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How Much Debt is Too Much to Buy a House?

Perhaps you’ve found your dream home, or maybe you’re still in the exciting stages of looking for the house you want. In either case, you’re likely thinking about getting a mortgage loan—and you may be wondering if the amount of debt you currently have will become a stumbling block to qualifying for a mortgage.

To qualify for a mortgage, a lender needs to be confident that you can responsibly manage the amount of debt that you’re currently carrying along with a mortgage payment. The formula used to determine that is called a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.

More specifically, a DTI ratio is the percentage of your qualifying monthly income, before taxes, that is needed to cover ongoing debts. This could include student loan payments, a car payment, credit card payments, and so forth. If the DTI ratio is too high, then a lender may see you as a higher risk.

This post will describe DTI in more detail, including how to calculate yours, what lenders typically like to see, and what might be too much debt to buy a house. We’ll also share strategies to manage your debt and lower your DTI ratio to help you qualify for the house of your dreams.

Understanding How Your DTI Ratio Can Affect Your Mortgage Options

The DTI formula is pretty simple. First, make a list of all your debts with recurring payments. Then, if you’re a W2 earner, take your pre-tax monthly income and divide your monthly expenses by this amount. That percentage is your DTI ratio .

Note that, with a mortgage, to calculate your DTI ratio, you’ll need to have a reasonable estimate of monthly property taxes on the home, insurance (homeowners, for sure, and PMI and flood insurance, if applicable), and HOA dues, if applicable. Even if you wouldn’t necessarily pay those bills on a monthly basis, you’ll need the bill broken down into a monthly amount for DTI calculation purposes. (And remember these are just examples. Your actual DTI, as calculated by a lending professional, may differ.)

If your debt-to-income ratio is too high, it can impact the type of mortgage you’ll qualify for. Each mortgage lender will have their own preferred DTI ratio, of course, and lenders can and do make exceptions based on your unique financial situation. Here’s an explainer on desirable debt-to-income ratios from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Preparing for When You Need a Mortgage

If you know you’ll want to buy a house within, say, the next year or two, it can be beneficial for you to understand how much home you can afford. This will give you time to manage your finances to make getting a mortgage approval easier. Perhaps you can’t pay off all your debt in that time frame, but there are strategic moves to make to position yourself better when mortgage time is upon you. In addition, consider reviewing our home buyers guide to get a better understanding of everything you need to prepare for your mortgage.

First, be careful. There are plenty of debt-related myths, but let’s address two debt-related realities:

1. Having a lot of debt in relation to your income and assets can work against you when applying for a mortgage.
2. If you are consistently late on debt payments, lenders may question your ability to pay your mortgage on time.

Here are a few tips that can help with some of the most common debt challenges:

Student Loan Debt

If you’re looking to take control of your student loan debt, consider refinancing your student loans into one new student loan with a potentially lower interest rate.

This can make paying back your loans easier, because there is just one monthly payment to make. Plus, with a (hopefully) lower interest rate, you can pay back less interest, overall. And, if you’re concerned about your monthly DTI ratio being too high when you go to apply for a mortgage, you may be able to refinance your student loan to a longer term for lower monthly payments, to reduce your current monthly DTI ratio. (Keep in mind, though, that extending your loan term may mean paying more interest over the life of your loan.)

When you refinance at SoFi, you can combine federal loans with private ones, something not many lenders permit. Request a quote online to see what you can save. Note that SoFi does not have any application fees or prepayment penalties.

Credit Card Debt

When you have a significant amount of credit card debt, the monthly payments can negatively impact your DTI ratio.

If you’re concerned about managing credit card debt payments while paying a mortgage, you could even consider focusing your efforts on getting out of credit card debt before you start the homebuying process.

To manage your credit card debt, and ultimately eliminate it, here are a few debt payoff methods to consider

•  The snowball method. List your credit cards from the one with the lowest balance to the one with the highest. Then, focus on paying off the one with the smallest balance first, while still making minimum payments on the rest. When that first card is paid off, focus on the next one on your list and so forth.

•  Tackling high-interest debt first. Using this method, you list your credit cards from the one with the most interest to the one with the least. Then, focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest while making minimum payments on the rest. Then tackle the next one, and then the next one.

•  Consolidating credit card debt using a personal loan before you apply for a mortgage loan. When you do this, you’ll have just one loan, and personal loans typically have lower interest rates than credit cards (if you qualify). Ideally, keep credit cards open while only using them to the degree that you can pay off in full each billing cycle. And as with all debt payments, make all personal loan payments on time.

By reducing and managing your credit card debt, you can better position yourself for a mortgage loan on the house of your dreams.

Consolidating Your Credit Card Debt with a Personal Loan

Ready to consolidate credit card debt into a personal loan? SoFi makes it fast and easy, and it only takes minutes to apply. Plus, our personal loans have the following perks:

•  Low rates

•  No fees

•  Access to live customer support seven days a week

•  Community benefits; ask about how, if you lose your job, we can temporarily pause your personal loan payments and help you to find a new job

We look forward to helping you achieve your financial goals and dreams. Learn how a personal loan from SoFi can help.


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.
SoFi Mortgages are not available in all states. Products and terms may vary from those advertised on this site. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria#eligibility-mortgage for details.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the
FTC’s website on credit.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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The Growing Average Credit Card Debt in America

Hard as this may be to imagine, 75 years ago, we didn’t have anything like today’s modern credit cards. Nowadays, studies are conducted annually to monitor the rising average credit card debt in our country, and this figure is seen as an indicator of the economy and of people’s individual spending habits.

It wasn’t as easy to buy what you needed in the pre-credit card era, and this form of payment has important benefits, including giving users a short window of time to make purchases on credit without paying interest on the balance.

But, the ease of credit card use also makes it ultra-easy to build up a mountain of debt, and the credit card debt spiral can be especially challenging to break. We’ll share more about why that’s so, later on in this post, along with tried-and-true methods to get out of this unwanted spiral of debt.

First, though, we’ll answer two commonly asked questions:

•  What is the average credit card debt this year?

•  How can I get out of credit card debt?

What is the Average Credit Card Debt This Year?

BusinessInsider.com reported on a 2018 study that shared how more than 40% of households in the United States have credit card debt, with the average household having a balance of $5,700. This average varies by where exactly you live in the country.

On the one hand, the percentage of Americans who have credit card debts has been decreasing for the past 10 years. On the other hand, when looking at people who do have this kind of debt, the average amount has been increasing.

Related: What is the Average Debt by Age?

From an economic standpoint, this is useful information to have. This data can also be helpful in allowing you to place your own financial situation into context. And if you’re unhappy with the amount of debt you’re carrying, the real question is how to get out of credit card debt. Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of insights and solutions to share.

First, let’s take a closer look at that average amount of credit card debt: $5,700. This takes into account every household, about 40% of which are in debt. However, if you just count the households in debt that don’t pay off their balances every month, that average debt increases to $9,333.

If you don’t have the means to pay the debt balance off all at once, then as you’re making payments interest keeps accruing, often compounding daily. So, it can be challenging to pay down that debt, especially if you’re making minimum payments or an amount that’s not significantly more than the minimum.

Here are a few more credit card facts to consider:

•  About one in every five adults in the United States has a credit card balance that’s higher than the amount of funds in their emergency savings accounts.

•  Men have, on average, higher credit card balances than women do, about 22% more.

•  About 68% of Americans have credit card debt when they die, on average $4,531. Compare that to the number of people who have mortgage loans when they pass away (37%) and those who have car loans (25%), and you can see how prevalent credit card really is.

Rising credit card debt can be exacerbated when there isn’t an emergency savings account to fall back on, and our cultural climate of consumerism, one where more is always better, doesn’t help.

If you no longer want to be average in the amount of your credit card debt, meaning you want to get out from underneath your debt, there are solutions.

Tips to Get Out of Credit Card Debt

To break the cycle of debt, it’s important to reverse engineer how it works and understand what makes it so challenging to get out of. Credit card companies typically compound interest, which means that interest accrues on the debt, and then you also pay interest on the interest.

Related: What is the Average Credit Card Debt for a 30-Year Old?

To make the situation even more challenging, interest is sometimes compounded daily, and so it’s easy to see how interest can quickly add up. This is true especially when you make minimum payments. It’s even true if you pay more than what’s owed as a minimum payment, but still have a remaining balance. If you’re late on a payment, you’re often charged a late fee, which is added to your balance—and then you’ll owe interest on that new total amount, as well.

So, What Can You Do?

Here are four methods to consider to ultimately pay off your high-interest credit card debt. You can choose the strategy that fits your financial philosophy and needs best, continue paying on all your debts, and then focus on not adding to your credit card debt as you pay down what you currently owe.

Choices include:

•  Debt snowball method: Using this method, you’d rank your credit card debts by outstanding balances. Then, focus on paying off your smallest debt first, and use the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel to fuel your motivation going forward. Then, pay off the smallest of your remaining debts, continuing until you’ve paid off your credit card debt entirely. A Harvard Business Review study showed that people using this method tend to pay off their credit card debts the quickest.

•  Debt avalanche method: In this method, you’d rank your credit cards by the interest rate charged. Then, focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first, and then the next highest and so forth. This is also known as the debt-stacking or ladder method.

•  Debt snowflake method: As a different strategy, you can use any extra money collected—from gathering change to a side gig—to pay down your credit card balances.

•  Debt consolidation method: Using this method, you would consolidate your credit cards into one debt, with low-rate personal loans/a>. You can potentially reduce your interest rate by using a personal loan and streamline the number of bills you need to pay monthly.

Here’s another idea to consider. What has been billed to your credit cards that you don’t really need? It’s pretty common to subscribe to a service you think you’ll need but don’t use, or one that you’ll need for a short period of time only.

Yet, until you cancel that service/subscription, the monthly charge will keep getting added to your credit card balance. So, review those monthly charges and consider tools that help identify places you can cut back on expenses.

Personal Loans with SoFi

If, as part of your financial plan, you’ve decided to apply for a low-rate personal loan to consolidate your credit card debt, there are numerous reasons why SoFi could be a great choice. This includes:

•  We don’t charge an origination fee.

•  We don’t charge any prepayment penalties.

•  We make it fast, easy, and convenient to apply for your personal loan online.

•  Live customer service support is available every day of the week.

•  If you lose your job, we can temporarily pause your payments—and even help you find a new job.

•  You can find your rate in just two minutes’ time!

Ready to get started? Apply for your personal loan at SoFi today!


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.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the
FTC’s website on credit.
No brands or products 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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Balancing Paying Off Student Loans & Starting a Family

These days, planning for parenthood can seem even more daunting thanks to student loan debt. Older millennials ages 25 to 34 owe an average debt of $42,000, including credit card and student loan debt, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study.

So when looking to start a family, it’s important to understand how to prioritize your debts and all of the new budget needs you’ll encounter. Raising a baby while making student loan payments is certainly possible, but it just means taking those nine months (or more, if you are thinking ahead) to sort out your finances first.

Student loans and pregnancy go almost hand-in-hand these days, since American women carry two-thirds of all student debt , according to the American Association of University Women. The last thing anyone wants to be thinking about when pregnant, or holding a new baby, is missing a student loan payment, so it helps to plan ahead to start getting your debt under control. Paying off student loans while saving for children is definitely doable.

Whether you are considering refinancing your student loans, lowering your monthly payments by switching to an income-based repayment plan, or are just looking to save more money before the arrival of your new baby, there are plenty of ways to stay on top of your student loan payments while saving for new kid costs.

Preparing Financially for Your First Child

For most families, housing-related costs such as rent, insurance, or a mortgage are their largest expenses. So, if bringing a new baby into your home means saving up for a big move, or even just expanding into a two-bedroom apartment, evaluating if you need more space for your growing family can certainly put a strain on the budget. Childcare itself is the second-largest expense after housing for most families.

Plus, perhaps you even want to start saving now for your child’s future education, so that hopefully they are less burdened by student debt. All of these expenses, in addition to the general costs of raising a child, can really add up and make it feel like paying your monthly student loan payment is not a priority.

However, there are a number of solutions to explore to see if you can reduce your monthly student loan payments and put those savings toward a new baby.

Exploring Income-Based Repayment

If one person in your partnership is becoming a stay-at-home parent, or even taking an extended parental leave from work, consider applying, or reapplying, for an income-based repayment plan, even if you’re already on one for your student loans.

Since your loan payments were originally calculated based on your income while employed, if you inform your loan servicer about your change in circumstance, you might be granted a different, lower payment plan.

These plans can make your monthly payment more affordable, based on your income and family size. Most federal student loans are eligible for at least one income-driven plan .

Income-Based Repayment

Payments are generally 10% or 15% of your discretionary income , depending on when you first received your student loans. Any outstanding balance is forgiven after 20 or 25 years, but you may have to pay income tax on that amount . You generally must have a high debt relative to your income to qualify for this repayment plan.

Income-Contingent

Payments will be either 20% of your discretionary income, or the amount you would pay on a fixed 12-year repayment plan adjusted to your income, whichever is less. Most borrowers can qualify for this plan, including parents, who can access this option by consolidating their Parent PLUS loans into a Direct Consolidation
Loan
. Outstanding balances are forgiven after 25 years.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

Payments are 10% of discretionary income , and outstanding balances will be forgiven after 20 years for undergraduate loans.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

For this repayment plan, you are required to make payments of 10% of your discretionary income. To qualify, each of those payments must be less than what you’d pay if you went with the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. The repayment period for PAYE is capped at 20 years. You must be a new borrower on or after Oct. 1, 2007 to qualify .

The important thing to remember about all of these plans is that you must reapply every year, even if your circumstances don’t change. Once you switch over to an income-based repayment plan, you can start saving the difference in amount from your earlier payments. This extra savings could go toward expenses for your new baby.

Student Loan Consolidation and Forbearance

Another option to consider when having a baby while paying off student loan debt is consolidation. Student loan consolidation can lower your monthly payment; however, it does so by lengthening your repayment period, meaning you will end up paying more overall due to the additional interest payments.

A Direct Consolidation Loan can be a smart way to stay on top of student loan payments, and also set yourself up to qualify for eventual loan forgiveness and/or income-based repayment plans.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are truly unable to make your student loan payments due to the costs of a new baby, you can also consider student loan forbearance.

Forbearance temporarily allows you to stop making your federal student loan payments, or at least temporarily reduce the amount you have to pay. In order to request a general forbearance and get approved, you must meet certain requirements .

This usually means you are unable to make monthly loan payments because of financial difficulties, medical expenses (which might include high hospital bills from pregnancy), or change in employment (especially key if one parent is going to stay at home with the baby).

Ways To Save Money

If you are already on an income-based repayment plan and have considered other options to reduce your student loan debt, and are finding it is still not enough to comfortably save for a new baby, consider some other savings tricks to help you manage your money better.

In order to make sure some money ends up in your savings account every month, you can set up a portion of your paycheck to deposit directly into your savings account, instead of just a checking account.

Most banks also have the option to set up recurring transfers yourself between your own accounts. This way, your desired amount will get transferred into savings without you having to think about it.

Keep in mind there are also tax benefits to having a baby , which can earn you some extra cash back to help you reduce your overall amount of student debt.

Refinancing Your Student Loans During Pregnancy

Refinancing your student loans is another way to make your loans more manageable. Refinancing student loans through a private lender such as SoFi can give future parents the opportunity to consolidate multiple student loans into one loan with a single monthly payment.

Refinancing can provide great value as you can choose your repayment terms and potentially end up with a lower payment to free up money. (Just remember that doing this means extending your loan term, which would up the total interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.)

Take a look at our student loan refinance calculator to see how your loan could change when you refinance. Those savings can then be put toward staying financially secure while having a baby.

Learn more about refinancing with SoFi and see what your new loan could look like in just two minutes.


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.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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 about bankruptcy.
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Student Loan Advice For Recent College Graduates

Now that you’ve graduated from college and started your career, you may have already received some student loan advice from well-meaning confidantes (or strangers, let’s be honest).

But something that worked well for a family member or friend may not work for you. With student loan payments looming, it’s wise to create a student loan repayment strategy based on your unique situation as soon as possible.

That includes understanding what type of student loans you have, what repayment options are available, and how to eliminate your debt as quickly as possible.

5 Pieces of Student Loan Advice to Help You Start Off On the Right Foot

Leaving college and entering the so-called “real world” can be overwhelming enough as it is. Knowing how you’re going to pay down your student loans can make everything else seem a little easier.

As you consider the right repayment strategy for your student loans, these tips might help. This stuff can get complicated, so of course we always recommend that you speak to a qualified financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you and your situation.

1. Know What Type of Student Loans You Have

There are two types of student loans: federal and private. The type of student loan you have can help determine what sort of repayment options are available to you and if you qualify for certain benefits, including student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans. (Private lenders don’t typically offer flexible repayment options like these, so if your student loans are eligible for them they’re probably federal loans.)

If you don’t know what type of student loans you have, finding out should be easy. If you applied for student loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), for example, you have federal loans. You can also use the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) to track down all of the information on your federal student loans.

If you applied with a private lender and underwent a credit check to get approved, you have private student loans. If you’re still not sure, check with your student loan servicer. You likely received an email or letter from your servicer encouraging you to open an online account. Find that message and either email or call your servicer and ask.

2. Know When Payments Start

If you haven’t already started making monthly payments, it’s a good idea to find out when they’re due and to set up your payment schedule.

In most cases, you’ll have a six-month grace period from the time you left school. Check with your servicer as soon as possible to find out exactly when your first bill is due is and how to make payments.

3. Understand Your Repayment Options

Depending on what type of student loans you have, you may have different repayment options. With federal loans, for instance, you typically start out with the default 10-year repayment plan.

To simplify things, you can consolidate your federal student loans through the Department of Education . But while this can replace several loans with one, you can end up with a higher interest rate overall.

That’s because the government takes the weighted average rates on all of your loans and rounds it up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent (0.125%).

If you can’t afford your monthly payments, however, you can apply for one of four income-driven repayment plans, including:

•  REPAYE Plan: Your monthly payments are generally 10% of your discretionary income, and your repayment term will be extended to 20 or 25 years.

•  PAYE Plan: Your monthly payments are generally 10% of your discretionary income, and your repayment term will be doubled to 20 years.

•  Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: Your monthly payment will generally be 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, and your repayment term will be either 20 or 25 years.

•  Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: Your monthly payment will be calculated as the lesser of 20% of your discretionary income or what you would pay on a 12-year repayment plan with fixed payments. Your repayment term will update to 25 years.

Anyone can apply for the REPAYE and ICR plans , but you need to demonstrate financial need to get approved for the PAYE and IBR plans.

With federal loans, you may also qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Through PSLF, you can qualify to have your loans forgiven after you’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments on an income-driven repayment plan while working for an eligible employer.

Eligible employers include government organizations, tax-exempt not-for-profit organizations, and other not-for-profit organizations that provide qualifying public services.

Only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF, so if you have a different type of federal loan —like a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) a Perkins Loan—you’ll need to consolidate it with a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Depending on your career choice, there may be loan forgiveness program options for you, such as through the military, schools, or hospitals.

If you have private student loans, your repayment term was determined by you and the lender when you first applied for your loans. Private student lenders typically don’t offer student loan forgiveness programs, such as SoFi.

4. Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans

Of all the student loan advice that you receive, this tip could make the biggest difference in eliminating your debt. Refinancing your student loans can save you thousands by reducing your interest rate, shortening your repayment term, or both.

Lenders like SoFi offer fixed and variable rates that can be lower than what you’re currently paying. If you qualify, SoFi will pay off your current loans with a new loan.

So, like federal loan consolidation, you can replace several loans with one. But if you qualify, you can also get a lower interest rate, which can reduce the amount of money you spend on interest over the life of your loan.

Remember, however, when you refinance your federal student loans with a private lender, you forfeit access to federal benefits like income-based repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.

5. Avoid Missing Payments and Defaulting

Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to just stop paying your student loans. You typically can’t get student loans discharged in bankruptcy like you can other debts, and defaulting on your student loans could damage your credit.

What’s more, the federal government can garnish your wages and tax refund for payment on federal loans, and private student loan companies can sue you.

In other words, repaying your student loans may not always be easy. But the alternative can be so much worse.

Finalizing Your Student Loan Repayment Strategy

After you consider these tips for paying off student loans, keep in mind that there’s no single right answer. Start by looking into federal loan consolidation, income-driven repayment, and student loan forgiveness.

But also look into refinancing your loans to see if you can save yourself both money and time. To see what your student loans could look like if you refinance with SoFi, take advantage of our easy to use student loan refinance calculator.

Regardless of how you choose to pay off your student loans, consider adding extra payments each month to pay down your debt even faster. This may require cutting back in other areas of your budget, but it can pay off in the long run.

And of course, we always recommend that you speak to a qualified financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you and your situation.

Looking for a way to make your student loans more manageable? Consider refinancing with SoFi.


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.
No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website on credit.
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20 Year Student Loan Refinance vs Income-Driven Repayment

Considering the over trillion-dollar student debt-load carried by millions of graduates in the U.S., it’s not exactly a surprise that many are exploring options for what their repayment journey will look like. For those looking for a lower monthly payment, a common option is income-driven student loan repayment.

For some students, an income-driven repayment plan, could be the best available choice. For example, this may be the correct course of action for those planning on having their loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Other times, this might not be the best or most affordable option over the long run, even for those looking for a lower overall monthly payment. That’s because lowering your payments often means extending your repayment timeline, which could mean paying more interest over the life of the loan.

It can be hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the two common options (a student loan income-driven repayment plan via the federal government and a student loan refinance from a private lender). That’s simply because what a borrower might pay on an income-driven repayment plan varies from person to person. However, it is still possible to make an informed decision about which makes more sense for your financial and personal situation and money goals.

The first step is gaining a thorough understanding of both common options. Then, you can make an informed decision about which is a better fit to your life and goals. Below, we’ll look at some pros and cons of both.

Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment

To understand income-driven repayment plans, it helps to first wrap your head around a standard repayment plan. Most people who take out a federal student loan or loans are opted into a repayment plan parsed out over 10 years. But standard repayment might not be the best option for everybody, because those carrying high debt balances may have a sky-high monthly payment.

The federal government also offers four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, which are need-based options where monthly payments correspond to your income. Depending on your income, and by stretching these payments out over as many as 20 or 25 years, monthly payments could be quite minimal compared to the standard 10-year repayment plan.

You may have already caught onto this, but a student loan income-driven repayment plan is only offered on federal student loans. Federal loans typically offer more flexibility in repayment than private loans, which are procured from a bank, credit union, or other lender.

If you are looking for some respite from your monthly payments on private loans, you’ll have to speak with each lender to see whether they can work with you. (That, or you can consider refinancing, which we’ll discuss below.)

While choosing one of these plans may help to lower monthly payments, they generally will not lessen how much you pay over time. Spreading your loan out over 20 or 25 years could actually increase how much you pay in interest.

Why does this happen? Because with a low monthly payment, the borrower might not be chipping away at much of the loan’s principal, on top of which interest payments are calculated. Even worse, if payments are too low they might not even cover the entire interest charge for the month, which means that interest is added to the balance of the loan (is capitalized).

Because your monthly payment amount is contingent on your income, your income and corresponding payments will be reassessed each year. This means that your monthly payments will likely fluctuate over time.

Loans on an income-driven repayment plans are often forgiven at the end of the 20 or 25-year repayment period. But, under the income-driven repayment plans, any amount that is forgiven will be taxed as ordinary income in the year that the loan is forgiven. For many graduates, this is a harsh realization in the year that the loans are forgiven, especially if the loan has grown in size over time due to capitalized interest.

Any person considering one of these plans in order to have their loans forgiven will want to seriously consider the implications of a hefty tax bill. You should consider how you will be prepared to pay this bill. Will you save extra each month for taxes, in addition to your monthly student loan payment? These are all questions that you may want to research on your own, and potentially discuss with your loan servicer or a financial advisor.

Refinancing Student Loans

People with a student loan or multiple loans, especially loans with higher rates of interest, could consider refinancing instead. With refinancing, the new lender will pay off a borrower’s old loans with a new one.

Depending on the lender, this can be done with both federal or private loans. Generally, the bank or lender evaluates a potential borrower’s financial situation to see if they qualify for a better interest rate. At this point, the potential borrower can also look at options for lengthening or shortening the repayment timeline. This is typically called “changing the terms” of your loan.

Let’s talk about what it means to change the terms of a student loan. In an ideal world, you’re either keeping the same term (or even shortening the term), and when combined with a (hopefully) better rate of interest, you’ll likely save some money on interest. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. You could also extend the length of the loan, remove cosigners, change from a variable rate to a fixed rate, and so on.

Why might one extend the life of their loan via refinancing? Usually, a borrower would do this to get lower monthly payments than they have on a standard, 10-year repayment plan. To be clear, this could cost a borrower more over time even if the loan is refinanced to a lower rate. That said, for some borrowers it still may be a better option than switching to an income-driven repayment plan.

Of course, you’ll want to do a side-by-side comparison of both options, although that’s not a particularly easy task considering that you can’t really predict how much you’ll pay on an income-driven repayment plan over the duration of a student loan, because it varies depending on your income each year.

And with a 20-year fixed-payment refinanced loan, you’re actually paying off the entire balance of the loan. This means you won’t have any part of the loans forgiven, which saves you from a potentially high tax bill .

Something else to consider: When you do a 20-year refinance that allows you to pay extra toward your loans without penalty, you can pay your student loans back faster than the 20-year period. For example, you could potentially pay a 20-year loan back in 10 years by making extra payments, all while keeping the flexibility of the resulting lower monthly payment.

Every lender has their own criteria for determining whether someone qualifies for particular types of loan and at what rates, but it’s usually based on credit score and history and your income (and may include other factors).

When is refinancing not a good idea? Basically, if you are ever planning to use one of the federal loan repayment or forgiveness options, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Because refinancing is the process of paying off loans with a private loan, refinancing federal loans with a private lender means you won’t have access to these federal repayment programs anymore.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make an informed decision about which of the two options is best for you and your financial situation. Good luck in your journey and in paying back your student loans!

Checking to see whether you qualify to refinance your student loans costs nothing and is unbelievably easy. SoFi offers competitive rates, borrower protections, and award-winning customer service.


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.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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 about bankruptcy.
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