Prepayment Penalty: When Paying Off a Loan Early Can Cost You

May 12, 2018 · 4 minute read

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Prepayment Penalty: When Paying Off a Loan Early Can Cost You

If you recently got a bonus or just sold off the antique nutcracker collection you inherited from your Uncle Leo, you might consider putting that extra cash toward paying off your loans or getting ahead on your mortgage. After all, one frequently given nugget of financial wisdom is to use unexpected windfalls to pay down your debt. But what happens when paying down your loans comes with a prepayment penalty?

Loan prepayment penalties are fees lenders might include in their terms to ensure you pay a certain amount of interest on your loan before paying it off. It might sound crazy, but making extra payments or paying your loan off early can actually cost you more because of loan prepayment penalties.

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. Here’s what you need to know in order to avoid prepayment penalty fees:

What is a loan prepayment penalty?

A loan prepayment penalty is an extra fee that allows lenders to charge you a fee for paying off the loan before the end of the term. The term of your loan is the repayment time period that you and your lender agreed on when you applied for the loan.

Personal Loan Prepayment Penalties

For example, 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 $150 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 Loan Prepayment Penalties

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

How much are loan prepayment penalties?

The cost of the prepayment penalty can vary widely depending on whether you took out a small personal loan or a substantial mortgage, and how your lender calculates the penalty. Lenders have different ways to determine how much of a prepayment penalty to charge. It behooves you to figure out exactly what your prepayment fee will be, because it can help you determine whether the penalty will outweigh the benefits of paying your loan off early. Here’s how the 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 total term. To take our example from above, if you have a $6,000 loan with a five-year term, and want to pay the loan off in full after only four years, the lender may try to charge you 12 months’ worth of interest as a penalty.

2. Percentage of balance. Some lenders use a percentage of the amount left on your loan to determine your penalty fee. This is a common way to calculate prepayment penalty fees on mortgages. For example, if you buy a house for $500,000 and want to pay off the remaining balance six months after purchase, your lender might require that you pay a percentage of your remaining balance as a penalty.

3. Flat fee. Some lenders also simply have a flat fee as a prepayment penalty. This means that no matter how early you pay your loan back, you’ll have to pay a previously-agreed-to penalty fee.

How can you avoid prepayment penalties?

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 is not possible, you still have options.

First, you can stick to the loan terms you agreed to. It might feel like you’re letting the lender win by making monthly payments for the full term of your loan, but it ensures you avoid penalty fees.

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 on 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 larger payments of up to 20% of the purchase price once a year—without charging a prepayment penalty. This means that while you might not be able to pay off the full mortgage, you could pay up to 20% of the purchase price each year without triggering a penalty.

Finally, 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 less harsh penalty fees, or no fees at all. If that’s the case, it might make sense to sit on Uncle Leo’s nutcracker fortune for a year or two until the prepayment penalties no longer apply.

If you’re looking for a loan or mortgage, remember that there are lenders like SoFi that don’t impose prepayment penalties. With no prepayment penalties, you can use an unexpected cash windfall to pay down your debt fast without worrying about fees.

If you’re looking for a loan or mortgage with no prepayment penalties, check out SoFi personal loans and mortgages today.

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