of your AGI.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) Differences

The IRS doesn’t necessarily allow investors to leave money in your IRA indefinitely. Traditional IRAs are subject to required minimum distributions, or RMDs. That means an individual must start taking a certain amount of money from their account (and paying income taxes on it) by April 1 of the year after they reach age 72—whether they need the funds or not. Distributions are based on life expectancy and your account balance.

If an individual doesn’t take a distribution, the government may charge a hefty 50% penalty on the amount they didn’t withdraw.

For those who don’t want to be forced to start withdrawing from their retirement savings at a specific age, a Roth IRA may be preferable. Roth IRAs have no RMDs. That means a person can withdraw the money as needed, without fear of triggering a penalty. Roth IRAs might also be a vehicle for passing on assets to your heirs or beneficiaries, since you can leave them untouched throughout your life and eventual death if you choose to.

The Takeaway

For most people, if not all, an IRA can be a great way to bolster retirement savings, even if one is already invested in an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k).

When it comes to retirement, every cent counts, and starting as early as possible can make a big difference—so it’s always a good idea to figure out which type will work for you sooner than later.

SoFi Invest® offers traditional and Roth IRAs. For individuals who want to make investments in addition to their retirement accounts, SoFi also offers an Active Investing platform, where investors can buy stocks, ETFs or fractional shares. For a limited time, funding an account gives you the opportunity to win up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice. All you have to do is open and fund a SoFi Invest account.

Sign up for SoFi Invest and get started today.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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.

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.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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Mutual Funds vs Index Funds: Key Differences

Mutual funds and index funds are similar in many ways, but there are some key differences that investors need to understand to effectively implement them into an investment strategy. Those differences might include investing style, associated fees and taxes, and how they work.

The choice between an index fund and an actively managed mutual fund can be a hard one, especially for investors who are unsure of the distinction. The differences between index funds and other mutual funds are actually few — but may be important, depending on the investor.

What’s the Difference between Index Funds and Mutual Funds?

Index funds and mutual funds are similar in many ways, but they do differ in some others, such as how they work, associated costs, and investment style.


đź’ˇ Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

How They Work

Index funds are a type of mutual fund, interestingly enough. Index funds are distinguished by their investing approach: Index funds invest in an index, and only change the securities they hold when the index changes, or to realign their holdings to better match the index they invest in.

Rather than rely on a portfolio manager’s instincts and experience, an index fund tracks a particular index. There are benchmark indexes across all of the different asset classes, including stocks, bonds, currencies, and commodities. As an example, the S&P 500® Index tracks the stocks of 500 of the leading companies in the United States.

An index fund aims to mirror the performance of a given benchmark index by investing in the same companies with similar weights. With these funds, it’s not about beating the market, it’s about tracking it, and as such, index funds typically follow a passive investment strategy, known as a buy-and-hold strategy.

A mutual fund is an investment that holds a collection — or portfolio — of securities, such as stocks and bonds. The “mutual” part of the name has to do with the structure of the fund, in that all of its investors mutually combine their funds in this one shared portfolio.

Mutual funds are also called ’40 Act funds, as they were created in 1940 by an act of Congress that was designed to correct some of the investment abuses that led to the Stock Market Crash of 1929. It created a regulatory framework for offering and maintaining mutual funds, including requirements for filings, service charges, financial disclosures, and the fiduciary duties of investment companies.

To get people to invest, the portfolio managers of a given mutual fund offer a unique investment perspective or strategy. That could mean investing in tech stocks, or only investing in the fund manager’s five best ideas, or investing in a few thousand stocks at once, or only in gold-mining stocks, and so on.

Fees and Taxes

There may be different associated costs with index funds and mutual funds as well.

Mutual-fund managers generally charge investors a management fee, which comes from the assets of the fund. Those fees vary widely, but an active manager will generally charge more, as they have to pay the salaries of analysts, researchers, and the stock pickers themselves. Passive managers of index funds, on the other hand, simply have to pay to license the use of an index.

An actively-managed mutual fund may charge an expense ratio (which includes the management fee) of 0.5% to 0.75%, and sometimes as high as 1.5%. But for index funds, that expense ratio is typically much lower — often around 0.2%, and as low as 0.02% for some funds.

Investing Style

The two also differ on a basic level in that index funds are a passive investing vehicle and mutual funds are typically actively managed. That means that investors who want to take a hands-off approach may find index funds a more suitable choice, whereas investors who want a guiding hand in their portfolio may be more attracted to mutual funds.

Mutual Funds vs. Index Funds: Key Differences

Mutual Funds

Index Funds

Overseen by a fund manager Track a market index
May have higher associated costs Typically has lower associated costs
Active investing Passive investing

Index vs Mutual Fund: Which is Best for You?

There’s no telling whether an index or mutual fund is better for you — it’ll depend on specific factors relevant to your specific situation and goals.

When deciding how to invest, everyone has their own unique approach. If an investor believes in the expertise and human touch of a fund manager or team of professionals, then an actively managed fund like a mutual fund may be the right fit. While no one beats the market every year, some funds can potentially outperform the broader market for long stretches.

But for those individuals who want to invest in the markets and not think about it, then the broad exposure — and lower fees — offered by index funds may make more sense. Investing in index funds tends to work best when you hold your money in the funds for a longer period of time, or use a dollar-cost-average strategy, where you invest consistently over time to take advantage of both high and low points.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that opening a brokerage account typically doesn’t come with any setup costs? Often, the only requirement to open a brokerage account — aside from providing personal details — is making an initial deposit.

The Takeaway

Index funds and mutual funds are similar investment vehicles, but there are some key differences which include how they’re managed, costs associated with them, and how they function at a granular level.

The choice between index funds and other mutual funds is one with decades of debate behind it. For individuals who prefer the expertise of a hands-on professional or team buying and selling assets within the fund, a mutual fund may be preferred. For investors who’d rather their fund passively track an index — without worrying about “beating the market” — an index fund might be the way to go.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

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.

FAQ

Do index funds outperform mutual funds?

Actively-managed funds, such as mutual funds, tend to underperform the market as a whole over time. That’s to say that most of the time, a broad index fund may be more likely to outperform a mutual fund.

Do people prefer index funds over mutual funds, or mutual funds over index funds?

The types of funds that investors prefer to invest in depends completely on their own financial situation and investment goals. But some investors may prefer index funds over mutual funds due to their hands-off, passive approach and lower associated costs.

Are mutual funds riskier than index funds?

Mutual funds may be riskier than index funds, but it depends on the specific funds being compared — mutual funds do tend to be more expensive than index funds, and tend to underperform the market at large, too.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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