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The ACT and SAT: Which Test is Right for You?

The SAT and ACT are both standardized tests that colleges use to evaluate a student during the admission process. Some schools will accept both SAT and ACT scores while others show preference to one, and some schools don’t require students to submit scores for either test.

It’s possible to compare estimated scores across the two tests using a simple conversion chart or formula. It’s also worth understanding how the two tests are different, and what a student can expect when taking each test.

ACT and SAT History

In 1926, the SAT was developed as the Army Alpha, to measure the IQ of Army recruits. Over time, the format and audience for the Scholastic Aptitude Test changed. The scoring method, format, and subjects have been adjusted over the years to better reflect the high school curriculum and college application process.

The current version of the SAT takes three hours and includes sections on math, reading comprehension, and writing. The highest score a person can achieve on the SAT is 1600.

The American College Test, created in reaction to the SAT, was first administered in 1959. University of Iowa professor of education Everett Franklin Linquist developed the standardized test to better evaluate a student’s practical knowledge instead of reasoning skills that the SAT focuses on.

The modern ACT takes two hours and 55 minutes (add 40 for the optional writing section) to complete. The test includes sections on English, math, reading, and science, and the optional writing portion. The highest score possible is 36.

Colleges and universities generally accept both the ACT and SAT, but preparing for and taking the two tests is not the same. Understanding the differences between the ACT and SAT might help students decide which test to take and how they might best maximize their score.

Difference Between the ACT and SAT Tests

Other than the score a test taker receives, the SAT and ACT have several differences that might inform a student’s decision to prepare for one over another. Students are taking both tests now more than ever, but preparing for each is different, and it’s possible to prefer one test experience over another.

Scoring

One of the most obvious differences between the two tests is the score. An ACT score ranges from 1 to 36, and there’s no penalty for getting a question wrong. The score is calculated by adding the raw scores of each section, then dividing by four to get the composite score (out of 36).

SAT takers get a score between 400 and 1600. Once again, there’s no penalty for answering a question wrong, and the score goes up with every right answer. Section scores are added together to yield the total score (out of 1600).

Type of Testing

There’s a common belief that students’ strengths in the classroom might allow them to test better on one standardized test over the other. The ACT, with a deeper focus on verbal skills, might be a better fit for students who excel in English classes. Those with strong math skills could prefer the SAT, with a bigger emphasis on math questions.

Both tests have a math section, but the SAT covers data analysis, while the ACT will have questions about probability and statistics.

Format and Subjects

Even when the essay portion is included, the ACT is shorter than the SAT. However, the SAT has 154 questions, while the ACT has 215 — how does that compute? SAT takers have an average of one minute and 10 seconds on each question, compared with 49 seconds for the ACT.

Time per question could be important to a student’s test taking strategy, especially when factoring in the difficulty levels of each test. In the SAT’s math section, the questions become harder the further a student moves along. The same goes for the ACT’s math section, as well as its science section, where passages and the questions become more difficult as the test progresses.

The ACT has more sections than the SAT, including multiple-choice questions on:

•   English: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure

•   Math: algebra, geometry, trigonometry

•   Reading: passage comprehension on fiction, humanities, and sciences

•   Science: comprehension, including summaries, charts, and graphs

•   Writing (optional)

The SAT has fewer sections, with all multiple-choice questions about:

•   Reading: comprehension questions based on passages

•   Writing and language: grammar, editing, and vocabulary

•   Math: algebra, trigonometry, and geometry

The SAT used to have an optional essay section, but it was discontinued in 2021.

The major differentiator between the SAT and ACT experience might be the ACT’s dedicated science section. The SAT includes questions about science, but they are dispersed across the test.

Pricing

The cost of taking the SAT and ACT is similar:

•   SAT: $60

•   ACT: $63, $88 with optional essay

The cost of taking the test shouldn’t keep a student from doing so. Both the College Board and ACT offer fee waivers for students who meet the requirements.

High school students preparing for the SATs may also be getting ready to pay for college and manage their own finances for the first time. SoFi’s money management guide for college students has some tips and strategies that can help.

Evaluating options for paying for college is another important piece of the college preparation puzzle. Options include grants, scholarships, and undergraduate loans, including both private and federal student loans.

Recommended: What Are Pell Grants?

Geography

Because the ACT was founded out of a Midwestern university, the test is somewhat more popular in middle America. The SAT has its origins in testing aptitude for admission to Northeastern educational Army institutions. Students on the East and West coasts are slightly more likely to take the SAT than the ACT.

Because of these geographic trends, students on the coasts might find more SAT prep courses than ACT prep courses, and vice versa.

Converting Test Scores

SAT to ACT conversion is a hot topic. Comparing the tests on their face is like comparing apples to oranges. However, if a student takes both, it helps to figure out which one they performed better on. That means finding a way to compare one test score to another.

Here’s how the ACT’s composite scores compare to the SAT:

ACT Score

SAT Range

36 1570-1600
35 1530-1560
34 1490-1520
33 1450-1480
32 1420-1440
31 1390-1410
30 1360-1380
29 1330-1350
28 1300-1320
27 1260-1290
26 1230-1250
25 1200-1220
24 1160-1190
23 1130-1150
22 1100-1120
21 1060-1090
20 1030-1050
19 990-1020
18 960-980
17 920-950
16 990-910
15 830-870
14 870-820
13 730-770
12 690-720
11 650-680
10 620-640
9 590-610

Should I Take the ACT or SAT?

The SAT and ACT are both widely accepted by colleges and universities in the U.S. It’s common for students to take both the SAT and ACT. If you are deciding which test is best for you, consider taking a full, timed practice test for each type. This can give you a rough estimate of where you may score when you take the exam.

The Takeaway

Both the SAT and ACT are standardized tests designed to gauge a student’s readiness for college. One test is not inherently easier than the other and both are accepted at a wide array of colleges and universities. Taking a timed practice test can be one of the best ways to roughly estimate your score.

Paying for college is another important step in preparing for college. Students may consider using a combination of grants, scholarships, and student loans. Private student loans may lack borrower protections offered by federal student loans, so federal loans are generally prioritized over private loans. This private student loan guide has more information on the differences between private and federal student loans.

Borrowers interested in private student loans could consider SoFi — where private student loans have no fees, applications can be completed online and you can easily add a cosigner.

SoFi private student loans offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, flexible repayment plans, and no fees.

3 Student Loan Tips

1.    Can’t cover your school bills? If you’ve exhausted all federal aid options, private student loans can fill gaps in need, up to the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses.

2.    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. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.

3.    Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans peppering the landscape: private student loans, federal Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.


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

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.
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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The Average 401k Balance by Age

The Average 401(k) Balance by Age

A 401(k) can be a valuable part of a retirement savings plan. But how much should you have saved in your 401(k) at different ages or career stages?

Charting the average 401(k) balance by age can help put your own savings in perspective. Seeing what others are saving in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond can be a useful way to gauge whether you’re on track with your own retirement plans and what else you can do to maximize this critical, tax-deferred form of savings.

Keep reading to learn about these possible benchmarks and smart ways to handle common savings challenges people may face at different phases of life. After all, the point isn’t to see whether you measure up but to ensure you keep progressing toward your retirement goals.

Average 401(k) Balance by Age Group

Pinning down the average 401(k) account balance can be challenging, as only a handful of sources collect information on retirement accounts, and they each have their own methods for doing so.

Vanguard is one of the largest 401(k) providers in the U.S., with nearly 5 million participants. For this review of the average 401(k) balance by age, we’ll use data from Vanguard’s “How America Saves 2022” report . Specifically, we’ll look at the average and median 401(k) balances by age for savers in 2021.

Why look at the average balance amounts, as well as the median? Because there are people who save very little as well as those who have built up very substantial balances, the average account balance only tells part of the story. Comparing the average with the median amount — the number in the middle of the savings curve — provides a bit of a reality check as to how other retirement savers in your cohort may be doing.

Age Group

Average 401(k) Balance

Median 401(k) Balance

Under 25 $6,264 $1,786
25-34 $37,211 $14,068
35-44 $97,020 $36,117
45-54 $179,200 $61,530
55-64 $256,244 $89,716
65+ $279,997 $87,725
Source: Vanguard

Ages 35 and Younger

The average 401(k) balance for savers 35 and younger can be split into two groups:

•   Under age 25: $6,264

•   Ages 25 to 34: $37,211

Median 401(k) balances for both age groups are lower. The median balance is a dividing point, with half of savers having more than that amount saved for retirement in their 401(k) and the other half having less.

It makes sense that the under 25 group would have the lowest balances in their 401(k) overall, as they’ve had the least time to save for retirement. They’re also more likely to earn lower starting salaries versus workers who may have been on the job for 5 to 10 years. The youngest workers may not have as much income to put towards a 401(k).

Key Challenge for Savers

Debt often presents a big challenge for younger savers, many of whom may still be paying down student loan debt or who may have credit card debt (in some cases, both). How do you save for retirement when you want to pay off debt ASAP?

It’s a familiar dilemma, but not an insurmountable one. While being debt-free is a priority, it’s also crucial at this age to establish the habit of saving — even if you’re not saving a lot. The point is to save steadily (e.g., on a biweekly or monthly schedule) and, whenever possible, to automate your savings.

Then, when your debt is paid off, you can shift some or all of those payments to your savings by upping your retirement contribution.

Ages 35 to 44

•   Average 401(k) balance: $97,020

•   Median 401(k) balance: $36,117

The average 401(k) balance for workers in the 35 to 44-year-old group is $97,020. The median 401(k) balance for these workers is $36,117. That’s quite a gap! So what is a good average balance to have in your 401(k) by this point?

One rule of thumb suggests having three times your annual salary saved for retirement by the time you reach your 40s. So, if you’re making $100,000 annually, ideally, you should have $300,000 invested in your 401(k). This assumes that you’re earning a higher income at this point in life, and you can contribute more to your plan because you’ve paid off student loans or other debts.

Key Challenge for Savers

While it’s true that being in your late 30s and early 40s can be a time when salaries range higher — it’s also typically a phase of life when there are many demands on your money. You might be buying a home, raising a family, investing in a business — and it can feel more important to focus on the ‘now’ rather than the future.

The good news is that most 401(k) plans offer automatic contributions and the opportunity to increase those contributions each year automatically. Even a 1% increase in savings each year can add up over time. Take advantage of this feature if your plan offers it.

Ages 45 to 54

•   Average 401(k) balance: $179,200

•   Median 401(k) balance: $61,530

Among 45 to 54-year-olds, the average 401(k) balance is $179,200, while the median balance is $61,530.

The rule of thumb for this age suggests that you stash away six times your salary by age 50. So again, if you make $100,000 a year, you should have $600,000 in your 401(k) by your 50th birthday. Whether this is doable can depend on your income, 401(k) deferral rate, and overall financial situation.

Key Challenge for Savers

For some savers, these are peak earning years. But children’s college costs and the need to help aging or ailing parents are among the challenges savers can face at this stage. The great news is that starting at age 50, the IRS allows you to start making catch-up contributions. For 2022, the regular 401(k) contribution limit is $20,500 – but add in $6,500 in catch-up contributions, and you can save $27,000 annually in a 401(k).

While you may feel strapped, this could be the perfect moment to renew your commitment to retirement savings because you can save so much more.

Ages 55 to 64

•   Average 401(k) balance: $256,244

•   Median 401(k) balance: $89,716

The average 401(k) balance among 55 to 64-year-olds is $256,244. The median balance is much lower, at $89,716.

By this stage, experts typically suggest having eight times your annual salary saved. So going back to the $100,000 annual salary example from earlier, you’d need to have $800,000 tucked away for retirement by age 60.

Key Challenge for Savers

As retirement draws closer, it can be tempting to consider dipping into Social Security. At age 62, you can begin claiming Social Security retirement benefits to supplement money in your 401(k). But starting at 62 gives you a lower monthly payout — for the rest of your life. Waiting until the full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 for most people, will allow you to collect a higher benefit. And if you can wait until age 70 to take Social Security, that can increase your benefit amount by 32% versus taking it at 66.

Ages 65 and Older

•   Average 401(k) balance: $279,997

•   Median 401(k) balance: $87,725

The average 401(k) balance for those 65 and older is $279,997. The median balance is $87,725. So, is nearly $280,000 enough to retire, assuming you’re fully vested in your 401(k)?

Most experts would say no, unless you have other resources set aside for retirement. A pension plan, for example, or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) could supplement your 401(k) savings. Investing in an annuity is also an option worth considering if you’re interested in creating a guaranteed income stream for retirement.

Key Challenge for Savers

Just because you turn 65, a common shorthand for “retiree,” doesn’t mean you’re at the end of the line or out of options. After all, 70 is the new 60 for many people these days, and you may be embarking on a new chapter in life, love, or business that could change your financial circumstances. The challenge here is to revisit your retirement plan and possibly speak with a financial professional, if you haven’t done so, to maximize all potential income streams and ways to save.

And don’t forget: A 2019 law eliminated the long-standing age limit of 70 ½ for making retirement contributions to your IRA (and Roth IRAs don’t have age limits). If life permits, you can (and should) keep saving.

401(k) Savings Potential by Age

Suppose an investor maxes out their 401(k) contribution of $20,500 annually beginning at age 25. Also, assume that the 401(k) has an average rate of return of 9.5%. By the age of 65, the investor will have contributed a total of $840,500 of their own money into their 401(k), but because of compounding returns, it could result in a 401(k) savings potential of nearly $9 million.

However, these figures are just hypotheticals to show the power of compounding returns in a 401(k) account. This does not account for fees, changes in contribution limits, a possible 401(k) employer match, or fluctuations in the market. Nonetheless, by contributing to a 401(k) early and often, investors may be able to build up a substantial retirement nest egg.

Hypothetical 401(k) Balance by Age, Assuming 9.5% Annual Rate of Return

Age

Total Contributions

Potential 401(k) Balance

25 $20,500 $20,500
30 $123,000 $156,187
35 $225,500 $369,790
40 $328,000 $706,052
45 $430,500 $1,235,409
50 $533,000 $2,068,743
55 $635,000 $3,380,610
60 $738,000 $5,445,802
65 $840,500 $8,696,908

Tips on Improving Your 401(k) Return

Getting the best rate of return on your 401(k) can help you to fund your retirement goals. But different things can affect your returns, including:

•   Investment choices

•   Market performance

•   Fees

Time is also a consideration, as the longer you have to invest, the more room your money has to grow through the power of compounding interest. If you’re interested in maximizing 401(k) returns, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Review Your Contribution Rate

The more you contribute to your 401(k), the more growth you can see. If you haven’t checked your contribution rate recently, it may be a good idea to calculate how much you’re saving and whether you could increase it. At the very least, it’s a good idea to contribute enough to qualify for the full employer matching contribution if your company offers one.

As noted above, if your plan offers automatic yearly increases, take advantage of that feature. Behavioral finance studies have repeatedly shown that the more you automate your savings, the more you save.

2. Make Catch-Up Contributions If You’re Eligible

As mentioned, once you turn age 50, you have an opportunity to contribute even more money to your 401(k). If you can max out the regular contributions each year, making additional catch-up contributions to your 401(k) can help you grow your account balance faster.

3. Take Appropriate Risk

The younger you are, the more time you have to recover from market downturns and, thus, the more risk you can generally take with your investments. This is important to note as some risk is necessary to grow your portfolio. On the other hand, being too conservative with your 401(k) investments could cause your account to underperform and fall short of your goals.

4. Pay Attention to Fees

Fees can erode your investment returns over time and ultimately reduce the size of your nest egg. As you choose investments for your 401(k), consider the risk/reward profile and the cost of different funds. Specifically, look at the expense ratio for any mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offered by the plan. This reflects the cost of owning the fund annually, expressed as a percentage. The higher this percentage, the more you’ll pay to own the fund.

Creating or Reassessing Your Retirement Goals

If you’re still working on putting your retirement savings plan together, a 401(k) can be a good place to start. As you decide how much to save, ask yourself these questions:

•   What kind of lifestyle do I want to live in retirement?

•   When do I plan to retire?

•   How much of my income can I afford to save in a 401(k)?

•   Is there an employer match available, and if so, how much?

•   How much risk am I willing to take with 401(k) investments?

A retirement calculator can help you estimate how much you might need to save for retirement. Some calculators can factor in how much you’ve already saved to tell you if you’re on track with your goals.

Recommended: When Can I Retire? This Formula Will Help You Know

It can be helpful to check in with your goals periodically to see how you’re doing. For example, you might plan an annual 401(k) checkup at year’s end to review how your investments have performed, what you contributed to the plan, and how much you’ve paid in fees. This can help you make smarter investment decisions for the upcoming year.

Improving Your Retirement Readiness

The best way to improve your retirement readiness is to start saving early and often. A good rule of thumb is to save and invest at least 10-15% of your income for retirement. The more you can save now, the greater chance it has to grow because of compounding returns.

But you want to save and invest your money wisely. Consider using a mix of investment vehicles, such as stocks, bonds, ETFs, and mutual funds, to help diversify your portfolio and minimize risk.

Additionally, you can make your money work harder for you by contributing to an IRA and a 401(k). These accounts offer tax advantages that can help you save more money for retirement.

Finally, be sure to monitor your retirement account balances and make adjustments as needed to ensure you are on track to reach your retirement goals.

The Takeaway

What is the average 401(k) balance by age? It’s a tricky question to answer as there’s no single source of information for these numbers. And it’s important to remember that the average 401(k) balance by age is just an average; it doesn’t necessarily reflect your ability to save for retirement.

That said, the average and median 401(k) balances noted above reflect some important realities for different age groups. It’s clear that some people can save more, others less — and it’s crucial to understand that many factors play into those account balances. It’s not simply a matter of how much money you have, but the choices you make. Every stage of life brings unique challenges that can derail your retirement, but with a bit of forethought and planning, it’s possible to keep your retirement on track.

Also, keep in mind that a 401(k) isn’t the only way to save and invest money for the future. You could also save for retirement with a Traditional or Roth IRA. By opening an online retirement account with SoFi Invest®, you can get access to a broad range of investment options, member services, and our robust suite of planning and investment tools.

Easily manage your retirement savings with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

How much do you need to retire?

Determining how much money you need to retire depends on your lifestyle, goals for retirement, and your specific cost of living.

How much should someone in their 60s have in their 401(k)?

The amount someone in their 60s should have in their 401(k) will vary depending on factors such as income, investment goals, and retirement plans. However, as a general guideline, it is recommended that individuals in their 60s aim to have at least eight to 10 times their salary saved in their 401(k) to ensure a comfortable retirement.

How much should I have in my 401(k) by age 30?

Ideally, you should aim to have saved at least the equivalent of your annual salary in your 401(k) by age 30. So, if you make $50,000 annually, you should try to have $50,000 in savings by age 30. This will help ensure that you are on track to retire comfortably.


Photo credit: iStock/kate_sept2004

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Disclaimer: The projections or other information regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.
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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Ace Your Student Loans With The Ultimate Loan Terminology Cheat Sheet

There are so many upsides to investing in your education — the personal enrichment and possibility of a bright and fruitful future being the most obvious. But, there are also some potential downsides that are hard to ignore, one of the main ones — if you’re like so many others — being the debt you may accrue.

If you’re a student loan borrower, you’ve probably noticed that your loans have a language all their own. Getting a grasp on terms like interest rate vs. APR, subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans, and fixed vs. variable interest rates can help you make more informed, confident decisions.

Instead of enrolling in Student Loan Language 101, you can use our quick and dirty reference guide to find some answers without information overload. Borrowing a loan can have long-term financial consequences, so it’s important to fully understand the fees and interest rates that will affect the amount of money you owe. Here are a few of the most important terms to understand before you take out a student loan:

Common Student Loan Terminology

Academic Year

An academic year is one complete school year at the same school. If you transfer, it is considered two half-years at different schools.

Accrued Interest

The amount of interest that has accumulated on a loan since your last payment. You can keep accrued interest in check by making your payments on time each month. However, after a period of missed or reduced payments, accrued interest may be capitalized, which essentially means you’d have to pay interest on the student loan accrued interest.

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

AGI is an individual’s gross income, less any deductions or adjustments to income. This includes things like wages, salaries, any interest or dividends you may earn and any other sources of income. You can find your AGI on your federal income tax returns.

Aggregate Loan Limit

The aggregate loan limit is the maximum amount of federal student loan debt a borrower can have when graduating from school. The aggregate loan limit may vary depending on whether you are a dependent or independent student.

Recommended: What is the Maximum Amount of Student Loans for Graduate School?

Amortization

Amortization refers to the amount of loan principal and interest you pay off incrementally over your loan term. Each student loan payment is a fixed amount that contributes to both interest and principal. Early in the life of the loan, the majority of each payment goes toward interest. But over time as you pay down your loan balance, the ratio shifts and most of the payment goes toward the principal.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

The annual rate that is charged for borrowing, expressed as an annual percentage. APR is a standardized calculation that allows you to make a more fair comparison of different loans. Consider the difference between interest vs. APR — APR reflects the cost of any fees charged on the loan, in addition to the basic interest rate. Generally speaking, the lower your APR, the less you’ll spend on interest over the life of the loan.

Annual Loan Limit

The yearly borrowing limit set for federal student loans.

Automated Clearing House (ACH)

An electronic funds transfer is sent through the Automated Clearing House system. The ACH is an electronic funds — transfer system that helps your loan payment transfer directly from your bank account to your lender or loan servicer each month.

The benefits of ACH are two-fold — not only can automatic payments keep you from forgetting to pay your bill, but many lenders also offer interest rate discounts for enrolling in an ACH program.

Award Letter

An award letter is sent from your school and details the types and amounts of financial aid you are eligible to receive. This will include information on grants, scholarships, federal student loans, and work-study. You will receive an award letter for each year you are in-school and apply for financial aid.

Award Year

The academic year that financial aid is applied to.

Borrower

The borrower is the person who took out a loan. In doing so, they agreed to repay the loan.

Campus-Based Aid

Some financial aid programs are administered by specific financial institutions, such as the Federal Work-Study program. Generally, schools receive a certain amount of campus-based aid annually from the federal government. The schools are then able to award these funds to students who demonstrate financial need.

Cancellation

This refers to the cancellation of a borrower’s requirement to repay all or a portion of their student loans. Loan forgiveness and discharge are two other types of loan cancellation.

Capitalization

Capitalization is when unpaid interest is added to the principal value of the student loan. This generally occurs after a period of non-payment such as forbearance. Moving forward, the interest will be calculated based on this new amount.

Capitalized Interest

Accrued interest is added to your loan’s principal balance, typically after a period of non-payment such as forbearance. When the interest is tacked onto your principal balance, your interest is now calculated on that new amount.

Most student loans begin accruing interest as soon as you borrow them. While you are often not responsible for repaying your student loans while you are in school or during a grace period or forbearance, interest will still accrue during these periods. At the end of said period, the interest is then capitalized, or added to the principal of the loan.

When interest is capitalized, it increases your loan’s principal. Since interest is charged as a percent of principal, the more often interest is capitalized, the more total interest you’ll pay. This is a good reason to use forbearance only in emergency situations, and end the forbearance period as quickly as possible.

Cosigner

A third party, such as a parent, who contractually agrees to accept equal responsibility in repaying your loan(s). A student loan cosigner can be valuable if your credit score or financial history are not sufficient enough to allow you to borrow on your own.

With a cosigner, you are still responsible for paying back the loan, but the cosigner must step in if you are unable to make payments. A co-borrower applies for the loan with you and is equally responsible for paying back the loan according to the loan terms on a month-to-month basis.

Recommended: Do I Need a Student Loan Cosigner?

Consolidation (through the Direct Loan Consolidation Program)

The act of combining two or more loans into one loan with a single interest rate and term. The resulting interest rate is a weighted average of the original loan rates — rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percentage point.

Only certain federal loans are eligible for the Direct Consolidation Program. Consolidating can make your life simpler with one monthly bill, but it may not actually save you any money. You may be able to reduce your monthly payments by increasing the loan term, but this means you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Consolidation (through a Private Lender)

The act of combining two or more loans into one single loan with a single interest rate and term. When you consolidate loans with a private lender, you do so through the act of refinancing, so you’re given a new (hopefully lower) interest rate or lower payments with a longer-term.

Most private lenders only refinance private loans, but SoFi refinances both private and federal loans. By refinancing, you may be able to lower your monthly payments or shorten your payment term.

Recommended: What Is a Direct Consolidation Loan?

Cost of Attendance

Cost of attendance is the estimated total cost for attending a college based on the cost of tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and miscellaneous expenses. Schools are required to publish the cost of attendance.

Recommended: What Is the Cost of Attendance in College?

Credit Report

Credit reports detail an individual’s bill payment history, loans, and other financial information. These reports are used by lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness.

Default

Failure to repay a loan according to the terms agreed to in the promissory note. Defaulting on your student loans can have serious consequences, such as additional fees, wage garnishment, and a significant negative impact on your credit. It’s always better to talk to your lender about potential hardship repayment options, such as deferment or forbearance, before defaulting on a loan.

Deferment

The temporary postponement of loan repayment, during which time you may not be responsible for paying interest that accrues (on certain types of loans). Student loan deferment can be useful if you think you’ll be in a better place to pay your loans at a later date. However, deferment is usually only available for certain federal loans. To potentially cut down on interest, it may be wise to weigh your deferment options.

Delinquency

When you miss a student loan payment, the loan becomes delinquent. The loan will be considered delinquent until a payment is made on the loan. If the loan remains in delinquency for a specified period of time (which may vary for federal vs. private student loans), it may enter default.

Direct Loan

The Direct Loan program is administered via the U.S. Department of Education. There are four main types of direct loans including Direct Subsidized loans, Direct Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and Direct Consolidation loans.

Direct PLUS Loan

Direct PLUS loans are types of federal loans that are made to graduate or professional student borrowers or to the parents of undergraduate students. Direct PLUS Loans made to parents may be referred to as Parent PLUS Loans.

Disbursement

When funds for a loan are paid out by the lender.

Discharge

Student loan discharge occurs when you are no longer required to make payments on your loans. Typically, student loan discharge occurs when there are extenuating circumstances such as the borrower has experienced a total and permanent disability or the school at which you received your loans has closed.

Discretionary Income

Discretionary income is the money remaining after you pay for necessary expenses. An individual’s discretionary income is used to help determine their loan payments on an income-driven repayment plan.

Endorser

An endorser is similar to a co-borrower in that they also sign on to the loan agreement and are responsible for repaying the loan if the primary borrower is unable to do so. Individuals who may not qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan on their own can add an endorser to their application.

Enrollment Status

Determined by the school you attend, your enrollment status is a reflection of your enrollment at the school. Enrollment status includes, full-time, half-time, withdrawn, and graduated.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

An estimation of the amount of money a student and their family is expected to pay out of pocket toward tuition and other college expenses.

Federal Work-Study

A type of financial aid, students who demonstrate financial aid may qualify for the federal work-study program, where they work part-time to earn funds to help pay for college expenses.

Financial Aid

Funds to help pay for college. Financial aid includes grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans.

Financial Aid Package

An overview of the types of financial aid you are eligible to receive for college. Financial aid packages provide information on all types of federal financial aid and college-specific aid such as scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

Financial Need

Some types of financial aid are determined by financial need. Financial need is defined as the difference between the cost of attendance at your school and the expected family contribution of your school.

Fixed Interest Rate

An interest rate that remains the same for the life of the loan. The interest rate does not fluctuate.

Forbearance

The temporary postponement of loan repayment, during which time interest typically continues to accrue on all types of federal student loans. If your student loan is in forbearance you can either pay off the interest as it accrues, or you can allow the interest to accrue and it will be capitalized at the end of your forbearance.

Use forbearance wisely, because interest that accrues during the forbearance period typically capitalized making your loan more expensive. If you can afford to make even small payments during forbearance, it can help keep interest costs down.

You will usually have to apply for student loan forbearance with your loan holder and will sometimes be required to provide documentation proving you meet the criteria for forbearance. For a loan to be eligible for forbearance, there must be some unexpected temporary financial difficulty.

Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is another situation in which you are no longer responsible for repaying all or a portion of your student loans. Public Services Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness are two types of loan forgiveness programs in which your loans are forgiven after meeting specific requirements, such as working in a qualifying job and making qualifying loan payments.

In August 2022, President Biden announced a loan forgiveness plan for borrowers with student loan debt. Under this plan, borrowers earning up to $125,000 (when filing taxes as single) may qualify for up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness. He also announced that Pell Grant recipients may qualify to have up to $20,000 of their loans forgiven.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)

This is the application students use to apply for all types of federal student aid, including federal loans, work-study, grants, and scholarships. The FAFSA must be completed for each year a student wishes to apply for financial aid.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

Grace Period

A period of time after you graduate, leave school or drop below half-time during which you’re not required to make payments on certain loans. Some loans continue to accumulate interest during the grace period, and that interest is typically capitalized, making your loan more expensive.

Grad PLUS Loans

Another term to refer to a Direct PLUS loan, specifically one borrowed by a graduate or professional student.

Graduate or Professional Student

A student who is pursuing educational opportunities beyond a bachelor’s degree. Graduate and professional programs include master’s and doctoral programs.

Graduated Repayment Plan

A type of repayment plan available for federal student loan borrowers. On this repayment plan, loan payments begin low and increase every two years. This plan may make sense for borrowers who expect their income to increase over time.

Grant

A type of financial aid that does not need to be repaid. Grants are often awarded based on financial need.

Recommended: The Differences Between Grants, Scholarships, and Loans

In-School Deferment

Students who are enrolled at least half-time in school are eligible to defer their federal student loans. This type of deferment is generally automatic for federal student loans. Note that unless you have a subsidized student loan, interest will continue to accrue during in-school deferment.

Interest

Interest is the cost of borrowing money. It is money paid to the lender and is calculated as a percentage of the unpaid principal.

Interest Deduction

A tax deduction that allows you to deduct the student loan interest you paid on a qualified student loan for the tax year. Interest paid on both private and federal student loans qualifies for the student loan interest deduction.

Lender

The financial institution that lends funds to an individual borrower.

Loan Period

A loan period is the academic year for which a student loan is requested.

Loan Servicer

A company your lender may partner with to administer your loan and collect payments. For questions about your student loan payments or administrative details such as account information, you should contact your student loan servicer.

Origination Fee

A fee that some lenders charge for processing the loan application, or in lieu of upfront interest. To minimize incremental costs on your loan, look for lenders that offer no or low fees.

Part-Time Enrollment

Students who are enrolled in school less than full-time are generally considered part-time students. The number of credit hours required for part-time enrollment are determined by your school.

Pell Grant

A grant awarded by the federal government to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

Perkins Loans

Perkins Loans were a type of federal loan available to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrated exceptional financial need. The Perkins Loan program ended in 2017.

PLUS Loans

Another way to describe Direct PLUS Loans, which are federal loans available for graduate and professional students or the parents of undergraduate students.

Prepayment

Paying off the loan early or making more than the minimum payment. All education loans, including private and federal loans, allow for penalty-free prepayment, which means you can pay more than the monthly minimum or make extra payments without incurring a fee. The faster you pay off your loan, the less you’ll spend on interest.

Prime Rate

This is the interest rate that commercial banks charge their most creditworthy customers. The basis of the prime rate is the federal funds overnight rate. The federal funds overnight rate is the interest rate that banks use when lending to each other. The prime rate can be used as a benchmark for interest rates on other types of lending.

Principal

Principal is the original loan amount you borrowed. For example, if you take out one $100,000 loan for grad school, that loan’s principal is $100,000.

Private Student Loan

A student loan lent by a private financial institution such as a bank, credit union, online lender, or other financial institution. These loans can be used to pay for college and educational expenses, but are not a part of the Federal Direct Loan Program. These loans don’t offer the same borrower protections available to federal student loans — like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options.

Promissory Note

A contract that says you’ll repay a loan under certain agreed-upon terms. This document legally controls your borrowing arrangement, so read your promissory note carefully. If you don’t fully understand the agreement, contact your lender before you sign.

Repayment

Repaying a loan plus interest.

Repayment Period

The agreed upon term in which loan repayment will take place.

Scholarship

A type of financial aid which typically doesn’t need to be repaid. Scholarships can be awarded based on merit.

Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR)

An interest rate benchmark that is commonly used by banks and other lenders to set interest rates for loans. The SOFR is the cost of borrowing money overnight collateralized by Treasury securities. Starting in June 2023, the SOFR will begin replacing the LIBOR as a benchmark interest rate.

Stafford Loans

Stafford loans were a type of federal student loan made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Beginning in 2010, all federal student loans were loaned directly through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.

Standard Repayment Plan

The Standard Repayment Plan is one of the repayment plans available for federal student loan borrowers. This repayment plan consists of fixed payments made over an up to 10 year period.

Student Aid Report

After submitting the FAFSA you will receive a student aid report (SAR). The SAR is a summary of the information you provided when filling out the FAFSA.

Student Loan Refinancing

Using a new loan from a private lender to pay off existing student loans. This allows you to secure a new (ideally lower) interest rate or adjust your loan terms.

Subsidized Loan

A Direct Subsidized Loan is a type of federal loan available to undergraduate students where the government covers the interest that accrues while the student is enrolled at least half-time, during the grace period, and other qualifying periods of deferment.

Term

The expected amount of time the loan will be in repayment. Generally speaking, a longer term will mean lower monthly payments but higher interest over the life of the loan, while a shorter term will mean the opposite. Loan terms vary by lender, and if you have a federal loan, you are usually able to select your student loan repayment plan.

Tuition

The cost of classes and instruction.

Undergraduate Student

A student who is enrolled in an undergraduate course of study.

Unsubsidized Loan

A Direct Unsubsidized Loan is a type of federal loan available to undergraduate or graduate students. The major difference between subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans is that the interest on unsubsidized loans is not subsidized by the federal government.

Variable Interest Rate

Unlike a fixed interest rate, a variable interest rate fluctuates over the life of a loan. Changes in interest rate are tied to a prevailing interest rate.

The Takeaway

Understanding key terms is essential for navigating student borrowing. Prioritizing sources of financial aid that don’t need to be repaid like scholarships and grants can be helpful. But these don’t always meet a student’s financial need. Federal student loans have low interest rates and, for the most part, don’t require a credit check. Plus they have borrower protections in place, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options, that make them the first-choice for most students looking to borrow money to pay for college.

When these sources of aid aren’t enough, private student loans can help fill in the gap. Keep in mind that, as mentioned, private loans don’t offer the same protections afforded to federal loans. If you’re interested in a private student loan, check out what SoFi has to offer. SoFi’s private student loans are available for undergraduates, graduate students, or the parents of undergraduates. Plus, qualifying borrowers can secure competitive interest rates and the loans have zero fees.

Learn About SoFi Private Student Loans


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3 Student Loan Tips

1.    Can’t cover your school bills? If you’ve exhausted all federal aid options, private student loans can fill gaps in need, up to the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses

2.    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. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.

3.    Federal student loans carry an origination or processing fee (1.057% for loans first disbursed from Oct. 1, 2020, through Oct. 1, 2022). The fee is subtracted from your loan amount, which is why the amount disbursed is less than the amount you borrowed. That said, some private student loan lenders don’t charge an origination fee.

FAQ

What are common student loan terms?

Student loan terms include Direct Loans — which are any loans in the Federal Direct Loan program. These include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans in addition to Direct PLUS Loans.

Beyond federal student loans, students can look into private student loans, which are offered by private lenders.

What are the most important loan terms to understand?

It’s important to understand terms associated with borrowing because you’ll be required to repay the loan. Understand the interest rate and any fees associated with the loan.

What does APR mean in relation to student loans?

APR stands for annual percentage rate. It’s a reflection of the interest rate on the loan in addition to any other fees associated with borrowing. APR helps make it easier to compare loans from different lenders.


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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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.
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.
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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Rebuilding Trust in a Marriage After Financial Infidelity

Rebuilding Trust in a Marriage After Financial Infidelity

Marriage is a wonderful but challenging institution. It is supposed to be built on trust and honesty, but infidelity does occur — and it can be devastating. That holds true for financial infidelity, too: Maybe one partner racks up a major amount of debt without disclosing it, or each spouse is keeping a secret account “just in case.” When this kind of behavior takes root and is then exposed, it can do serious harm to a union.

But if financial infidelity in marriage occurs, it doesn’t necessarily mean the partnership is on the rocks. In fact, with the right approach, a marriage can emerge even stronger. Read on to find out:

•   What is financial infidelity?

•   What are the warning signs of financial infidelity?

•   How can you prevent financial infidelity?

•   How can you recover from financial infidelity?

What Is Financial Infidelity?

Financial infidelity occurs when one person in a relationship hides, manipulates, or falsifies information about their financial position, bank accounts, or transactions. The problem can be unintentional to start with but then grow into a significant problem with severe detriment to the relationship.

For example, one spouse may offer to take care of the bills and the finances, and the other spouse trusts them to be responsible. However, the spouse who pays the bills may begin to spend excessively unbeknownst to their partner. They might spend on clothing, stocks, expensive meals out, or any other expense. The result of these splurges could do harm to both partners’ finances, even though only one is aware of it and responsible for it.

What Are Some Common Examples of Financial Infidelity?

Financial infidelity can occur in a variety of situations; whether both couples work or only one spouse doesn’t; whether they have joint vs. separate bank accounts. There’s no one main type.

Here’s a closer look at the different forms of financial infidelity that can occur in a marriage.

Spending Money in Secret

As mentioned above, if one partner splurges and keeps that secret, it can be a form of financial infidelity. This can impact a couple’s shared goals, such as saving for a down payment on a house. Some spouses may establish how much they can spend without having to consult the other. This can help keep the finances fair and avoid this kind of secret spending.

Hiding Debt From One Another

Not disclosing debt to a partner is dishonest and can negatively impact both spouses. For joint bank accounts and credit cards, both partners are equally liable for any debt. For this reason, it’s wise if couples discuss their financial situation early in their relationship, before they enter into a financial partnership to avoid any surprises later on.

Hiding Accounts From One Another

Some people may hide bank accounts from their partners, perhaps considering it their secret “mad money” on the side. While spouses don’t need to know everything about each other’s lives, they do need to be transparent about finances to be on the same page working toward the same goal.

Lying About Income

A spouse might disclose that their income is lower than it really is. They may then use the difference for their own purposes, rather than for shared goals.

Why Do People Commit Financial Infidelity?

There is no one reason why people lie about finances in a marriage, but many do. According to a survey by U.S News & World Report, close to a third of couples experience financial infidelity. Here are three possible explanations.

•   Embarrassment. An individual who has financial difficulties might be ashamed to disclose their financial circumstances when they marry or live with another person. So rather than confess, they hide their debt, say, or a salary that’s lower than they said it was.

•   Revenge. In an unhappy relationship, one partner may tap into shared wealth to exact revenge or punish the other. This behavior, known as “revenge spending” can increase debt (particularly credit card) debt that is not likely to be repaid if there are irreconcilable differences.

•   Emotional issues. One spouse may have an addiction or psychological problem that causes them to act irresponsibly with money. For example, they might have compulsive buying behavior (CBB; which some people refer to as a shopping addiction), bipolar disorder, substance abuse, or gambling.

What Are the Effects of Financial Infidelity?

The most immediate effect of discovering financial infidelity is probably loss of trust. The longer-term consequences can be financial difficulties and, ultimately, divorce. Here’s a closer look:

•   Loss of Trust. When one person in a relationship or marriage withholds, hides, or misconstrues information, they abuse the trust that the person places in them.

•   Financial Difficulties. If one partner has hidden their debt or another financial minefield from the other, it can cause problems for their shared finances. They may both experience cash flow issues and have trouble paying bills and saving.

•   Lower Credit Score. Acting irresponsibly with money, failing to pay bills, or falling deeper into debt will likely cause a lower credit score for the parties involved.

•   Divorce. The problems that result from financial infidelity can lead to separation and divorce.

Tips for How to Deal with Financial Infidelity

Can a marriage survive these kinds of money problems? In all likelihood, yes, provided both partners are committed to moving ahead together. Also worth noting: According to an AICPA survey, seven in 10 married or cohabiting Americans have argued about finances in the past year, but they don’t all divorce. That bolsters the idea that there is a road forward.

Here are some signals that trouble is brewing. Know them so you can hopefully spot them early and save your marriage if financial infidelity occurs.

Watch for Signs

Look out for signs that your spouse’s financial management is suspect. For example, are they unwilling to discuss financial issues? Have you noticed a sudden change in your spouse’s spending? Do you suspect your spouse is hiding information about their finances or lying about money?

If you cannot ask questions and get an honest answer about your marital finances, there is a problem to address.

Keep Tabs on Your Finances

Keeping an eye on your finances will help you recognize problems and tackle them immediately. Do you notice that your spouse isn’t contributing to your retirement account anymore? Are you falling behind on bills and struggling to catch up? These are signals that something has changed.

Get Involved

If one spouse has been holding the purse strings, it’s probably time for that to change. A marriage is an equal partnership, and both partners should play a role in managing the finances. It’s not fair for one partner to bear all the financial responsibility and decision-making. Getting involved is also a good way to stay informed about your shared finances.

If financial infidelity has occurred, you and your partner have options. You might work it out between the two of you, or you might consult a couples counselor, try financial planning, or see a financial therapist (which combines interpersonal and money advice).

Tips for Preventing Financial Infidelity

There are steps you can take to avoid financial infidelity in a marriage and repair missteps. A good place to start is for both partners to have a clear picture of each other’s financial position and their spending habits from the outset. But it’s never too late to sit down (with or without a financial advisor) and develop a plan for managing finances and building wealth. Here, some tactics to try:

Have Frequent Meetings

Agree to meet with your spouse regularly to discuss finances. It could be weekly at first as you get into a rhythm, sort out bank accounts and bills, develop a plan and commit to money goals, and create a budget. But once you are on sound footing with a system, the meetings could be less frequent, perhaps monthly.

Share Responsibilities of Finances

Use the meetings to hold each other accountable. Discuss how decisions should be made on purchases. How are you going to save toward retirement? Decide who will be responsible for what when it comes to the finances, but ensure that both of you are involved.

Communicate All Financials

Review everything — mortgage or rent payments, joint bank accounts, individual bank accounts, credit card payments, car loans, insurance, savings and investments, liens, and credit scores. If both of you have a clear picture of your financial situation, it’s easier to come up with ideas for cutting costs or making financial decisions.

Create a Joint Budget

Try budgeting as a couple, not two separate budgets for you as individuals. As a couple, create and follow a budget. A household budget is unlikely to do its job if members of the household overspend or hide information. If spouses can start working together toward a common goal, trust can be established or, after an instance of financial infidelity, rebuilt.

Recommended: Is a Joint Account Right for You?

Address Any Issues

As the two of you go over the finances, issues are bound to arise. And money can be a very charged topic. Do your best to discuss things calmly. If one person gets defensive, consider taking a break and resuming the meeting at a later time. If you are guilty of financial infidelity, admit it, apologize, and use this as an opportunity to get back on track.

Can a marriage survive financial infidelity? Yes, it can. But each spouse must be open to working through the problem, repairing the damage, adopting a forgiving attitude, and moving forward with transparency and trust.

The Takeaway

Financial matters can be a leading cause of divorce. While partners do have the right and the need for some privacy, financial infidelity is a serious issue. If one partner is hiding money, debt, or income information from the other, it can feel like betrayal and can negatively impact both spouse’s financial futures.

Financial infidelity does not, however, have to mark the end of a marriage. It can be the start of a stronger commitment to work together toward financial stability and greater respect. It starts with a willingness to talk openly and regularly, behave responsibly fiscally, shoulder the financial responsibilities, and admit blame if you are in the wrong.

Managing your finances together can be simple and transparent when you open an online bank account with SoFi. Our Checking and Savings gives you tools to track your cash at a glance. Set up your account with direct deposit, and you’ll also earn a super competitive 2.50% APY with no account fees, which can help your money grow faster.

Check out all the amazing perks you’ll enjoy when you bank with SoFi: great interest rates, no fees, and more!

FAQ

Can marriages survive financial infidelity?

A marriage can survive financial infidelity if both partners are committed to rebuilding the trust that has been lost. This requires accepting responsibility. Going forward, both partners need to develop a plan to communicate openly and regularly about finances and to work toward mutual goals. Lastly, both should play a part in managing finances.

Is financial infidelity a leading cause of divorce?

Money is often cited as one of the leading causes of stress in a marriage and one that can lead to divorce. Money touches every aspect of our lives and dictates how we live, so it is an extremely sensitive and personal topic, which can trigger major issues in a relationship.

Is financial infidelity the same as cheating?

Financial infidelity can have the same impact as an affair; both destroy trust in a relationship. Whether one or the other is worse depends on your point of view. Both can be overcome, and trust can be rebuilt with commitment and the right approach.


Photo credit: iStock/Stadtratte

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 2.50% annual percentage yield (APY) on all account balances in their Checking and Savings accounts (including Vaults). There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for 2.50% APY. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. Rate of 2.50% APY is current as of 09/30/2022. Additional information can be found at http://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.
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Inflation, Cryptocurrency, and How They Interact

Inflation, Cryptocurrency, and How They Interact

When it comes to crypto and inflation, certain cryptocurrencies have been touted as assets that can protect against inflation. But lately, with rising interest rates and declining crypto prices, crypto isn’t proving to be the inflation-fighter many had hoped.

For example, gold has been a popular hedge against inflation, as it holds value well and doesn’t tend to be volatile. For several years, many people put Bitcoin in a similar category — as a fairly stable store of value.

But crypto values aren’t holding steady in the face of growing inflation — not even Bitcoin. It remains to be seen whether different types of crypto can indeed be an inflation hedge or not.

Understanding Inflation and Cryptocurrency

Inflation

Inflation occurs when a fiat currency such as the U.S. dollar decreases in value over time, which in turn causes the price of goods and services to rise.

Inflation can occur when there is an extra supply of currency, when money is printed faster than it’s needed in the market. It also happens as the price of goods increases, which can be because of various factors — meaning it takes more and more units of a currency to purchase the same products.

The Federal Reserve Bank aims to keep inflation at 2%, and uses monetary policies to keep it at that rate and not go higher.

The question is: Is crypto a good hedge against inflation, given current conditions?

Cryptocurrency

Understanding how cryptocurrency works will help to shed some light on why these digital currencies have been considered an inflation hedge, even though crypto is a relatively new asset class.

Cryptocurrencies are digital and decentralized, meaning they are maintained by peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, and created using distributed ledger technology (blockchain) and through P2P review. This is accomplished through different consensus methods, which vary depending on the coin.

So, during inflationary times for the U.S. dollar — when purchasing power is declining and the cost of goods is rising — the role of the Federal Reserve, the central bank that governs the dollar, is key. But cryptocurrencies aren’t beholden to a governing body like that, and thus cannot be controlled or manipulated in the same way that fiat currencies can. This is why many believed or hoped that cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, would be impervious to inflationary conditions.

Do Cryptocurrencies Experience Inflation?

The terms “inflationary” and “deflationary” refer to whether the supply of a cryptocurrency is growing (inflationary) or shrinking (deflationary). These terms are somewhat separate from the traditional concept of inflation, which focuses on the cost of goods and services.

Bitcoin is largely considered an inflationary crypto because its supply is still increasing, similar to Dogecoin. That said, some consider Bitcoin to be deflationary, because the supply can only increase to a hard cap of 21 million coins, and the rate that they get released to the market through mining decreases over time (a process called “halving”, because the number of Bitcoin mined per block is cut in half every four years). For now the supply of Bitcoin is still increasing, until it has all been mined around the year 2140.

Once all 21 million Bitcoins have been mined, Bitcoin will not be inflationary or deflationary. It will be disinflationary, meaning it has a stable supply and constant monetary base.

Other coins are not as clear cut. Ethereum is considered an inflationary currency, because its supply is increasing — even with the so-called Ethereum Merge — but under a certain protocol, some ETH are burned.

Cryptocurrencies can have very volatile values over short periods of time, making them a risky asset class. Even if they do maintain value when a national currency decreases in value, consumer purchasing power is still affected if the price of goods and services increases — and consumers can’t necessarily rely on crypto as a steady store of value to combat that.

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Crypto vs Fiat Currencies in Periods of High Inflation

During periods of high inflation, fiat currency decreases in value and consumers’ purchasing power goes down. Cryptocurrencies that have a fixed supply could theoretically protect against inflation, and this has been one of the benefits of using crypto for some investors, but the reality is a bit more complicated.

Crypto During Inflation

Although crypto has been talked about as a hedge against inflation, in reality that hasn’t exactly held up, as evidenced by events in 2021 and 2022.

Inflation has been fairly low over the past several years, so the crypto hedge theory hasn’t really been tested thoroughly, but 2022 has seen a sharp increase in inflation along with a crash in both the stock market and cryptocurrencies, suggesting that crypto may not be as safe a hedge as was previously thought.

Also, since so much institutional money has gone into crypto in recent years, some think that helps to explain why crypto tends to follow the broader market and is getting more closely correlated with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. It’s difficult to say, as there is no historical precedent that provides a clear comparison for the current situation.

For an asset to be a good hedge against inflation, it needs to be stable and trustworthy. Having a fixed supply is in Bitcoin’s favor, but Bitcoin’s short-term volatility makes it a somewhat unreliable hedge against inflation, although it may be inflation resistant. It might go up in value when the U.S. dollar goes down, but if it then sees a dramatic downswing it may not keep up with the pace of inflation.

For this reason, many investors have returned to gold since the recent drops in the crypto market. On the other hand, the long-term prospects of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have much more potential for growth than another ‘safe’ asset such as gold.

An alternative to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is stablecoins. Stablecoins are pegged to an external asset’s value, such as a national currency, making them more stable than other cryptocurrencies. There are stablecoins backed by many different fiat currencies, making it pretty easy to trade between those pegged to the U.S. dollar and other currencies as inflation rates change.

However, holding a stablecoin backed by the U.S. Dollar won’t protect against inflation.

Fiat Currencies During Inflation

Fiat currencies are the opposite of cryptocurrencies in that central banks can create more of them at any time. When more money gets printed, this creates inflation risk. The value of the fiat currency decreases, so the same amount of money will no longer buy the same amount of goods.

Fiat Currencies

Cryptocurrencies

Regulated by central authorities Decentralized
Supply can be increased by central banks; fiat is considered inflationary Crypto can be inflationary or deflationary because supply can be increased or decreased
Lose value when inflation rises May lose or gain value when inflation rises

Tips on Hedging Against Inflation

There are several ways one can possibly protect their money from inflation. These include:

•   Gold and precious metals

•   Commodities

•   Bonds

•   Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

•   The S&P 500

•   Real Estate

•   International diversification

•   Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS)

💡 Here are more tips and details on hedging against inflation

The Takeaway

During periods of inflation — when purchasing power is declining and the cost of goods is rising — the Federal Reserve can intervene by adjusting monetary policy. Because cryptocurrencies aren’t beholden to a governing body like that, they cannot be manipulated in the same way that fiat currencies can. This is why many believed or hoped that holding cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, would act as an effective hedge against rising prices.

Crypto is still a relatively new asset class, so in the future it may prove to be a solid hedge against inflation, but it is still a developing and immature sector. Overall, it’s too early to say whether crypto is an effective hedge, but investors are looking to alternatives to the traditional choices of gold and bonds since those are no longer proving reliable.

That said, some believe that Bitcoin is tied more to monetary policy and asset inflation/deflation, not to core inflation. There are some signs indicating that that is the case and it may hold to be true in the future. Between 2020-2022 there have been so many dramatic world events as well, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what crypto is tied to.

Regardless of the current market climate, there may be other reasons to invest in crypto — particularly its long-term prospects. If you’re interested in trading cryptocurrencies, you can set up an Active Invest account with SoFi Invest® and open a crypto trading account from there. SoFi’s secure and convenient app lets you research, track, buy and sell crypto, stocks, ETFs, and other assets right from your phone or laptop, 24/7. And you can get started with just a few dollars.

Trade crypto and get up to $100 in bitcoin! (Offer is available through 12/31/22; terms apply.)

FAQ

Is the crypto market causing inflation?

No. The decline in value of many cryptocurrencies in 2022 coincided with a period of inflation in the broader U.S. economy, but that was not caused by the crypto markets.

Does crypto help with inflation? Does it hurt?

Crypto isn’t inherently good or bad for inflation. It is a way to diversify funds away from cash or stocks, which may help protect against inflation — although crypto does not have a long enough track record to know for sure.

Can cryptocurrencies suffer from inflation?

Not exactly. Cryptocurrencies don’t behave like traditional fiat currencies. They aren’t regulated and they don’t offer a consistent store of value, thus they generally aren’t used to make basic consumer purchases. So a drop in crypto values may impact investors’ portfolios, but not the cost of living.

Can you use cryptocurrencies to hedge against inflation?

Cryptocurrencies may be a way to protect against inflation, but they are very volatile and are becoming increasingly correlated with the broader market, so there is no guarantee they will hold value as other currencies decrease.


Photo credit: iStock/akinbostanci

Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments. Limitations apply to trading certain crypto assets and may not be available to residents of all states.
SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.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. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or prequalification for any loan product offered by SoFi Bank, N.A., or SoFi Lending Corp.
2Terms and conditions apply. Earn a bonus (as described below) when you open a new SoFi Digital Assets LLC account and buy at least $50 worth of any cryptocurrency within 7 days. The offer only applies to new crypto accounts, is limited to one per person, and expires on December 31, 2022. Once conditions are met and the account is opened, you will receive your bonus within 7 days. SoFi reserves the right to change or terminate the offer at any time without notice.

First Trade Amount Bonus Payout
Low High
$50 $99.99 $10
$100 $499.99 $15
$500 $4,999.99 $50
$5,000+ $100

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