How Does Inflation Affect Retirement?

How Does Inflation Affect Retirement?

For retirees on a fixed income, inflation can have a significant influence on their ability to maintain their budget. That’s because as inflation rises over time, that fixed income will lose value.

That could mean that retirees need to scale back their spending or even make drastic changes to ensure that they don’t run out of money. The average rate of inflation was 8% in 2022, the highest inflation rate in 40 years. By January 2024, the inflation rate had dropped to 3.1%.

When it comes to their retirement money, 90% of Americans ages 60 to 65 say inflation is their biggest concern, according to a 2023 survey by Nationwide. However, by planning ahead, it is possible to minimize some of the impact of inflation on your nest egg.

Read on to learn more about inflation and retirement and what you can do to help protect your savings.

What Is Inflation?

Inflation is the rate at which prices of goods and services increase in an economy over a period of time. This can include daily costs of living such as gas for your car, groceries, home expenses, medical care, and transportation. Inflation may occur in specific segments of the economy or across all segments at once.

There are multiple causes for inflation but economists typically recognize that inflation occurs when demand for goods and services exceeds supply. In an expanding economy where more consumers are spending more money, there tends to be higher demand for products or services which can exceed its supply, putting upward pressure on prices.

When inflation increases, the purchasing power of money, or its value, decreases. This means as the price of things in the economy goes up, the number of units of goods or services consumers can buy goes down.

How does inflation affect retirement? When purchasing power declines, the value of your savings and investments goes down. While the dollar amount does not change, the amount of goods or services those dollars can buy falls. In retirement, inflation can be especially harmful, since retirees typically don’t have an income that goes up over time.

Concerns about inflation and retirement may even push back the age at which some people think they can afford to retire.

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5 Ways that Could Potentially Minimize the Impact of Inflation on Retirement

While inflation can seem like a challenging or even scary part of retirement, there are several investment opportunities that may help you maintain purchasing power and reduce the risk of inflation.

1. Invest in the Stock Market

Investing in stocks is one way to potentially fight inflation. A diversified portfolio that includes equities may generate long-term returns that are higher than long-term inflation. While past performance does not guarantee future returns, over the past 10 years, the average annualized return for the S&P 500 has been 12.39%. Even when inflation is factored in, investors still have substantial returns when investing in stocks. When adjusted for inflation, the average annualized return over the past 10 years is 9.48%.

However, stocks are risk assets, which means they are sensitive to market volatility. These price swings may not feel comfortable to investors who are in retirement so retirees tend to allocate a smaller portion of their portfolio to stocks to help manage market risk.

How much you may decide to allocate to stocks depends on a number of factors such as your risk tolerance and other sources of income.

2. Use Tax-Advantaged Retirement Vehicles

To maximize the amount of savings you have by the time you reach retirement, start investing as early as you can in young adulthood in retirement accounts such as employer-sponsored 401(k)s or Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA). The more time your money has to grow, the better.

With 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, the money in them grows tax-deferred; you pay income tax on withdrawals in retirement, when you might be in a lower tax bracket than you were during your working years.

Another option is a Roth IRA. With this type of IRA, you pay taxes on the money you contribute, and then you can withdraw it tax-free in retirement.

Recommended: How to Open an IRA

3. Do Not Over-Allocate Long-Term Investments With a Low Rate of Return

Risk averse investors may be tempted to keep their nest egg invested in securities that are not subject to major price swings, or even to keep their money in a savings account. However, theoretically, the lower the risk investors take, the lower the reward may be. When factoring in fees and inflation, ultra-conservative investments may only break even or perhaps lose value over time.

While they offer a guaranteed return, high-yield savings accounts, for example, typically don’t earn enough interest to beat inflation in the long run. Since savings account rates are not higher than inflation rates, the buying power of your savings will continue to decline. That’s particularly important for retirees who are often living off their savings and investments, rather than off of an income that rises with inflation.

Because of this, retirees may want to consider keeping a portion of their investments in the stock market.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re opening a brokerage account for the first time, consider starting with an amount of money you’re prepared to lose. Investing always includes the risk of loss, and until you’ve gained some experience, it’s probably wise to start small.

4. Make Sure You Understand Inflation-Protected Securities

Treasury inflation-protected securities or TIPS, which are backed by the federal government, are designed to help protect investments against inflation. The principal value of the investment increases when inflation goes up and if there’s deflation, the principal adjusts lower per the Consumer Price Index.

However, for some investors, TIPS may have disadvantages. TIPS typically pay lower interest rates than other government or corporate securities. That generally makes them less than ideal for individuals like retirees who are looking for investment income. Also, unless inflation is quite high, and unless they are held for the long-term, TIPS may not offer much inflation-protection. There are also potential tax consequences to consider when the bonds are sold or reach maturity.

Finally, because they are more sensitive to interest rate fluctuation than other bonds, if an investor sells TIPS before they reach maturity, that individual could potentially lose money depending on the interest rates at the time.

Be sure to carefully weigh all the pros and cons of TIPS to decide if they make sense for your portfolio.

5. Buy Real Estate or Invest in REITs

Retirees may also consider investing in real assets. Real estate is typically an inflation hedge because it holds intrinsic value. During periods of inflation, real estate may not only be able to preserve its value, but it might also increase in value. One of the daily costs impacted by inflation is the cost of housing.

That’s why rental income from real estate historically has kept up with inflation. Investing in real estate investment trusts (REITs), may be another way for retirees to diversify their investment portfolio, reduce volatility, and add to their fixed-income. Just be sure to understand the potential risks involved in these investments.

Inflation Calculator for Retirement

It’s important to factor inflation into your plans as you’re saving for retirement. One way to do that is using a retirement calculator, like this one from the Department of Labor, which accounts for how inflation will impact your purchasing power in the future. That calculator uses a 3% inflation rate for retirement planning, but inflation fluctuates and could be higher or lower in any given year.

The Takeaway

While inflation can have an impact on a retirement portfolio, there are ways to protect the purchasing power of your money over time. Allocating a portion of your portfolio to stocks and other investments aimed at minimizing the impact of inflation may help.

Another way to curb the impact of inflation during retirement is to reduce expenses, which allows the money that you have to go further.

And starting to save for retirement as early as possible could help you accrue the compounded returns necessary to counteract rising prices in the future.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

Is inflation good or bad for retirees?

A small amount of inflation each year is a normal part of the economic cycle. But over time, inflation eats away at the value of the dollar and purchasing power of your nest egg is diminished. This can have a negative effect on a retirement investment portfolio or savings.

How can I protect my retirement savings from inflation?

There are several Investing strategies you can use to protect retirement savings from inflation. These include diversifying your portfolio with inflation hedges including TIPS (treasury inflation-protected securities) and investments that typically provide a high rate of return. It’s important to keep saving for retirement even if you don’t have a 401(k).

Does your pension increase with inflation?

Some pensions have a cost of living adjustment on their monthly payments, so they increase over time. However, this is not the case for all pensions. When inflation increases this can affect your benefits.


Photo credit: iStock/RgStudio

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.

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.

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.

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.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

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INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
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What Is Compliance Testing for 401k?

What Is Compliance Testing for 401(k)?

To maintain the tax-advantages of a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan, employers must follow the rules established by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, including nondiscrimination testing.

401(k) compliance testing ensures that companies administer their 401(k) plans in a fair and equal manner that benefits all employees, rather than just executives and owners. In other words, a 401(k) plan can’t favor one group of employees over another.

Companies must test their plans yearly and address any compliance flaws surfaced by the tests. Often a third-party plan administrator or recordkeeper helps plan sponsors carry out the tests.

Understanding nondiscrimination tests for retirement plans is important both as an employer and as an employee.

401(k) Compliance Testing Explained

Compliance testing is a process that determines whether a company is fairly administering its 401(k) plan under ERISA rules. ERISA mandates nondiscrimination testing for retirement plans to demonstrate that they don’t favor highly compensated employees or key employees, such as company owners. 401(k) compliance testing is the responsibility of the company that offers the plan.

How 401(k) Compliance Testing Works

Companies apply three different compliance tests to the plan each year. These tests look at how much income employees defer into the plan, how much the employer 401(k) match adds up to, and what percentage of assets in the plan belong to key employees and highly compensated employees versus what belongs to non-highly compensated employees.

There are three nondiscrimination testing standards employers must apply to qualified retirement plans.

•   The Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) Test: Analyzes how much income employees defer into the plan

•   The Actual Contribution Percentage (ACP): Analyzes employers contributions to the plan on behalf of employees

•   Top-Heavy Test: Anayzes how participation by key employees compares to participation by other employees

The Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) Test

The Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) test counts elective deferrals of highly compensated employees and non-highly compensated employees. This includes both pre-tax and Roth deferrals but not catch-up contributions made to the plan. This 401(k) compliance testing measures engagement in the plan based on how much of their salary each group defers into it on a yearly basis.

To run the test, employers average the deferral percentages of both highly compensated employees and non-highly compensated employees to determine the ADP for each group. Then the employer divides each plan participant’s elective deferrals by their compensation to get their Actual Deferral Ratio (ADR). The average ADR for all eligible employees of each group represents the ADP for that group.

A company passes the Actual Deferral Percentage test if the ADP for the eligible highly compensated employees doesn’t exceed the greater of:

•   125% of the ADP for the group of non-highly compensated employees

OR

•   The lesser of 200% of the ADP for the group of non-highly compensated employees or the ADP for those employees plus 2%

The Actual Contribution Percentage (ACP) Test

Plans that make matching contributions to their employees’ 401(k) must also administer the Actual Contribution Percentage (ACP) test. Companies calculate this the same way as the ADP test but they substitute each participant’s matching and after-tax contributions for elective deferrals when doing the math.

This test reveals how much the employer contributes to each participant’s plan as a percentage, based on their W-2 income. Companies pass the Actual Contribution Percentage test if the ACP for the eligible highly compensated employees doesn’t exceed the greater of:

•   125% of the ACP for the group of non-highly compensated employees

OR

•   The lesser of 200% of the ACP for the group of non-highly compensated employees or the ACP for those employees plus 2%

Companies may run both the ADP and ACP tests using prior year or current-year contributions.

Top-Heavy Test

The Top-Heavy test targets key employees within an organization who contribute to qualified retirement plans. The IRS defines a key employee as any current, former or deceased employee who at any time during the plan year was:

•   An officer making over $215,000 for 2023 and over $220,000 for 2024

•   A 5% owner of the business OR

•   An employee owning more than 1% of the business and making over $150,000 for the plan year

Anyone who doesn’t fit these standards is a non-key employee. Top-heavy ensures that lower-paid employees receive a minimum benefit if the plan is too top-heavy.

Under IRS rules, a plan is top heavy if on the last day of the prior plan year the total value of plan accounts for key employees is more than 60% of the total value of plan assets. If the plan is top heavy the employer must contribute up to 3% of compensation for all non-key employees still employed on the last day of the plan year. This is designed to bring plan assets back into a fair balance.

Boost your retirement contributions with a 1% match.

SoFi IRAs now get a 1% match on every dollar you deposit, up to the annual contribution limits. Open an account today and get started.


Only offers made via ACH are eligible for the match. ACATs, wires, and rollovers are not included.

Why 401(k) Compliance Testing Is Necessary

401(k) compliance testing ensures that investing for retirement is as fair as possible for all participants in the plan, and that the plan continues to receive favorable tax treatment from the IRS. The compliance testing rules prevent employers from favoring highly compensated employees or key employees over non-highly compensated employees and non-key employees.

If a company fails a 401(k) compliance test, then they have to remedy that under IRS rules or risk the plan losing its tax-advantaged status. This is a strong incentive to fix any issues with non-compliant plans as it can cost employers valuable tax benefits.

Nondiscrimination testing can help employers determine participation across different groups of their workers. It can also shed light on what employees are deferring each year, in accordance with annual 401k plan contribution limits.

Highly Compensated Employees

The IRS defines highly compensated employees for the purposes of ADP and ACP nondiscrimination tests. Someone is a highly compensated employee if they:

•   Owned more than 5% of the interest in the business at any time during the year or the preceding year, regardless of how much compensation they earned or received,

OR

•   Received compensation from the business of more than $150,000 in 2023 and $155,000 in 2024 or $135,000 (if the preceding is 2022) and was in the top 20% of employees when ranked by compensation

If an employee doesn’t meet at least one of these conditions, they’re considered non-highly compensated. This distinction is important when compliance testing 401(k) plans, as the categorization into can impact ADP and ACP testing outcomes.

Non-Highly Compensated Employees

Non-highly compensated employees are any employees who don’t meet the compensation or ownership tests, as established by the IRS for designated highly compensated employees. So in other words, a non-highly compensated employee would own less than 5% of the interest in the company or have compensation below the guidelines outlined above.

Again, it’s important to understand who is a non-highly compensated employee when applying nondiscrimination tests. Employers who misidentify their employees run the risk of falling out of 401(k) compliance. Likewise, as an employee, it’s important to understand which category you fall into and how that might affect the amount you’re able to contribute and/or receive in matching contributions each year.

💡 Quick Tip: Before opening an investment account, know your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. These fundamentals will help keep your strategy on track and with the aim of meeting your goals.

How to Fix a Non-Compliant 401(k)

The IRS offers solutions for employers who determine that their 401(k) is not compliant, based on the results of the ADP, ACP or Top-Heavy tests. When a plan fails the ADP or ACP test, the IRS recommends the following:

•   Refunding contributions made by highly compensated employees in order to bring average contribution rates in alignment with testing standards

•   Making qualified nonelective contributions on behalf of non-highly compensated employees in order to bring their average contributions up in order to pass test

Employers can also choose to do a combination of both to pass both the ADP and ACP tests. In the case of the Top-Heavy test, the employer must make qualified nonelective contributions of up to 3% of compensation for non-highly compensated employees.

Companies can also avoid future noncompliance issues by opting to make safe harbor contributions. Safe harbor plans do not have to conduct ADP and ACP testing, and they can also be exempt from the Top-Heavy test if they’re not profit sharing plans. Under safe harbor rules, employers can do one of the following:

•   Match each eligible employee’s contribution on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to 3% of the employee’s compensation and 50 cents on the dollar for contributions that exceed 3% but not 5% of their compensation.

•   Make a nonelective contribution equal to 3% of compensation to each eligible employee’s account.

Safe harbor rules can relieve some of the burden of yearly 401(k) testing while offering tax benefits to both employers and employees.

The Takeaway

A 401(k) is a key way for employees to help save for retirement and reach their retirement goals. It’s important for employers to conduct IRS-mandated 401(k) compliance testing in order to ensure that their 401(k) plans are administered in a fair and equal manner that benefits all employees.

If you don’t have a 401(k) at work, however, or you’re hoping to supplement your 401(k) savings, you may want to consider opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) to help save for retirement. Since IRAs are not employer-sponsored, they’re not subject to 401(k) compliance testing, though they do have to follow IRS rules regarding annual contribution limits and distributions.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Easily manage your retirement savings with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

What is top-heavy testing for 401(k)?

Top-heavy testing for 401(k) plans determine what percentage of plan assets are held by key employees versus non-key employees. If an employer’s plan fails the top-heavy test, they must make qualified, nonelective contributions on behalf of non-key employees in order to bring the plan into compliance.

What happens if you fail 401(k) testing?

If an employer-sponsored plan fails 401(k) compliance testing, the IRS requires the plan to make adjustments in order to become compliant. This can involve refunding contributions made by highly-compensated employees, making qualified nonelective contributions on behalf of non-highly compensated employees or a combination of the two.

What is a highly compensated employee for 401(k) purposes?

The IRS defines a highly compensated employee using two tests based on compensation and company ownership. An employee is highly compensated if they have a 5% or more ownership interest in the business or their income exceeds a specific limit for the year. Income limits are set by the IRS and updated periodically.


Photo credit: iStock/tumsasedgars

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

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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Paying Off Student Loans as a Single Parent

Almost one quarter of American children are being raised in a single-parent household, according to the US Census Bureau, Almost 80% are headed by single mothers.

As you might guess, single-parent households may have less financial resources than those with two parents. And if you’re trying to make ends meet for yourself and your child (or kids), it can be hard to stick to your student loan payment plan.

So how can you pay off your student loans as a single parent? This guide can help. You’ll learn about many of the options available. The information you’re about to read can help you make the best choice for handling student loans.

What Are Student Loans?

A student loan is money you borrow for educational expenses, which you must pay back with interest. Loans are unlike scholarships, which are “free money” that you don’t have to pay back.

There are two main types of student loans: federal and private loans.

•   Federal loans: Federal student loans are loans that you borrow from the federal government, or the Department of Education, to pay for college.

◦   Subsidized student loans are awarded on the basis of student need. The government absorbs some of the interest payments on the loan, making it a better deal for students. Typically, the borrower begins to pay these loans back after a six-month grace period post-graduation.

◦   Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, don’t involve the government shouldering some of the interest payments, and interest can begin to accrue while the student is in school.

•   Private loans: Private loans come from private organizations, such as banks or credit unions. Interest rates are often determined by creditworthiness, which can make them more or less affordable than federal loans depending on your situation.


💡 Quick Tip: Often, the main goal of student loan refinancing is to lower the interest rate on your student loans — federal and/or private — by taking out one loan with a new rate to replace your existing loans. Refinancing makes sense if you qualify for a lower rate and you don’t plan to use federal repayment programs or protections.

Student Loan Solutions for Single Parents

The most important thing to remember is that you have several options as a single parent when deciding how to handle student loans. Below, you’ll get details on parent loan forgiveness, deferral and forbearance, increasing your income, public assistance, scholarships, and refinancing your student loans.

This advice can also be helpful if you’re thinking about paying student loans and starting a family at the same time.

1. Single Parent Loan Forgiveness

While there’s no program that exists explicitly called “single parent student loan forgiveness,” there are some income-driven repayment (IDR) plan options. You won’t have to pay your remaining balance under all four plans if your loans aren’t fully repaid at the end of the indicated repayment period.

There are four different IDR plans (only for federal loans) you can apply for give you a monthly payment based on your income and family size:

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan: The new SAVE Plan considers your income and family size to determine your monthly payment. Your payments may be based on a smaller portion of your adjusted gross income (AGI) and are typically designed so that no one with an undergraduate loan has to pay more than 5% of their discretionary income towards their student debt. The government may cover the interest accrued monthly and can keep your balance from growing. The plan typically lasts 20 years for loans received for undergraduate study and 25 years for loans received for graduate or professional study.

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan: The PAYE Plan is a repayment plan with monthly payments about equal to 10% of your discretionary income, divided by 12. Typically, those who can use this plan will never pay more than the 10-year Standard Repayment amount. The term is usually 20 years with PAYE.

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: The IBR Plan is a repayment plan with monthly payments equal to about 15% or 10% (after July 1, 2014) of your discretionary income, divided by 12. With this plan, a student pays loans 20 years if they’re a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, or 25 years if they’re not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: You’ll pay for 25 years with the ICR Plan. The ICR Plan assigns monthly payments based on the lesser of:

◦   Your repayment plan payment with a fixed monthly payment over 12 years, adjusted based on your income, or

◦   Twenty percent of 20% of your discretionary income, divided by 12.

•   You may also take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which means that if you work for an eligible nonprofit or government organization, you may qualify the remaining balance on Direct Loans after 10 years — 120 monthly payments — under a repayment plan like the ones above for single mom student loan forgiveness.

On the topic of forgiveness, note that President Biden’s targeted student loan forgiveness plan was struck down by the US Supreme Court in June of 2023 and therefore does not offer an avenue to reduce student loan debt.

2. Student Loan Deferral and Forbearance

Single parents may consider applying for student loan forbearance or deferral, meaning that you temporarily qualify for a suspension of your loans. But what’s the difference between the two?

•   In deferment, interest doesn’t accrue on certain loans.

•   Interest does accrue on all loans during a forbearance.

It’s worth mentioning that forbearance changes went into effect in fall of 2023, after there had been a pause since March 2020, as the pandemic unfolded. Student loan interest accrual restarted on September 1, 2023, and payments were once again due starting on October 1, 2023.

In addition to economic hardship, single parents may be able to get a deferment for reasons related to:

•   Cancer treatment

•   Graduate fellowship programs or half-time school enrollment

•   Military service or post-active duty service

•   Parent PLUS borrower with a student enrolled in school

•   Rehabilitation training program

•   Unemployment.

Note that you can only apply deferral and forbearance toward federal student loans, not private student loans. Log in to the Federal Student Aid website to learn more about and apply for various plans under the Department of Education.

3. Increase Your Income

Single parents may consider adding to their income to help make student loan payments or to have extra income on hand. Beyond picking up extra hours at your current job or asking for a raise, you may want to consider picking up a side hustle, renting out an extra room in your house, going back to school to get a better job, or looking for a new job. There are myriad ways to increase your income, especially since you only have one income stream.

Also consider various ways to budget as a single parent.

4. Public Assistance

Public assistance may be one way to help you reserve a pool of money specifically to pay for necessities, including student loan payments.

Public assistance can come in many forms, including food benefits (SNAP, D-SNAP, and WIC for women, infants, and children), home benefits (rental, home buying, and home repair assistance programs), help with utility bills, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), health insurance, and disability benefits.

Every state has specific rules about who can qualify for various benefits. Learn more about benefits from your
state social service agencies.

5. Scholarships

If you’re thinking about returning to school as a single parent to increase your income, consider applying for scholarships. This free source of money for college keeps you from having to borrow money for college.

Where do scholarships come from? They can come from the college or institution where you plan to attend, clubs and organizations, your employer, and other sources. Also consider asking your current employer whether they can help you pay for college through educational benefits, such as an employee tuition reimbursement program.

6. Refinance Your Student Loans

When you refinance your student loans, you “repackage” your private and/or federal student loans with a private lender with the goal of lowering the interest rate or accessing a lower monthly payment via an extended repayment term. (Note that if you do extend the term of the loan, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan.)

Also note that you cannot refinance your student loans under the federal student loan program. If you do refinance with a private loan, you will forfeit benefits and protections of federal loans, like IDR payments. To qualify for the best refinance rates, you’ll typically need to have a solid credit history and stable income.

If you currently have private student loans or are thinking of refinancing, shop around to see what offers best suit your situation and your needs.

Helping Pay Student Loans for Single Parents

Certain websites highlight ways single parents can pay for education, including grants and scholarships. For instance, the website SingleMothersGrants.org mentions such resources as:

•   Soroptimist International

•   The Amber Foundation

•   Kickass Single Mom Grant from Wealthy Single Mommy

•   Idea Cafe

•   Halstead Grant

•   Wal-Mart Foundation’s Community Grant Program

•   The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Be cautious that you don’t fall prey to fake scholarships; sadly, they do exist. You should never have to pay money to enter a scholarship competition, for example. Nobody intentionally wades into the financial mistakes parents make, so do be wary when looking into ways to finance educational expenses and avoid scammers.

Refinancing Student Loans With SoFi

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.

FAQ

Do single moms qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Yes, single moms can qualify for student loan forgiveness through two main programs: Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and income-driven repayment programs. To find out if you qualify for either one of these programs, apply or contact your loan servicer directly for more information.

How do single moms pay off student loans?

If single moms can’t make their student loan payments, they can access various programs through the Federal Student Aid program for federal loans. They can also ask their private lender for more options available to them. Refinancing of both federal and existing student loans is also possible; just know that if you refinance a federal loan with a private loan, you forfeit federal benefits and protections. Also, if you extend the period of loan repayment when refinancing, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Is paying off a student loan considered a gift?

If someone else pays off your student loans, yes, it is considered a gift. This type of gift would churn out a gift tax for any gift above $17,000, the gift exclusion cutoff for 2023. In other words, both parents can contribute $34,000 per calendar year toward a child’s student loans without getting charged a gift tax.


Photo credit: iStock/Drazen Zigic

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.

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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Credit Hours: What Are They & What You Need to Know

Credit Hours: What Are They & Why They Matter

Credit hours are the building blocks of a college career. They measure progress, and define full- and part-time status and degree types such as bachelor’s and master’s. And these factors determine federal aid eligibility.

A credit hour is defined as one classroom hour and two hours of student work per week. Students who take 12 or more credit hours a semester are considered full-time. University semesters are a minimum of 15 weeks.

What Is a Credit Hour?

A credit hour is a system to measure college course loads. They were invented in 1906.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Carnegie Foundation created the credit hour system to determine how to give scholarship funds to colleges. However, it quickly became a useful tool for universities to measure higher ed programs and student progress. Nearly every U.S. university adopted the system within six years.

Credits are also key in accreditation, an evaluation process that ensures a college’s academic merit. It’s granted to universities that have met minimum credit requirements and other academic standards.


💡 Quick Tip: Pay down your student loans faster with SoFi reward points you earn along the way.

1 Credit Hour Is Equal to How Many Hours?

One credit hour is equal to one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and at least two hours of out of class student work per week. That means you can expect to spend three hours of work and classroom instruction per week in a one-credit course.

How Many Hours of Study Time per Credit Hour Online?

Credit hours are no different in-person than online, depending on the type of online course. There are two types: synchronous and asynchronous programs.

Synchronous programs are virtual classes that students can attend in real time. These courses may involve digital lectures, class discussions, presentations, and other styles of scheduled interactive learning. Students also work together outside of class, whether virtually or in-person. This type of program offers ease of access.

In asynchronous programs, students access pre-recorded classes and forums on their own time. Students in these programs set their own pace and manage coursework completion deadlines. Virtual attendance is not required and students may communicate with staff and their peers in board-style forums and email.

Synchronous programs have a similar structure to in-person college classes — and therefore have similar credit hour requirements. Some universities suggest more study hours for online credits. For instance, the University of North Carolina suggests four to five hours of study time each week per credit for a bachelor’s degree program.

Asynchronous programs, on the other hand, have more loosely defined requirements for credit courses. Students meet program requirements by fulfilling coursework needs on deadline.


💡 Quick Tip: Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too.

Credit Hour Calculator

To determine total time spent on classes in a semester, add the credits of all your courses. Multiply that number by two hours, or more depending on your university’s requirements. Then multiply that total with the weeks in a semester.

Courses can be one to six credit hours. Below is an example credit hour calculator chart to determine total hours spent on one or more credits. Rice University has a great example of a chart that converts credits to study time.

Credits

Study Hours Per Credit

Total Study and In-Person Hours Per Semester (15 Weeks)

1 2 Hours 45
3 6 Hours 135
12 24 Hours 540

How Many Credit Hours Do You Need to Graduate?

The credit hours you need depend on the degree type — but the federal minimum is the same for all. The range of credit hours required also varies by major, so be sure to check with your registrar that you have all the information you need.

Higher education programs include associate, bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctorate degrees. Depending on the degree, students can expect to complete around 30 to 120 credit hours.

Bachelor’s Degree Credit Hours

Bachelor’s degrees are generally 120 credits minimum and usually take four years to complete. Schools that operate on a quarterly basis (four terms a year), usually require 180 credits to graduate.

Students enrolled in a bachelor’s program complete core curriculum and various credit hour types: general education, major/minor, and elective credits.

General education courses are required courses for a degree. They often cover foundational subjects such math, English, and sciences. However, the core curriculum might vary by major. For instance, a student majoring in marketing might take intro economics courses, whereas an architect student may take intro art history courses.

Major and minor credit hours are classes related to a student’s field of study. They are categorized into lower- and upper-division credits. Students must complete lower-division courses in order to enroll in upper level courses. Internships may also be mandatory and are converted into credits (up to six).

Finally, bachelor’s programs require elective credits — courses unrelated to a student’s major and general requirements. Students sign up for courses out of interest or to complement their major.

Recommended: What Is the Difference Between BA and BS Degrees?

Master’s Degree Credit Hours

A master’s degree can range from 30 to 60 credits, and usually lasts two years. Students complete a thesis or project at the end of the program.

Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Business Administration (MBA) are common types of masters, but vary widely in credit requirements. MAs and MSs tend to be 30 credits, while MBAs can take up to 60 credits to complete.

How Many Credit Hours Does a Course Have?

As mentioned, a college class must be at least one hour of classroom instruction and two hours of student coursework per week — the federal minimum. Courses can range from one to six credits — but typically are three to four credits.

How Do Semester Credit Hours Influence GPA?

With credit hours and GPAs, the general rule is this: More credits are better.

Your weighted GPA point values determine your GPA — where the weights are the number of credits for each class. To determine your college GPA with credits, multiply your GPA Point Value with the course’s total credits. Then divide the GPA point value total by the credit total.

For example, if you score an A in your three-credit chemistry class, it has more impact on your overall GPA than the A in your one-credit photography class. Below is an example of the impact of an 18-credit semester and a 12-credit semester on GPAs.

Course

Grade

Credits

GPA Point Value

Quality Points

Chemistry A 3 4 12
Microeconomics A 3 4 12
Psychology B 1 3 3
Computer Science B 1 3 3
Photography B 1 3 3
English A 3 4 12
Total 12 45
Quality Points/Credits 3.75 GPA

If you score all As in your three-credit courses, but all Bs in your one-credit courses, you still walk away with a 3.75 GPA.

Course

Grade

Credits

GPA Point Value

Quality Points

Chemistry B 3 3 9
Microeconomics B 3 3 9
Psychology A 1 4 4
Computer Science A 1 4 4
Photography A 1 4 4
English B 3 3 9
Total 12 39
Quality Points/Credits 3.25 GPA

In contrast, if all your one-credit courses are As, and three-credit courses are Bs, you end up with a lower GPA. The weight of the courses’ credits impacts your GPA.

What Is the Cost per Credit Hour?

The average college credit costs $477 — or about $1,431 per 3-credit class, according to the Education Data Initiative. Private four-year universities charge $1,200 per credit, or $3,600 for a three-credit class. These averages exclude Cost of Attendance (COA) such as room and board, books, and daily living expenses.

University tuition inflation has an impact on figures too. In 1963, the cost per credit was $21 per credit hour, or $187 adjusted for inflation. That’s a 255% increase to today’s credit hour rate of $477!

Recommended: What Is the Average Cost of College Tuition?

Paying for College

Higher education is a substantial spend, so it’s worth researching ways to earn aid and cut costs.

Determine what your family is expected to cover, as measured by the Student Aid Index (SAI). Apply for scholarships and grants from your school, fill out the FAFSA®, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is used to determine federal aid, and look into cutting expenses like room and board.

Finally, look into undergraduate student loan options and understand the difference between private student loans vs federal student loan options. Federal loans often have lower interest rates, more flexible repayment plans, and offer subsidized loan options for students who demonstrate financial need. However, there is an annual borrowing maximum for students.

Private lenders offer competitive rates for qualifying borrowers. Repayment plans are generally determined by the individual lender. Unlike most federal student loans, private lenders will generally evaluate a borrower’s credit score and history, among other factors. Potential borrowers may be able to apply with a cosigner if they aren’t able to qualify for a private student loan on their own.

While private student loans can be a powerful tool to help fill financing gaps for college, they don’t always offer the same benefits as federal student loans, so are generally borrowed as a last-choice option.

Recommended: How to Pay for College

The Takeaway

Understanding how universities build programs with college credits will help you understand its cost. College credits define degree types, such as master’s and bachelor’s programs. The amount can also determine a student’s status and progress. Finally, these dictate the eligibility rules for federal and private lenders.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.


Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


Photo credit: iStock/asbe

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.


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.


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.

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.

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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Guide to Mortgage Relief Programs

Whether a layoff, inflation, or other bugaboo is causing you to struggle with your mortgage payments, life rafts are available.

Options for people who need mortgage relief include forbearance, loan modification, and refinancing. Here’s a closer look at each option.

What Are Mortgage Relief Programs?

Relief programs don’t magically make monthly mortgage payments disappear, but they can pause or lower those payments.

Through a perennial form of mortgage relief, mortgage forbearance, borrowers facing financial troubles may be able to defer or trim payments short term.

It’s important to know that if you even anticipate a problem making a payment, it would be smart to contact your mortgage servicer (the company you send your mortgage payments to) immediately to talk about your options.

Tardy payments damage credit scores, and late payments stay on a credit report for seven years.

Catching a Break Through Mortgage Relief

The remedies for mortgage payment anguish come in several forms.

Forbearance at Any Time

While pandemic-related laws that required lenders to provide mortgage forbearance relief to struggling homeowners expired in April 2023, many lenders offer forbearance programs to borrowers on a case-by-case basis. If you’re dealing with a short-term crisis, you can reach out to your lender and ask for mortgage forbearance, to temporarily pause or lower your mortgage payments.

Many lenders will ask for documentation to prove the hardship. They also will want to know whether the hardship is expected to last for six months or less or 12 months.

During forbearance, interest accrues and is added to the loan balance. All suspended or reduced payments will need to be paid back.

Refinancing

Homeowners coming out of forbearance may find that it’s a good time for a mortgage refinance, aiming for a lower rate and possibly different repayment term.

When choosing a mortgage term, know that the longer the term, the lower the payments, in general.

It’s generally thought that you should have at least 20% equity in your home to refinance. Your debt-to-income ratio and credit will be assessed if you apply.

There are two refi options for low- to moderate-income homeowners whose current mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae’s RefiNow and Freddie Mac’s Refi Possible are designed to help those homeowners get better mortgage rates and reduce upfront costs.

Someone with a VA loan can look into an interest rate reduction refinance loan, and an FHA loan borrower may look into an FHA Streamline Refinance or standard conventional refi.


💡 Quick Tip: Lowering your monthly payments with a mortgage refinance from SoFi can help you find money to pay down other debt, build your rainy-day fund, or put more into your 401(k).

Loan Modification

Homeowners who expect a permanent change in finances, or who are exiting forbearance but don’t qualify for refinancing, can ask for a loan modification.

Loan modification may result in a lower interest rate, a lower principal balance, an extension of the repayment term, or a combination.

You might have to prove the hardship to be approved.

Recommended: Loan Modification vs. Refinancing

Applying for Mortgage Relief

Again, when homeowners realize that they might have trouble making their monthly mortgage payment, they would be doing themselves a favor by contacting their loan servicer.

This applies to primary homes, multifamily property, and vacation homes.

Suffering in silence does no good. Working with your mortgage servicer could lead to one of the mortgage relief options described above or an agreement to try a short sale to avoid foreclosure.

A deed in lieu (an arrangement where you give your mortgage lender the deed to your home) is also sometimes used to avoid foreclosure.

Recommended: 6 Ways to Lower Your Mortgage Payment

What to Do During Forbearance

A homeowner in mortgage forbearance might want to keep track of the following:

•   Automatic payments. Any automatic payments or transfers to mortgage accounts should be paused by the borrower during the forbearance period. It’s unlikely the payments will be paused automatically, so it might be best to double-check.

•   Credit scores. On any loan, deferring payments shouldn’t affect credit scores, but homeowners might want to keep an eye on their scores in the event of an error.

•   Savings account. Now might be a good time to set aside any extra income to pay for the mortgage once forbearance ends.

•   Any changes to income. If a borrower’s income is restored during forbearance, they might need to contact their lender.

•   Property taxes and insurance payments. If homeowners insurance and taxes are paid through an escrow account, it should go into forbearance along with the mortgage. Homeowners who do not have an escrow account may be on the hook for those payments.

Homeowners interested in an extension of a forbearance period need to ask their mortgage servicer.


💡 Quick Tip: Generally, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better loan terms you’ll be offered. One way to improve your ratio is to increase your income (hello, side hustle!). Another way is to consolidate your debt and lower your monthly debt payments.

How to Repay Forbearance

Homeowners who received Covid hardship forbearance are not required to repay their paused payments in a lump sum when the forbearance period ends.

For those with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, options include a repayment plan with higher mortgage payments, putting the missed payments at the end of the loan, and a loan modification.

Borrowers with FHA loans can put the money owed into a no-interest lien that comes payable if they sell the home or refinance the mortgage. Or they can negotiate to lower their mortgage payments with a loan modification.

Options for USDA and VA loan repayment include adding the missed payments to the end of the loan, and loan modification.

In general, a homeowner can expect one of the following scenarios:

•   Repaying the forbearance amount in a lump sum.

•   An amount is added to the borrower’s monthly payment until the forbearance amount is repaid in full.

•   The forbearance amount is added to the end of the loan.

Recommended: Guide to Buying, Selling, and Updating Your Home

The Takeaway

Federal mortgage relief programs help homeowners who are experiencing hardship. General mortgage forbearance is possible during most any household setback. Refinancing could be an answer for some borrowers who are coming out of forbearance.

SoFi can help you save money when you refinance your mortgage. Plus, we make sure the process is as stress-free and transparent as possible. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates on a traditional mortgage refinance or cash-out refinance.

A new mortgage refinance could be a game changer for your finances.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


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.

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.

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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