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How Soon Can You Refinance Student Loans?

Typically, student loan borrowers cannot refinance their debt until they graduate or withdraw from school. At that point, federal student loans and the majority of private student loans have a grace period, so it can make sense to refinance right before the grace period ends.

Depending on your financial situation, the goal of refinancing may be to snag a lower interest rate and/or have lower monthly payments. Doing so can alleviate some of the stress you may feel when repaying your debt. In this guide, you’ll learn when you can refinance and what options are available, plus the potential benefits and downsides of each.

What Do Your Current Loans Look Like?

Before deciding whether or not to refinance your student loans, you need to know where your loans currently stand. Look at the loan servicers, loan amounts, interest rates, and terms for all loans before making a decision.

Contact Info for Most Federal Student Loans

The government assigns your loan to a loan servicer after it is paid out. To find your loan servicer, visit your account dashboard on studentaid.gov, find the “My Aid” section, and choose “View loan servicer details.” You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243.

Loans Not Owned by the Department of Education

Here’s how to get in touch:

•   If you have Federal Family Education Loan Program loans that are not held by the government, contact your servicer for details. Look for the most recent communication from the entity sending you bills.

•   If you have a Federal Perkins Loan that is not owned by the Education Department, contact the school where you received the loan for details. Your school may be the servicer for your loan.

•   If you have Health Education Assistance Loan Program loans and need to find your loan servicer, look for the most recent communication from the entity sending you bills.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are not given by the government, but rather banks, credit unions, and online lenders. You’ll need to find your specific lender or servicer in order to find out your loan information.

Can You Refinance Student Loans While Still in School?

You may be able to refinance your student loans while still in school with certain lenders, but doing so may not make the most sense for your situation.

If you’re worried about interest accruing on your unsubsidized federal loans and/or private student loans while in school, you can most certainly make interest-only payments on them in order to keep the interest from capitalizing.

One important note: With federal student loans, any payments you make while still in school or during the grace period will not count as a qualifying payment toward loan forgiveness, if you plan on using that.


💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.

Which Loans Can Be Refinanced While Enrolled?

You can refinance any type of student loan while enrolled in school, assuming that the lender allows it. If you’re still in school and want to refinance, a lender will want to make sure you have a job or job offer on the table, are possibly in your last year of school, and have a solid credit profile. You could also consider refinancing your student loans with a cosigner if you do not meet the lender’s requirements on your own.

A couple of important points if you are considering refinancing federal student loans with a private lender:

•   Doing so means you will forfeit federal benefits and protections, such as forbearance and forgiveness, among others.

•   If you refinance for an extended term, you may have a lower monthly payment but pay more interest over the life of the loan. This may or may not suit your financial needs and goals, so consider your options carefully.

Which Loans Can’t Be Refinanced While Enrolled?

If you find a lender willing to refinance your student loans while still in school, they most likely won’t exclude a certain type of loan. However, it is best not to refinance federal student loans while enrolled. Federal Subsidized Loans, for example, do not start earning interest until after the grace period is over. Since you aren’t paying anything in interest, it doesn’t make sense to refinance and have to start paying interest on your loans immediately.

If you plan on using federal benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans or student loan forgiveness, refinancing student loans could be a bad idea. Refinancing gives you a new loan with a new private lender, thereby forfeiting your eligibility to federal benefits and protections, as noted above.

Is It Worth Refinancing Only Some of Your Loans?

Yes, it can be worth refinancing only some of your loans. The student loans you may want to focus on refinancing may include ones that have a variable rate (and you prefer a fixed rate), ones with a relatively high interest rate, or ones where you’ve had a less-than-ideal relationship with the servicer and are looking for a new experience.

When you might want to think twice about refinancing:

•   If you have federal loans and plan on using an income-based repayment plan, for example, it makes sense not to include those loans in the refinance.

•   If you have a low, fixed interest rate currently, you should probably keep those loans as is. The main reason to refinance is to secure a lower interest rate or a lower payment. Keep in mind, though, that by lowering your payment, you typically are extending your term. This can mean that you end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.

Pros and Cons of Refinancing Student Loans

Pros Cons

•   Possibly lower your monthly payment

•   Possibly lower your interest rate

•   Shorten or lengthen the loan term

•   Switch from variable to fixed interest rate, or vice versa

•   Combine multiple loans into one

•   Lose access to federal benefits and protections

•   Lose access to remaining grace periods

•   May be difficult to qualify

•   May end up paying more in interest if you lengthen the term

Examples of Refinancing Before Earning a Degree

As stated above, there are some lenders that may allow you to refinance before you graduate or withdraw from school. These lenders may currently include Citizens Bank, Discover, RISLA, and Earnest.

Graduate students are also eligible to refinance their undergraduate student loans, assuming they meet the lender’s requirements or use a cosigner. Parents with Parent PLUS Loans are also typically allowed to refinance their loans prior to their child graduating. Rules will vary by lender, so make sure to do your research and choose a lender that will work with your unique situation.


💡 Quick Tip: Federal parent PLUS loans might be a good candidate for refinancing to a lower rate.

Alternatives to Refinancing

If refinancing your student loans isn’t the right option for you, there are alternatives to refinancing you can explore.

•   The main alternative is student loan consolidation, which combines your federal student loans into one loan with one monthly payment. The main difference between consolidation and refinancing is the interest rate on a federal loan consolidation is the weighted average of the rates of the loans you are consolidating, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percentage.

•   You typically won’t save on interest, but you can lower your monthly payment by extending the loan term. Doing this, however, means you’ll probably pay more in interest over the life of the loan.

•   Student loan refinancing refers to paying off current loans with a new loan from a private lender, preferably with a lower rate. This rate is not the weighted average of the loans, but rather is based on current market rates, your credit profile, and your debt-to-income ratio.

•   Other alternatives to refinancing include making interest-only payments while still enrolled in school or requesting a student loan forbearance if you’re struggling to make your payments. Forbearance means you can reduce or pause payments for a designated period of time.

You’ll want to know all your student loan repayment options — and the pros and cons of consolidating or refinancing your loans, prior to making a decision.

A calculator tool for student loan refinancing can come in handy when estimating savings, both monthly and over the life of your loan.

Weighing Perks and Interest Rates

Before deciding whether refinancing is right for you, it’s important to again highlight this important point: If you refinance your federal student loans with a private lender, those loans will no longer be eligible for programs like income-driven repayment plans, federal forbearance, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

But if you can get a lower interest rate, refinancing may be a good fit. Most refinancing lenders offer loan terms of five to 20 years. Shortening or elongating your loan term can affect your monthly payment and the total cost over the life of your loan.

For some borrowers, lengthening the term and lowering the monthly payment will be a valuable option, even though it can mean paying more interest over the life of the loan. Only you can decide if this kind of refinancing makes sense for your personal finances.

The Takeaway

When can you refinance student loans? As soon as you establish a financial foundation or bring a solid cosigner aboard. Can you refinance your student loans while in school? Yes, however, not all lenders offer this and it may not make sense for your situation. It’s also important to understand the implications of refinancing federal student loans with a private lender. If you do not plan on using federal benefits and protections and are comfortable with the possibility of paying more interest over the loan’s term, it might be a move worth considering.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


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.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies 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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5 Alternatives to Emergency Student Loans

You thought you had your college costs covered. Then something unexpected happened — a sudden job loss, unplanned expense, family emergency — and now you’re short on funds and wondering how you’ll make ends meet.

Fortunately, some schools offer emergency student loans to help students rebound from a financial set-back and manage the unexpected. While these tend to be smaller amounts, an emergency loan can help you get through a rough financial patch, allowing you to stay in school and complete your degree.

However, not every college and university offers emergency student loans, and those that do may have limited funds for emergency student loans and varying eligibility requirements.

Here are key things to know about emergency or fast student loans, plus other ways to access quick funds when you hit a set-back or unexpected college expense.

The Basics of Emergency Student Loans

The term emergency student loan generally refers to a loan offered to actively enrolled students in dire financial situations, typically by colleges and universities. If you have experienced an unexpected financial hardship, whether due to a job loss, a death in the family, or any life circumstance that results in immediate financial need, you may be eligible to apply.

Emergency loans are generally disbursed and repaid on rapid schedules. Repayment terms may be as short as 30 to 90 days. The amount you can borrow varies by school but the cap is typically between $500 to $1,500. Some emergency student loans are interest-free, while others charge a low interest rate.

Typically, you cannot use an emergency student loan to cover your tuition for the semester. However, you can use it to cover other expenses, like food, housing, childcare, and medical expenses.


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

How to Get Emergency Student Loans

If you need an emergency or instant student loan, a good first step is to contact your school’s financial aid office. If your school offers emergency loans, you will likely need to:

•   Find out if you are eligible. You’ll want to check your school’s eligibility requirements to make sure you qualify before you go through the application process.

•   Fill out the emergency student loan application. You may be able to do this online or you might need to do it in person at the financial aid office. You’ll likely need to have your student ID and enrollment information. Your school may also ask for documentation of your financial emergency before it will approve the loan.

•   Make a plan to repay your loan on time. You may need to repay the loan within just a few months, so you’ll want to determine how you will make those payments. If you miss a payment, the school might charge fees and/or hold your academic records.

Are Emergency Student Loans a Good Idea?

While emergency student loans can be helpful, they may not be the right solution for everyone. For one, the loan might not offer enough money to help you out. For another, schools typically have strict qualification criteria for emergency student loans. For example, you typically need to have experienced an unexpected event that triggered a dire and sudden financial need, such as:

•   Loss of a parent

•   Dismissal from a job or unexpected reduction in income

•   Natural disaster

•   Significant crime or theft

Also keep in mind that an emergency loan is still a loan, so you’ll want to make sure you can handle more debt before you tap a fast student loan. Also be sure you can manage the short repayment period. Having a loan go into default may jeopardize your education and your eligibility for future financial aid. In other words, it’s a good idea to establish a plan before you borrow money.

Emergency Student Loan Alternatives

Emergency student loans can be a great resource for some students. However, they aren’t right for everyone. You may not qualify for your school’s emergency student loan program. Or, you might need a larger sum of money or a longer repayment timeline. Also, not all schools offer emergency loans. Luckily, there are other options on the table to help you through a cash crunch during college. Here are five you may want to explore.

1. Unused Federal Student Loans

If you’ve already submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) but turned down some or all of the federal student loans you were offered, there is good news: It’s possible to change your mind. Once you have filed a FAFSA, you are allowed to accept the funds at any time during the academic year.

For example, you might have been offered $5,000 in federal loans but only claimed $2,000 of that money. If you find yourself in financial hardship later in the academic year, you could still claim the unused portion of federal student aid. You can use federal student loans to cover tuition as well as living expenses. Your financial aid office can help you figure out if this is an option for you.

Since you’ve already been approved for the loan, funding time will likely be much faster compared to the regular waiting time for federal aid. It shouldn’t take more than 14 days to receive the funds.

If you’ve had a major change in your financial situation, such as a job loss or the passing of a parent, you may want to resubmit your FAFSA to reflect your new situation. Depending on the changes, you might qualify for more aid.

2. University Grants and Scholarships

Some colleges and universities offer emergency aid in other forms besides loans. Emergency grants and scholarships work in a similar way to emergency student loans in that they’re meant to help cover unexpected financial hardships. However, unlike loans, grants don’t have to be repaid.

For example, some schools offer completion scholarships or grants, which can forgive a portion or all of the outstanding balance that might otherwise keep a student from advancing or graduating. Other schools have voucher programs to help with specific on-campus costs like books and dining hall meals.

You’ll need to get in touch with your financial aid office to see if you qualify for any emergency assistance grants, scholarships, or vouchers under your circumstances. The school may require proof of hardship or emergency.

Recommended: Finding Free Money for College

3. Private Student Loans

If you’ve tapped all of your federal aid options, you might turn to private student loans to help cover emergency expenses. These are loans offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

Private student loans typically come with higher interest rates than federal student loans and don’t offer the same borrower protections (like forbearance and forgiveness programs). However, you can often borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance with a private student loan, giving you more borrowing power than you can get with the federal government. Depending on the lender, you may be able to take advantage of quick student loan approval and disbursement and use the money to pay for your emergency expenses.

Some lenders send the money straight to the school and, once tuition is covered, the school will typically give you the remainder of the loan to cover living expenses. In other cases, lenders will send the funds to you to make the appropriate payments.

4. Tuition Payment Extension

If you’re not sure you can pay your tuition on time due to a sudden emergency, it’s worth asking your financial aid office if they provide temporary payment extensions or payment plans.

Some colleges may be willing to grant you an extension on paying your tuition. For example, they might offer an emergency deferment plan which allows enrolled students to postpone payments through a specific date, such as the 90th day of the term. This might give you a bit of extra breathing room in your budget.

You might also explore tuition payment plans. Many schools allow you to spread out your tuition into affordable monthly or bi-monthly payments. Typically, schools don’t charge interest on thes plans. However, when exploring this alternative, it’s a good idea to ask about any fees or interest charges that might apply.

5. Food Pantries

The cost of food is high these days, and this may be particularly burdensome during an emergency. Your school may have an on-campus food pantry that can help reduce your expenses until you’re back on your feet. Also keep in mind that local churches and other charitable organizations in your area may also offer food at no cost to those in need. Feeding America is a helpful resource to find food banks near you.These food pantries can provide basics like canned foods, pastas, dried breakfast items and more.


💡 Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

Where Can You Look for Other Forms of Emergency Student Aid and Assistance?

Outside of emergency student loans and grants, colleges and universities often offer additional resources that can help with unplanned costs during an emergency. You might find on-campus support in the form of housing opportunities, bus passes, or food pantries. Even if your school doesn’t offer emergency assistance directly, a financial aid administrator may know of off-campus organizations that will offer support.

You might also explore assistance from alumni-funded foundations or other nonprofit scholarships or grants that can provide emergency assistance. For example, the UNCF offers a “Just-in-time” emergency grant of up to $1,000 for students at risk of dropping out of college due to a financial hardship (like medical bills, a car repair, or a trip home to help a sick parent). Students must complete an online application form and show proof of financial hardship.

After You Graduate

If you took out federal or private student loans during college to cover expenses (both planned and unplanned) and you’re now in the repayment stage, you might want to look into refinancing. When you refinance your student loans, a lender pays off your existing loans with a new one, ideally at a lower interest rate. That can potentially save you money in the long run — and from the first payment you make.

Just keep in mind that if you refinance federal student loans with a private lender you forfeit federal protections, such as income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

Check out what kind of rates and terms you can get in just a few minutes.


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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.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


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.

External Websites: 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.

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How to Refinance Student Loans as an International Student

Refinancing your student loans can help save you money and reduce the amount of time you’ll be paying back your loan. However, as an international student, your options are limited. If you’re considering refinancing your student loans as an international student, it’s important to know where you can go and how it can help you.

How Refinancing Student Loans Works

Student loan refinancing is the process of replacing your current student loans with a new one, creating one monthly instead of several. You can refinance both federal and private student loans, potentially saving you money and time as you pay off your debt.

Student loan refinancing companies like SoFi offer fixed and variable interest rates that can be lower than what you’re currently paying on your student loans.

You can also choose from various student loan repayment options and terms, allowing you to pay off your loans as quickly as your budget allows. As you can guess, the shorter your repayment period, the more you’re likely to save on interest.

As you consider your strategy for paying off your student loan debt, refinancing can be a crucial element in helping you achieve your goal.

Another word you may hear that’s close to refinancing is consolidation. With other loans, the terms are typically synonymous. But with student loans, consolidation is generally associated with the federal direct loan consolidation program, while refinancing is typically done through a private lender.


💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.

Where to Refinance Student Loans for International Students

It’s not always easy to know where to go, and it can be frustrating to get turned down over and over again because of your international student status. Many refinancing companies require you to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be eligible but fortunately, some companies provide more flexibility for international students. For instance, SoFi as well as MPOWER can offer loans to international students. SoFi, for example, considers U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and people who hold a J-1, H-1B, E-2, O-1, or TN visa (as of the date of this article).

If you’re a permanent resident, you’ll need to either have at least two years left until your status expires or you’ve filed an extension. And if you’re a visa holder, you’ll need to have at least two years left before your status expires, or you’ve filed for a renewal or applied for permanent residency.

That said, qualifying based on your citizenship, resident, or visa status doesn’t necessarily mean you qualify based on all criteria. Student loan refinancing lenders also typically have credit and income requirements.

This means that if you don’t have an established credit history — which is not always the case for international students — you may have a tough time getting approved on your own.

If this is your situation, it might be worth getting a student loan co-signer, such as a trusted family member or friend who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, to apply with you to help strengthen the creditworthiness of your application. This can be helpful because this person acts as backup for your application — and lenders now can also rely on the co-signer for payment. Even if you do qualify to refinance your student loans on your own, a co-signer could help you get a lower interest rate.

To help improve your chances of getting approved with more favorable terms, such as a low rate, it’s a good idea to choose a co-signer who has a stellar credit history and a solid income.

Two Things to Consider Before Refinancing Your Student Loans

Refinancing might not be the right option for everyone. Here are three things to think about before you make your decision:

You May Not Qualify for a Lower Rate

Your eligibility and interest rate are based on several factors, including your credit history and income. As such, there’s no guarantee you’ll get approved for a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying, even with a co-signer.

Also, if you already have a relatively low interest rate with your current lender, you may have a hard time getting an even lower rate.

Fortunately, some lenders, including SoFi, allow you to check your rate before you officially apply. This is done with a soft credit check, which doesn’t impact your credit score.

You May Not Qualify for a Lower Rate

Your eligibility and interest rate are based on several factors, including your credit history and income. As such, there’s no guarantee you’ll get approved for a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying, even with a co-signer.

Also, if you already have a relatively low interest rate with your current lender, you may have a hard time getting an even lower rate.

Fortunately, some lenders, including SoFi, allow you to check your rate before you officially apply. This is done with a soft credit check, which doesn’t impact your credit score.

Refinancing Is Just One Piece of the Puzzle

As you think through your student loan repayment strategy, keep in mind that refinancing isn’t the end of the line. Once you complete the process of refinancing your loans, it’s important to still make sure you’re paying down your debt.

For example, consider getting on a budget and looking for ways to put extra cash toward your student loan payments each month.

Also, you could go with a shorter repayment period to save even more time and money on your debt.

The Takeaway

Be sure to check your eligibility requirements when it comes to refinancing student loans as an international student with private lenders. Also, consider adding a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to strengthen your application.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


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.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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.

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Can You Pay Off Student Loans with Your 401(k)?

If you’re one of the 44 million Americans who currently hold a portion of the country’s more than $1.7 trillion student debt—and are perhaps now back to making payments after a three-year pause—chances are you’re looking for solutions to get rid of that debt ASAP. After all, the average student who borrowed money to pay for school graduates with just over $37,000 in federal student loan debt alone.

Paying off that much debt is an impressive feat which takes discipline and commitment. If you’re currently living under the heavy weight of your student loans, you may have considered using your 401(k) for student loans. But should you really cash out your 401(k) for student loans?

It probably goes without saying that figuring out how you’re going to pay off your student loans is overwhelming—and there isn’t one definitive solution. And while it’s certainly tempting to just take the cash from your 401(k) and pay off a high-interest loan, there are some serious drawbacks to consider before running with that plan.

The Downsides of Using Your 401(k) to Pay Off Your Student Loans

A potential benefit of using your 401(k) to pay off student loans is that you can eliminate your debt in one fell swoop. However, withdrawing money from your 401(k) should be considered a last resort option—or maybe not an option at all. That’s because there are several major downsides to doing so:

•   Early withdrawal penalty: If you’re under the age of 59½, you’ll generally have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount you take out. The amount you withdraw will also be considered taxable income, which means you could owe a hefty tax bill for that year.

•   Opportunity cost: By using your 401(k) money to pay off student loans, you are potentially losing out on an overall higher return from your investments. For example, if your loan has an interest rate of 6% and your 401(k) returns an average of 8% per year, you essentially lose 2% a year by liquidating those funds to pay off your loans.

•   Difficulty catching up: With your stunted 401(k) balance, you’ll need to make much larger contributions going forward to make up for it, which could strain your budget. Plus, there is a cap on the total amount you can contribute to a 401(k) each year. You may never be able to fully make up for the growth you would have experienced if that money stayed invested.

When deciding whether or not to withdraw money from your retirement savings, it’s important to note that while you borrow loans for other expenses in life, there’s no such thing as a “retirement loan.” You’re responsible for ensuring you have enough money to live on in retirement.

While it can feel like student loans are preventing you from living your life or meeting your financial goals today, saving for retirement can be a valuable investment in your future.


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

Alternatives to Help Control Your Student Loan Debt

If you’re struggling with student loan payments, there are alternatives to taking money out of your 401(k) that can help you get your student loan debt under control while keeping your retirement savings intact. Here are a few examples:

Applying for Income-Driven Repayment

One option is applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. These plans reduce your payments to a small percentage of your discretionary income. The term length also gets extended out to 20 or 25 years, depending on the specific program. At the end of the repayment term, any remaining debt is forgiven. The exception is the newest plan, Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), which awards forgiveness for some borrowers with smaller balances within as few as 10 years.

Keep in mind that extending your repayment term usually means paying more in interest over the life of the loan. Any canceled IDR debt may also be taxed as income. Still, if your payments are far too high to afford on the Standard Repayment Plan, income-driven repayment could provide much-needed relief. In fact, if your income is below a certain threshold, you could qualify for $0 payments.

Pursuing Loan Forgiveness

There are also many programs that forgive student loans after you’ve worked in a qualifying profession and made a certain number of payments. On the national level, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is one example. If you work for a qualifying employer in the public service sector, such as the government or a non-profit, you can have your loans forgiven after 120 payments. Other similar programs include Teacher Loan Forgiveness and National Defense Student Loan Discharge.

In addition to federal forgiveness programs, there are also hundreds of programs offered through states, schools, and other organizations.

Refinancing Your Student Loans

When you refinance your student loans, you take out a brand new loan from a private lender, who will review your credit history and other financial factors to determine how much they will lend to you and at what rate. You then use those funds to pay off your existing loan(s).

With a solid financial picture and credit history, you could qualify for a lower interest rate. This could result in lower monthly payments, as well as reducing the amount of money you spend in interest over the life of the loan (depending on the loan term, of course).

You could also lower your monthly payments by extending the length of the loan term. This results in paying more money in interest over the life of the loan, but could help free up some cash flow more immediately.

It’s important to note that refinancing federal student loans with a private lender means you’ll permanently lose access to federal loan benefits including income-driven repayment plans, forbearance, and deferment.

To help you decide if refinancing is a good idea, take a look at SoFi’s student loan payoff calculator to see when you might pay off your current loans. Then compare that with a potential new loan—you may be surprised at how much of a difference refinancing can make. And with more wiggle room in your budget, you could make headway toward student loan repayment and save for a retirement you’ll be able to enjoy.



💡 Quick Tip: When refinancing a student loan, you may shorten or extend the loan term. Shortening your loan term may result in higher monthly payments but significantly less total interest paid. A longer loan term typically results in lower monthly payments but more total interest paid.

Options for Using Your 401(k) to Pay Off Debt

If you decide to pursue using 401(k) funds to pay off student loans despite the many risks and drawbacks, there are a few ways to go about it. First, you’ll need to determine how much you are eligible to withdraw from your 401(k), and what penalties and taxes you would encounter. In most cases, you would be responsible for a 10% penalty and regular income taxes on a withdrawal from your 401(k) prior to age 59 ½.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, if you were laid off, you may be able to withdraw money penalty-free as long as certain requirements are met.

And depending on the exact terms of your 401(k) plan, you may be able to withdraw the money from your plan without penalty in certain hardship situations—like to cover tuition or medical expenses.

If you already attended college and are trying to use your 401(k) to pay back student loans, that doesn’t qualify for a hardship withdrawal. If you’re not sure what the exact rules of your plan entail, it’s worth contacting your HR representative or the financial firm that handles your company’s 401(k) program.

Again, using money from your 401(k) to pay off debt can be a risky proposition. While on the bright side it would potentially allow you to eliminate your student debt, it also puts your retirement savings at risk. You’ll not only potentially have to pay a penalty and taxes on the withdrawn amount, but you’ll also lose out on years of compounding returns on money you take out.

Still, depending on your circumstances, you might be considering cashing out your entire 401(k). Alternatively, however, you could borrow against your 401(k) by taking out a 401(k) loan. Here’s a bit more info about those two options.

Cashing Out Your 401(k)

Withdrawing money from your 401(k) can seem like a tempting idea when your student loan payments are causing you to stress at the moment and retirement feels like it’s ages away.

But making an early withdrawal comes with penalties. If you withdraw your money prior to the age of 59 ½ you’ll pay a 10% penalty on the amount you withdraw, in addition to regular income tax on the distribution itself. In addition to the taxes and the early withdrawal penalty, money that you withdraw loses valuable time to grow between now and retirement. That is why, as mentioned, simply withdrawing money from a 401(k) very rarely makes sense, when you consider the taxes, penalties, and lost growth.

To reinforce this point, let’s consider a (completely hypothetical) person who earns $68,000 per year and is a single filer, putting them in the 22% income tax bracket. (And remember, this is just an example – there are many other factors that can come into play, but this should give you a high-level glimpse into why withdrawing cash from your 401(k) might not be the best call.)

If this person cashed out $20,000 from their 401(k), they would have to pay a 10% penalty of $2,000 right off the top. Then they’d need to pay federal income taxes at the highest end of their bracket, totaling $4,400. So even though this person took out $20,000 from their account, they actually receive just $13,600. Depending on their state, they might also pay state income taxes, let’s not get bogged down on that right now.

Now let’s assume they used that money to pay off $13,600 in student loans, which have a 5% interest rate and five years left on the loan. In this scenario, they would save roughly $1,798.93 in interest.

So essentially, this person would have incurred $6,400 in penalties and taxes in order to save $1,798.93 in interest. Plus, had they let that money stay invested in their 401(k) over the next five years, that $20,000 could have grown to more than $28,000, assuming a 7% average return. That’s why cashing out a 401(k) to pay off student loan debt might not be a great idea.

Borrowing from Your 401(k)

When you borrow money from your own 401(k), you are really borrowing from yourself. You are accessing your retirement funds and then paying them back, with interest, in an attempt to replenish your savings. So these loans don’t require a formal application or credit check.

Not all companies offer 401(k) loans, so it’s important to check with your employer to confirm if the option is available to you. (And for the record, you can’t take out a loan from an employer-sponsored 401(k) if you’re no longer with that employer.)

In addition to the rules determined by your employer, the IRS sets limits on 401(k) loans as well. The current maximum loan amount as determined by the IRS is 50% of your vested balance
or $50,000, whichever is less. If you have a balance of less than $10,000, you may be able to borrow up to $10,000.

The IRS also requires that the money borrowed from your 401(k) be paid back within five years based on a payment plan that is established when you borrow the money. There is an exception; if you buy a house with the money you withdraw, you may be able to extend the repayment plan.

If you don’t pay the loan back according to the terms, it’s considered defaulted and the balance may be treated as a distribution instead. That means you’d owe penalties and taxes on that amount for that year.

Note that if you change jobs, your 401(k) plan will roll over, but not your loan. If you leave your employer with an unpaid 401(k) balance, you’ll face an accelerated payment plan.

Interest rates are usually set by your plan administrator, and are relatively low compared to other financing options. It could be a viable option for those interested in securing a lower interest rate for their debt, but don’t qualify for student loan refinancing due to their credit history or other factors.

A 401(k) loan typically offers a relatively low interest rate and doesn’t require a credit check.

You may want to crunch some numbers and compare the interest rates on your student loans with the interest rate on a 401(k) loan before you commit to this course of action.

If your student loan interest rate is lower than the potential interest rate on your 401(k) loan, it could make sense to keep your retirement savings intact.

The other factor to consider is the missed growth on the money you borrow from your 401(k), which is why 401(k) loans could make more sense for high-interest debt such as personal loans or credit cards, but are typically less ideal for low-interest debt such as student loans or mortgages.

Hardship Withdrawals

While a hardship withdrawal won’t be an option if you are looking to pay off your student loans, it could be worth considering if you are planning on attending graduate school or are assisting a family member with their college education.

To qualify for a hardship withdrawal, you must meet certain criteria. You must prove your need is immediate and heavy. Tuition for the school year usually qualifies as immediate.

Student loan repayment wouldn’t qualify because they provide a repayment plan over a set period of time. You must also prove the expense is heavy. Usually, that means things like college tuition, a down payment on a primary residence, or a qualifying medical expense that is 10% or more of your adjusted gross income.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


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.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


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.

Tax Information: 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.

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Pros and Cons of Using Personal Loans to Pay Off Student Debt

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.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

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