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How to Handle Federal Student Loan Rate Hikes

March 27, 2019 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

How to Handle Federal Student Loan Rate Hikes

Millions of students across the U.S. take out student loans every year as a way to finance their college education. Student loan debt in America is at an all-time high, reaching nearly $1.5 trillion in 2018. About 70% of college students graduated in 2017 with student loan debt that was expected to average $38,000 .

After years of record low interest rates, 2018 marks the second year in a row that interest rates on federal student loans have increased. Interest rates on federal student loans for undergraduates have increased from 4.45% to 5.05% for the 2018 to 2019 academic year . This student loan rate increase of 0.595% applies for any new loans taken out on or after July 1, 2018.

Student loan interest rates also increased for graduate students—rising from 6% to 6.6%. Rates on PLUS loans, which are available to parents and graduate students, increased from 7% to 7.6%.

How Does Student Loan Interest Increase on Federal Loans?

Since 2013, the interest rate on federal student loans has been set annually by Congress based on the 10-year treasury note . Each year, the new rates take effect on July 1 and apply to loans taken out for the following academic year. Under this formula, rates can increase, decrease, or remain the same.

Federal student loans have fixed interest rates, so the new rate hikes only affect new loans taken out in the 2018 to 2019 school year. Because many students rely on federal loans to pay for college every year, the increases could still result in borrowers paying more money each month, even though the interest rates on federal loans are fixed.

Assuming a 10-year repayment plan, the latest interest rate hike in July 2018 will increase monthly loan payments by about 2.8% . And although the interest rate on federal education loans remains the same over the life the loan, when a student takes out an education loan for the next school year, that loan might have a higher interest rate. Higher interest rates on student loans lead to more debt, which can make it harder for graduates to pay off their student loans.

In an effort to keep the interest rates on student loans from skyrocketing, Congress has set limits on how high interest rates can go . Undergraduate loans are capped at 8.25%, graduate loans can never go higher than 9.5%, and the limit on parental loans is capped at 10.5%.

How Does Student Loan Interest Increase on Private Loans?

If you have private student loans, the federal rate hikes won’t directly affect your loans. Most private lenders look at your credit history and income, among a few other factors to determine if they will lend to you and what rate you will qualify for. Many private lenders offer fixed and variable rates for student loans.

Often variable rate loans are tied to the one-month LIBOR, a common global index that reflects short-term interest rates and can change monthly. The one-month LIBOR rate generally rises and falls in small increments each month. As the LIBOR fluctuates, the variable rate on your loan will fluctuate as well. For example, in 2017, variable and fixed interest rates on private student loans rose nearly a point.

Private lenders generally add a margin to the rate which is determined by your credit score or the credit score of your co-signer if you have one. Depending on your lender, variable rates can change monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Even if the variable interest rate on your loan rises, you could still be paying less money in interest over the life of the loan if you pay it off in a short period of time. (Because paying it off quickly means there is less time for interest to accrue!)

On the other hand, if rising interest rates are causing your student loan anxiety to increase as well, you could consider refinancing your variable rate student loans to a fixed interest rate.

Protecting Yourself From Student Loan Rate Increases

When you refinance your student loans, you essentially take out a new loan with a new (hopefully lower) interest rate. That new loan is used to pay off your existing loans.

Refinancing your student loans can allow you to adjust your repayment timeline by shortening or extending the term length. These options can change the total amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan and your monthly loan payment, too.

If you have a mix of federal and private loans and you want to get a new interest rate, you won’t be able to consolidate your loans with the government. At SoFi, you can consolidate your federal and private loans through refinancing.

Keep in mind that if you do refinance with a private lender, your loan will no longer have federal protections like income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

But if you don’t anticipate needing these programs, refinancing with a private lender might result in a lower interest rate.

With SoFi, there are no application fees or prepayment penalties. And you’ll have the opportunity to choose between a fixed rate loan or a variable rate loan. Both options offer strong opportunities for borrowers to reduce the money they spend on interest depending on a variety of factors such as the total amount of the loan and the overall length of the loan.

To get an idea of how refinancing and the different interest rate options could impact your loan, take advantage of SoFi’s easy-to-use student loan refinance calculator.

SoFi is a leader is the student loan space—offering both private student loans to help pay your way through school, or refinancing options to help you pay off your loans faster.

See your interest rate in just a few minutes. No strings attached.


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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.
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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