Is it Smart to Use a Personal Loan to Pay Off Student Debt?

By Nancy Bilyeau · September 23, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Is it Smart to Use a Personal Loan to Pay Off Student Debt?

Personal loans hold appeal with their capacity to wipe out debts in a single stroke. With student loan debt hovering at, it may appear at first glance that a personal debt is the answer to the problem.

However, using a personal loan to pay off student debt is widely seen as not the best idea. We will break down the process of taking out personal loans to pay off student loans and explain the serious drawbacks.

Can You Use a Personal Loan to Pay Off Student Loans?

While it may sound possible to use a personal loan to pay off your student loans, either federal or private, many lenders may not approve your application if they know you will be using the loan for this purpose.

A personal loan is a loan for which the borrower receives a one-time, lump sum amount of money and repays it, with interest, over a set amount of time in equal installments, typically monthly. Some common uses of personal loans are for debt management, home repairs and maintenance, vacation expenses, and wedding expenses.

Personal loan lenders dictate terms on the uses for the money. Many of these lenders prohibit the use of a personal loan for paying off student loan debt. And you are required to sign a loan agreement that says you will abide by the lender’s terms and forbidden uses.

If you use the money for a prohibited purpose and the lender learns this, you could be held responsible for paying back the full amount immediately. Also, knowingly providing false information on a loan application is considered fraud and is a crime.

For many people looking to replace their federal student loan with another type of repayment, student loan refinancing presents more attractive options than getting a personal loan. Using other loans to pay off student loans requires careful consideration.

Why Refinancing Your Student Loans Might Be a Better Plan

When it comes to either reducing your monthly payment on your loans or paying less in interest, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans with private student loans. (Note: You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.)

Refinancing your student loans means that you take out a new private student loan to pay off your existing student debt. When you do this, you might be able to save money if you qualify for a lower interest rate on your private student loan than on a personal loan. Interest rates vary but the average private student loan interest rate ranges from 4% to almost 15%. The national average on a personal loan was 11.48% in Q2 2023, according to the Federal Reserve.

You might also consider getting a longer-term private student loan with lower monthly payments. This will likely mean that you’ll pay more in interest over the life of your loan, but that could give your budget some breathing room. A student loan refinancing calculator can help show how much you may be able to save each month by refinancing your existing student loans.

While refinancing student loans may help students save money, refinancing federal student loans means forfeiting benefits that you might otherwise qualify for, such as deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans.

While private student loans don’t offer the same protections and benefits as federal student loans, some do offer deferment or forbearance in certain circumstances. Personal loans do not typically offer these benefits.

💡 Quick Tip: Get flexible terms and competitive rates when you refinance your student loan with SoFi.

Pros of Using Personal Loans to Pay off Student Debt

Let’s say you have found a lender who doesn’t prohibit using a personal loan to pay off student debt and you want to go forward.

There are a few possible benefits in certain circumstances.

•  A potential reduction in the amount of interest that you’re paying if you manage to qualify for a lower rate on your personal loan than what you’re paying for the student loan.

•  You might qualify for a different loan term — or length — potentially reducing your monthly payments by spreading them out over a longer period of time.

•  It is difficult (though not impossible) to discharge a student loan in a bankruptcy. In some cases, it is easier to discharge a personal loan.

Cons of Using Personal Loans to Pay off Student Debt

There are some large drawbacks to consider. It doesn’t make much sense to trade in one loan for another with higher interest. The interest rate on a federal student loan is currently 5.5% for an undergraduate degree and 7% for a graduate degree. As stated above, the national average on a personal loan was 11.48% in Q2 2023, according to the Federal Reserve.

Here are other cons:

•  You’ll forfeit protections and benefits of federal student loans such as the six-month grace period after graduation and the ability to defer or forbear your loans.

•  If you have federal student loans, you also lose the opportunity to use income-driven repayment plans to repay your loans and to take part in any student loan forgiveness programs.

•  If you pursue a personal loan to pay for student loans even though the lender prohibits that use and it is discovered, the loan will be canceled if not yet disbursed, you may have to repay the full amount immediately, and you are open to criminal prosecution for fraud.

•  The lender will assess your creditworthiness, which typically includes checking your credit, during the approval process. A “hard check” usually deducts several points from your credit rating temporarily. Most federal student loans don’t require a hard credit check.

Pros of Using Personal Loans to Pay off Student Debt

Cons of Using Personal Loans to Pay off Student Debt

You may possibly qualify for a lower interest rate on a personal loan than you have on your student loan. Loss of some protections that typically come with federal student loans, such as deferment and forbearance.
If you manage to qualify for a longer loan term, your monthly payments could decrease by stretching them out over a longer period of time. You won’t be able to use an income-driven repayment plan if you replace federal student loans with a personal loan.
Personal loans may be able to be discharged in bankruptcy, unlike student loans, which typically cannot be. Your creditworthiness is a factor in personal loan approval, unlike federal student loans, most of which don’t require a credit check.

Starting to Repay Your Student Loan Debt

When you graduate from college, you don’t have to start repaying your federal student loans right away.

Some federal student loans have a student loan grace period of 6 months, but with some it can last as long as 9 months. Interest may accrue while your loans are in the grace period, so some people make interest-only payments so that the total loan balance does not increase.

If you’re unable to pay your federal student loans after the grace period ends, you may be able to defer your loans for a number of reasons including if you’re returning to school, are unemployed, or have recently been on active duty service in the military.

But what happens if you can’t afford your payments but don’t fit any of those criteria and don’t have any other help paying for school?

As your salary increases, you will likely be better financially able to pay your loans but, in the first few years after graduation your salary may not cover much more than basic expenses.

There are other ways you can lower your payments.

Recommended: Examining How Student Loan Deferment Works

Basing Student Loan Payments Off Your Monthly Income

After a three-year pause due to Covid-19 hardship, the Debt Ceiling Bill required federal student loan payments to resume, with interest accrual restarting on Sept. 1, 2023 and payments due starting in October.

If you’re struggling to cover your basic monthly living expenses, you might want to look into the “On-Ramp” created by President Joe Biden earlier this year. Running from October 1, 2023 to September 30, 2024, the plan specifies that financially vulnerable borrowers who miss monthly payments during this period are not considered delinquent, reported to credit bureaus, placed in default, or referred to debt collection agencies.

Another option is enrolling in an income-driven repayment program.

There are various repayment plans to choose from that allow you to limit your monthly payments to a percentage of your monthly discretionary income. That will often reduce your monthly payments to a more manageable level.

President Biden’s Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan is replacing other IDR programs as the main offering of the Department of Education. Like other plans, it calculates your monthly payment amount based on your income and family size. The SAVE Plan provides the lowest monthly payments of any IDR plan available to nearly all student borrowers, says the DOE.

After 20 to 25 years of on-time student loan payments — or 10 years if you’re enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program — your loans may qualify to be forgiven under these repayment plans. If you’re interested in enrolling in one of these plans, contact your student loan servicer for information on how to do so.

Recommended: The SAVE Plan: What Student Loan Borrowers Need to Know About the New Repayment Plan

The Takeaway

When deciding whether to use a personal loan or student loan refinancing to pay off existing student debt, there are many options to choose from. A good way to begin is to consider your current budget (how much money do you have to allocate toward student loan payments), what your goal is (e.g., lowering your interest rate, lowering your monthly payment, paying off the debt as soon as possible), and other overall financial goals.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

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