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Prepayment Penalties: Why They Exist and How to Avoid Them

By Krystal Etienne · September 23, 2021 · 5 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

Prepayment Penalties: Why They Exist and How to Avoid Them

A frequently offered nugget of financial wisdom is to use unexpected financial windfalls to pay down your debt. But what happens when paying down your loans comes with a prepayment penalty?

The best way to avoid prepayment fees, of course, is to choose a personal loan or mortgage without prepayment penalties. If you’re stuck with a prepayment penalty on your loan, however, all is not lost. There are ways to avoid paying loan prepayment penalties.

What is a Prepayment Penalty?

A prepayment penalty is when a lender charges you a fee for paying off your loan before the end of the loan term. It can be frustrating that a lender would charge you for paying off a loan too early because it’s natural to think a lender would appreciate being repaid as quickly as possible.

In theory, a lender would appreciate getting repaid quickly. But in reality, it’s not that simple. Lenders make most of their profit from interest, so if you pay off your loan early, the lender is possibly losing out on the interest payments that they were anticipating. Charging a prepayment penalty is one way a lender may recoup their financial loss if you pay off your loan early.

Lenders might calculate the prepayment fee based on the loan’s principal or how much interest remains when you pay off the loan. The penalty could also be a fixed amount as stated in the loan agreement.

Can You Pay off a Loan Early?

Say you took out a $5,000 personal loan three years ago. You’ve been paying it off for three years, and you have two more years before the loan term ends. Recently you received a financial windfall and you want to use that money to pay off your personal loan early.

Can you pay off a personal loan early without paying a prepayment penalty? It depends on your lender. Some lenders offer personal loans without prepayment penalties, but some don’t. A >mortgage prepayment penalty is more common than a personal loan prepayment penalty.

Differences in Prepayment Penalties

Because the terms of personal loans vary, the best way to figure out how much a prepayment penalty would be is to check a loan’s terms before you accept them. Lenders have to be upfront about how much the prepayment penalty will be, and they’re required by law to disclose that information before you take on the loan.

Personal Loan Prepayment Penalty

If you take out a $6,000 personal loan to turn your guest room into a pet portrait studio and agree to pay your lender back $125 per month for five years, the term of that loan is five years. Although your loan term says it can’t take you more than five years to pay it off, some lenders also require that you don’t pay it off in less than five years.

The lender makes money off the monthly interest you pay on your loan, and if you pay off your loan early, the lender doesn’t make as much money. Loan prepayment penalties allow the lender to recoup the money they lose when you pay your loan off early.

Mortgage Prepayment Penalty

When it comes to mortgages, things get a little trickier. For loans that originated after 2014, there are restrictions on when a lender can impose prepayment penalties. If you took out a mortgage before 2014, however, you may be subject to a mortgage prepayment penalty. If you’re not sure if your mortgage has a prepayment penalty, check your origination paperwork or call your lender.

Checking for a Prepayment Clause

Lenders disclose whether or not they charge a prepayment penalty in the loan documents. It might be in the fine print, but the prepayment clause is there, which is a good reason to read the fine print. If you’re considering paying off any type of loan early, check your loan’s terms and conditions to determine whether or not you’ll have to pay a prepayment penalty.

How are Prepayment Penalties Calculated?

The cost of a prepayment penalty can vary widely depending on the amount of the loan and how your lender calculates the penalty. Lenders have different ways to determine how much of a prepayment penalty to charge.

If your loan has a prepayment penalty, figuring out exactly what the fee will be can help you determine whether paying the penalty will outweigh the benefits of paying your loan off early. Here are three different ways the prepayment penalty fee might be calculated:

1. Interest costs. If your loan charges a prepayment penalty based on interest, the lender is basing the fee on the interest you would have paid over the full term of the loan. Using the previous example, if you have a $6,000 loan with a five-year term and want to pay the remaining balance of the loan after only four years, the lender may charge you 12 months’ worth of interest as a penalty.

2. Percentage of balance. Some lenders use a percentage of the amount left on the loan to determine the penalty fee. This is a common way to calculate a mortgage prepayment penalty fee. For example, if you bought a house for $500,000 and have already paid down half the mortgage, but want to pay off the remaining balance in a lump sum before the full term of your loan is up. In this case, your lender might require that you pay a percentage of the remaining $250,000 as a penalty.

3. Flat fee. Some lenders simply have a flat fee as a prepayment penalty. This means that no matter how early you pay your loan back, the amount you’ll have to pay will always be the prepayment penalty amount disclosed in the loan agreement.

Avoiding a Prepayment Penalty

Trying to avoid prepayment penalties can seem like an exercise in futility, but it is possible. The easiest way to avoid them is to take out a loan or mortgage without prepayment penalties. If that’s not possible, you may still have options.

If you already have a personal loan that has a prepayment penalty, and you want to pay your loan off early, talk to your lender. You may be offered an opportunity to pay off your loan closer to the final due date and sidestep the penalty. Or you might find that even if you pay off the loan early and incur a penalty, it might be less than the interest you would have paid over the remaining term of the loan.

You can also take a look at your loan origination paperwork to see if it allows for a partial payoff without penalty. If it does, you might be able to prepay a portion of your loan each year, which allows you to get out of debt sooner without requiring you to pay a penalty fee.

For example, some mortgages allow payments of up to 25% of the purchase price once a year, without charging a prepayment penalty. This means that while you might not be able to pay off your full mortgage, you could pay up to 25% of the purchase price each year without triggering a penalty.

Some lenders shift their prepayment penalty terms over the life of your loan. This means that as you get closer to the end of your original loan term, you might face lower prepayment penalty fees or no fees at all. If that’s the case, it might make sense to wait a year or two until the prepayment penalties are less or no longer apply.

When it comes to your money, you don’t want to make any assumptions. You still need to do your due diligence by asking potential lenders if they have a prepayment penalty. The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) requires lenders to provide documentation of any loan fees they charge, including a prepayment penalty. Also, under the TILA, consumers have the right to cancel a loan agreement within three days of closing on the loan without the lender taking any adverse action against them.

The Takeaway

When taking on debt, paying as little as possible on top of the principal amount borrowed is a good general rule of thumb. Consumers generally seek the lowest interest rates they can qualify for, a loan term that they feel comfortable with, and a loan that doesn’t add fees to their debt load. A prepayment penalty is one fee that can be avoided by asking questions of the lender and looking at the loan documents with a discerning eye.

SoFi Personal Loans are unsecured loans that charge neither prepayment penalties or any other fees. SoFi also offers other benefits to qualified borrowers. For example, SoFi offers an Unemployment Protection Program that works with eligible borrowers to pause their loan payments if they have an unexpected job loss through no fault of their own. The program also provides the borrower assistance finding a new job.

Check your rate on a SoFi Personal Loan.


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