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Should I Refinance My Federal Student Loans?

Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.

Refinancing federal student loans can either help you pay down your loans sooner (by shortening your term) or lower your monthly payment (by extending your term). However, when you refinance federal student loans with a private lender, you lose federal benefits and protections.

Refinancing is not a simple decision. Keep reading to learn more about federal student loan refinancing and whether or not it’s right for you.

What Is Federal Student Loan Refinancing?

If you graduated with student loans, you may have a combination of private and federal student loans. The latter are loans funded by the federal government. Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans are both examples of federal student loans.

Interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and set by the government annually. The current rate for the 2024-25 school year is 6.53% for undergraduate students. Private student loan rates are set by individual lenders. If you’re unhappy with your current interest rates, you may be able to refinance your student loans with a private lender and a new — ideally lower — interest rate.

Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

Can I Refinance My Federal Student Loans?

It is possible to refinance federal student loans with a private lender. However, you lose the benefits and protections that come with a federal loan, like income-based repayment plans and public service-based loan forgiveness. On the plus side, refinancing may allow you to pay less interest over the life of the loan and pay off your debt sooner.


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

How Are Refinancing and Consolidation Different?

Student loan consolidation and student loan refinancing are not the same thing, but it’s easy to confuse the two. In both cases, you’re signing different terms on a new loan to replace your old student loan(s).

Consolidation takes multiple federal student loans and bundles them together, allowing borrowers to repay with one monthly bill. Consolidation does not typically get you a lower interest rate (you’ll see why in the next paragraph). Refinancing, on the other hand, rolls your old federal and private loans into a new private loan with a different loan term and interest rate.

When you consolidate federal student loans through the Direct Consolidation Loan program, the resulting interest rate is the weighted average of the original loans’ rates, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent. This means you don’t usually save any money. If your monthly payment goes down, it’s usually the result of lengthening the loan term, and you’ll spend more on total interest in the long run.

When you refinance federal and/or private student loans, you’re given a new interest rate. That rate can be lower if you have a strong credit history, which can save you money. You may also choose to lower your monthly payments or shorten your payment term (but not both).

Recommended: Student Loan Consolidation vs Refinancing

What Are Potential Benefits of Refinancing Federal Student Loans?

Potential Savings in Interest

The main benefit is potential savings. If you refinance federal loans at a lower interest rate, you could save thousands over the life of the new loan.

Plus, you may be able to switch out your fixed-rate loan for a variable rate loan if that makes more financial sense for you (more on variable rates below).

Lower Monthly Payments

You can also lower your monthly payments. That typically means lengthening your term and paying more in interest overall. (Shortening your term usually results in higher monthly payments but more savings in total interest.)

Streamlining Repayments

Refinancing multiple loans into a single loan can help simplify the repayment process. Instead of multiple loan payments with potentially different servicers, refinancing allows you to combine them into a single monthly payment with one lender.

What Are Potential Disadvantages of Refinancing Federal Loans?

When you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you lose the benefits and protections that come with government-held student loans. Those benefits fall into three main categories:

Deferment / Forbearance

Most federal loans will allow borrowers to put payments on hold through deferment or forbearance when they are experiencing financial hardship. Student loan deferment allows you to pause subsidized loan payments without accruing interest, while unsubsidized loans will still accrue interest.

Student loan forbearance allows you to reduce or pause payments, but interest usually accrues during the forbearance period. Some private lenders do offer forbearance — check your lender’s policies before refinancing.

Special Repayment Plans

Federal loans offer extended, graduated, and income-driven repayment plans (such as Pay As You Earn, or PAYE), which allow you to make payments based on your discretionary income. It’s important to note that these plans typically cost more in total interest over the life of the loan. Private lenders do not offer these programs.

Another plan called REPAYE was phased out and replaced by the SAVE Plan, which promises to cut payments in half for low-income borrowers. According to the Department of Education, SAVE is the most affordable repayment plan, with some borrowers not having to make payments at all.

Student Loan Forgiveness

The Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden’s mass forgiveness plan for federal student loan borrowers. However, other loan forgiveness options are still available.

•   Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Teachers, firefighters, social workers, and other professionals who work for select government and nonprofit organizations may apply for this program. Changes made by the Biden Administration will make qualifying easier — even for borrowers who were previously rejected. Learn more in our guide to PSLF.

•   Teacher Loan Forgiveness. This program is available to full-time teachers who complete five consecutive years of teaching in a low-income school. Find out more in our Teacher Loan Forgiveness explainer.

•   Income-Based Repayment Plans. With some repayment plans, you may be eligible for forgiveness if your student loans aren’t paid off after 20 to 25 years (and in some cases under the new SAVE plan, after 10 years).

Private student loan holders are not eligible for these programs.

Potential Advantages of Refinancing Federal Student Loans

Potential Disadvantages Refinancing Federal Student Loans

Interest Rate. Opportunity to qualify for a lower interest rate, which may result in cost savings over the long term. Option to select variable rate, if preferable for individual financial circumstances. Loss of Deferment or Forbearance Options.These programs allow borrowers to temporarily pause their payments during periods of financial difficulty.
Adjustable Loan Term. Get a lower monthly payment, usually by extending the loan term, which could make loan payments easier to budget for, but may make the loan more expensive in the long term. Loss of Federal Repayment Plans.No longer eligible for special repayment plans, such as income-driven repayment plans.
Get a Single Monthly Payment.Combining existing loans into a new refinanced loan can help streamline monthly bills. Loan Forgiveness.Elimination from federal forgiveness programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

When Should You Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans Again?

You can refinance your student loans for a second time, and in fact, there is no limit to how many times you can refinance. Each time you refinance, you essentially take out a new loan to pay off the old one, ideally with better terms. However, it’s crucial to ensure that refinancing again is beneficial for your financial situation. Here are some key considerations:

Improved Financial Situation

•   Credit Score: If your credit score has improved, you may qualify for a lower interest rate.

•   Income: A higher or more stable income can make you eligible for better loan terms.

•   Debt-to-Income Ratio: A lower ratio can also help secure more favorable terms.

Market Conditions

•   Interest Rates: If market interest rates have decreased since your last refinancing, you might get a better rate.

•   Promotional Offers: Keep an eye out for new promotional rates or special offers from lenders.

Loan Terms

•   Shorter Terms: Refinancing to a shorter loan term can reduce the overall interest paid.

•   Extended Terms: If you need lower monthly payments, extending the loan term can provide relief, though it may increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan.

•   Consolidation: Refinancing multiple loans into one can simplify your payments and possibly offer better terms.

FAQs on Refinancing Your Federal Loans

Who Typically Chooses Federal Student Loan Refinancing?

Many borrowers who refinance have graduate student loans, since federal unsubsidized and Grad PLUS loans have historically offered less competitive rates than federal student loans for undergraduates.

In order to qualify for a lower interest rate, it’s helpful to show strong income and a history of managing credit responsibly, among other factors. The one thing many refinance borrowers have in common is a desire to save money.

Do I Need a High Credit Score to Refinance Federal Loans?

Generally speaking, the better your history of dealing with debt (illustrated by your credit score), the lower your new interest rate may be, regardless of the lender you choose. While many lenders look at credit scores as part of their analysis, however, it’s not the single defining factor. Underwriting criteria vary from lender to lender, which means it can pay to shop around.

For example, SoFi evaluates a number of factors, including employment and/or income, credit score, and financial history. Check here for current eligibility requirements.

Are There Any Fees Involved in Refinancing Federal Loans?

Fees vary and depend on the lender. That said, SoFi has no application or origination fees.


💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.

Should I Choose a Fixed or Variable Rate Loan?

Most federal loans are fixed-rate, meaning the interest rate stays the same over the life of the loan. When you apply to refinance, you may be given the option to choose a variable rate loan.

Here’s what you should know:

Fixed Rate Refinancing Loans Typically Have:

•   A rate that stays the same throughout the life of the loan

•   A higher rate than variable rate refinancing loans (at least at first)

•   Payments that stay the same over the life of the loan

Variable Rate Refinancing Loans Typically Have:

•   A rate that’s tied to an “index” rate, such as the prime rate

•   A lower initial rate than fixed rate refinancing loans

•   Payments and total interest costs that change based on interest rate changes

•   A cap, or maximum interest rate

Generally speaking, a variable rate loan can be a cost-saving option if you’re reasonably certain you can pay off the loan somewhat quickly. The more time it takes to pay down that debt, the more opportunity there is for the index rate to rise — taking your loan’s rate with it.

What Happens If I Lose My Job or Can’t Afford Loan Payments?

Some private lenders offer forbearance — the ability to put loans on hold — in cases of financial hardship. Policies vary by lender, so it’s best to learn what they are before you refinance. For policies on disability forbearance, it’s best to check with the lender directly, as this is often considered on a case-by-case basis.

Do Refinance Lenders Allow Cosigners / Cosigner Release?

Many private lenders do allow cosigners and some allow cosigner release options. SoFi allows cosigners, but no option for cosigner release for refinanced student loans. However, if you have a cosigner and your financial situation improves, you can apply to refinance the cosigned loan under your name alone.

The Takeaway

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.

https://www.sofi.com/signup/slr“>


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.

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.

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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What Is the Biweekly Money Saving Challenge?

What Is the Biweekly Money-Saving Challenge?

The biweekly money-saving challenge requires putting away cash for 26 weeks or every other week for one year. The amount you choose to save can vary based on your goals and comfort level. This method not only helps you accumulate savings, it also encourages you to develop consistent savings habits over time.

Types of Biweekly Money-Saving Challenges

If you’re paid bi-weekly, the biweekly money-savings challenge might suit your lifestyle best. It’s budget friendly, too. So if you have a little or a lot of change after bills, you can adjust this plan to meet your needs.

26-Week or Biweekly Savings Challenge

There are many versions of this challenge. You can start with a small savings amount, like $3 or $4. If you choose the first amount, put $3 away in savings the first week. Every two weeks, add an extra $3 to the last amount you put away. So, the first week, you’ll put away $3. The second week, $6. The third week, $9. At the end of the 26-week challenge, starting with $3, you’ll have $1,053 in savings.

Or you might prefer a fixed savings goal, like $5,000 or $10,000. If that’s you, put away between $193 to $385 every two weeks. You’ll end up with $5,018 or $10,010, respectively.

Need help monitoring your finances? A money tracker can help you keep tabs on your spending and your credit score.

How to Choose a Money-Saving Challenge

Choose a financial challenge that works with your budget and meets your goals. Setting goals and starting small can be a big win in many ways. It lays the building blocks for long-term savings habits that last over time.

Find a challenge that is budget-friendly. The amount you put away can be as little as a nickel on day one. If you have more change to spare, you can put away more money. Some challenges suggest multiple savings accounts or stashing cash. If you choose to open multiple accounts, keep in mind that interest-bearing accounts typically earn some returns, are FDIC-insured, and can be accessed for emergencies or planned expenses.

You might have specific financial goals, like an emergency or wedding fund. Or you might want to build a habit of saving. Whatever your goal, a challenge can help you commit to saving $500 to $15,000 in a set amount of time — and potentially build a good habit in the process.

Common Money-Saving Challenges

Money-saving challenges are smart saving strategies or smart spending strategies, depending on the process. They can show you how to save up money fast or how to save money, period.

And there’s no shortage of creativity. Google has about hundreds of thousands of pages worth of money-saving challenges. You can even try saving $2,023 in the 2024 money-saving challenge. Below is a list of money challenges to get you started.

100 Envelope Challenge

Number 100 envelopes from 1-100. Each day, put in the amount of cash listed on the envelope. By the end of 100 days, you’ll have $5,050 stashed away.

In a variation, 100 days can be broken down into 13 weeks for easier deposits. The last week is four days. Every other week, set aside the week’s total of savings. Below’s chart lays out the amounts:

Week

Amount

1 $28
2 $92
3 $156
4 $220
5 $284
6 $348
7 $412
8 $476
9 $540
10 $604
11 $668
12 $732
13 $490

Holiday Helper Fund

The holidays sneak up on us quicker than we think. If you’re planning your annual budget, set up an account or an envelope for gifts. Setting aside an extra fund for gifts, whether holiday, wedding, or general, keeps money out of sight and mind until you need it.

On the week of January 1, set aside $20 every week, or $40 every two weeks. By December 25th, you’ll have $1,040.

52-Week Savings Challenge

The concept is simple. You set aside $1 at week one. Then $2 at week two. By the end of 52 weeks, you’ll have saved $1,378. You can also start with $2 or $10 on week one, $4 or $20 on week two, and so on. You’ll end up with $2,756 for the $2 challenge or $13,780 for the $10 challenge.

Another variation keeps the weekly savings contribution a fixed amount, which can be particularly helpful for smaller budgets. For example, you can put away $10 a week to end up with $520 at the end of the challenge.

The No Spend Challenge

Brunching on Sunday? Maybe not if you’re on this plan.

Pick a week or weekend and spend money on only necessities during that time frame. It’ll give you a chance to be creative with your time on limited resources.

Instead of eating out, try a new recipe at home. Instead of grabbing a new pair of shoes, dig deeper into your closet. You set your own time limit, so you can try it until you notice a change in your accounts!

Cash Only for a Month Challenge

A 2024 Forbes Advisor survey found that people tend to spend more with plastic, if given the option. It even stimulates the part of your brain associated with reward, pleasure, and addiction.

A cash diet can help stave overspending. Leave your cards at home when you go out and bring the amount of cash you decide to spend. You can look at the categories in your budget where you tend to overspend, like entertainment or clothes, and set aside cash for those categories. You can only spend the cash allotted for those categories.

Recommended: Does Net Worth Include Home Equity

The 365-Day Nickel-Saving Challenge

If you have a nickel to spare, you can do this challenge. On day one, put a nickel in a jar. On day two, put in 10 cents in the jar. On the third day, add 15 cents. By day 365, you’ll be adding $18.40 — to a total of $3,339.75 in your savings. You won’t have to put away more than $20 in a day and $130 in a week for the entire challenge.

30-Day Budget Preparedness Challenge

It helps to have a map for where you’re going. The same is true with spending.

Challenge yourself to a budget. First, download a budget planner like a spreadsheet template or a budget planner app. Then, go through each category and add the amount you’d like to or must spend in each (such as housing, groceries, entertainment, etc).

Knowing how much to spend before you go out can help improve your planning and control your spending. For example, if you allocate $400 a month to groceries, you can plan it by spending $100 a week. If you don’t spend it all, you can put it in savings.

Money-Saving Challenge Potential Savings

Taking on one of these challenges can help you boost your savings anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

But goal-setting will help you determine how much you want to save. If it’s $20,000 in two years, try the bi-weekly savings challenge. If you want to have $1,000 in your account, shoot for the 52-Week Savings Challenge. It’s a fun, concrete way to start.

If spending less is your goal, a challenge can help you cut bad habits like overspending. Setting up a budget and spending cash (not plastic) can help. Some challenges can help function as a monitor if paying off debt is your goal.

Whatever your goal is, these challenges are practical journeys that can pay off.

The Takeaway

A money-saving challenge can be a fun way to build a savings account. It can motivate you to spend less and save more. It can be a concrete demonstration of how small change can add up.

One of the more popular ones is the biweekly money-saving challenge. You can put away an amount you can afford, like $4, and increase it by $4 each week. Or you can set a goal of $5,000 and aim to set aside about $193 each week. It’s an easy plan that can adapt to many situations.

Best of all, you come away with stronger budgeting skills, like saving and prioritizing debt payoffs. These skills could help you make more fiscally responsible decisions. That way, when life happens, you’ll be better prepared.

Take control of your finances with SoFi. With our financial insights and credit score monitoring tools, you can view all of your accounts in one convenient dashboard. From there, you can see your various balances, spending breakdowns, and credit score. Plus you can easily set up budgets and discover valuable financial insights — all at no cost.

See exactly how your money comes and goes at a glance.

FAQ

What is the 100 envelope challenge?

This is a popular 100-day challenge. Number 100 envelopes 1-100. For each day, add the amount of cash to the envelope’s number listed on it. For example, add $1 to the envelope labeled 1, $5 to the envelope labeled $5, and so forth. By the end of the challenge, you’ll end up with $5,050.

What is the most popular money-saving challenge in 2024?

There is no top biller for popular money-saving challenges, but the 52-Week Savings challenge is mentioned across many results in a Google search.

How much money do you save with the 52-week challenge?

If you follow the original plan of starting with $1 on week one, then $2 on week two, $3 on week three, and so forth, you’ll end up with $1,378. Other variations involve changing the starting amount. For instance, you can start with $5 on week one, $10 on week two, until you have $6,890 put away.


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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.

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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What Are the Consequences of Not Saving Money?

What Are the Consequences of Not Saving Money?

Many Americans struggle to save money, but it’s generally worth the effort to do so since there can be serious downsides to not stashing away cash. Those consequences can range from going into debt, facing financial hardship after losing your job, and not being able to achieve your aspirations, like homeownership.

There are a variety of strategies that may be helpful in saving more money, and it may be useful to put together a simple budget and set some savings goals. If all else fails, you may even want to consult with a financial professional, because neglecting to save can lead to some undesired outcomes, as noted.

The Importance of Saving Money

To help you get motivated to put money in the bank, here are a dozen dangers or potential consequences related to not saving money. They may help you understand why it’s best to put away cash and motivate you to tuck some into a savings account.

1. Going Into Debt

Without a savings cushion, any expense — from an unexpected car repair to paying for your child’s college education — can put you in debt. In addition, while credit cards and loans are convenient ways to afford more than your bank account, you pay more in the long run because of interest and loan fees.

Since debt often costs more than the actual expense, you can essentially save a considerable amount of money by plumping up your piggy bank. You can try easy ways to save, such as creating a simple budget or automating savings, to put aside a few dollars a month before you can spend it. These moves can ensure that you’ll be using savings instead of debt to pay for your upcoming expenses.


💡 Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more everyday? When you turn on Roundups, all of your debit card purchases are automatically rounded up to the next dollar and deposited into your online savings account.

2. Having a Social Life Can Be Nonexistent

Spending time with your friends and family are likely on the list of things you enjoy most in life. But a full social calendar may put you in a sticky financial situation if you haven’t saved anything. From movie dates to happy hours to ball games, these expenses can add up.

No matter your income level, how much money you save each paycheck can make the difference between having a nonexistent social life and a happening one.

3. Life Being More Stressful

Most Americans say money is a major stressor in their lives. When you think about it, failing to save can make you feel stuck or overwhelmed. Your personal, financial, and professional life can suffer because a lack of savings has cut off your options.

Achieving your goals, financial and otherwise, may be a struggle without savings to propel you forward. The importance of saving money goes beyond paying an unexpected bill; it can affect your daily quality of life.

4. Not Having the Money for an Emergency

You’ll find many articles, resources, and financial professionals advising you to set aside an emergency fund. Life is expensive and doesn’t always go as planned. So, saving in advance helps you manage life’s unexpected costs.

For example, building an emergency fund might be a better choice than splurging if you get a raise. You’ll thank yourself later when, say, your furnace goes out or you wind up with a major medical bill. Typically, money experts recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of basic expenses salted away in an emergency or rainy day fund.

5. Not Being Able to Celebrate Events

Life can be full of amazing milestones like getting married, starting a family, or graduating from college. Unfortunately, celebrating these life events with your family often takes substantial cash. Not being able to recognize these events the way you’d like to is another one of the many dangers of not saving money. The lack of a financial cushion could also lead you to skip, say, a friend’s destination wedding.

Although you could put your celebration on your credit card, you run the risk of going into debt. This will likely cost more over the long run since you have to pay for interest. In other words, you might still be paying it off for years to come.

Earn up to 4.60% APY with a high-yield savings account from SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings account and earn up to 4.60% APY - with no minimum balance and no account fees.


6. Not Having a Viable Option if You Are Fired

No one plans on getting fired; however, it’s always possible to lose your job unexpectedly. Financial emergencies like this are an important reason to save. Saving can give you security during this kind of a crisis. If you don’t have some cash available, you might have to look into financially downsizing.

This underscores the importance of saving money from your salary when you are employed. You might consider having a small amount automatically transferred from your checking account into savings on payday.

As mentioned above, you should save at least three months of your expenses in an emergency fund. This way, you can have a solid safety net if you get laid off or are temporarily disabled and can’t work for an extended period.


💡 Quick Tip: Want to save more, spend smarter? Let your bank manage the basics. It’s surprisingly easy, and secure, when you open an online bank account.

7. Not Having an Inheritance for Your Children

If you’re a parent or plan to be one, you likely want to give your kids a leg up in life. An inheritance can help your children or heirs to build their nest eggs and meet life’s expenses without stress.

Having both savings and an estate plan can be a lasting, life-changing gift to those who matter to you most. These assets can serve to eliminate the possibility of financial legal challenges for your family. That said, being unable to leave a legacy is a consequence of not saving money.

8. Not Being Able to Buy a Home

Many people hope to buy a home one day, but you’ll probably need some cash saved up to initiate the purchase.

In many cases, you may need a 20% down payment to qualify for most conventional mortgages. Buying a home also usually involves other expenses, such as closing costs, repairs, moving costs, and more. Not having savings can make it almost impossible to afford the home of your dreams.

9. Not Being Able to Go on Vacation

Without savings, it’s challenging or even sometimes impossible to take time off for some rest. When you don’t set money aside, you can get sucked into the never-ending cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Since you need to work to support yourself, vacations may become less frequent or disappear altogether.

While you may think you can put a vacation on credit, that can perpetuate the “can’t save” situation, because you’ll have debt to wrangle. You could wind up coming home from your getaway to face more bills.

10. Not Having Much Financial Freedom

One of the most potent limiting factors in life can be a lack of savings. With a robust bank account to fall back on, you increase your options and flexibility. Moving to a city or state with more opportunity, taking a professional course or college classes, and starting a business can all be possibilities if you’ve saved money.

Of course money can’t solve every problem life throws at you. However, it is a powerful tool that allows you to access opportunities. Remembering this can help you get serious about saving money.

11. Not Being Able to Invest

If you aren’t able to save money, you likely won’t be able to invest those savings, either. Which means potentially missing out on market gains over time (the market tends to go up over time, though it is volatile over the short-term).

There are different levels of risk, of course, when you decide to invest your money rather than keeping it in a savings account, but the main point is that if you can’t manage to save, you may also have a hard time managing to invest. That could mean that your money’s growth potential is stunted, and may delay you in reaching your financial goals.

12. Not Being Able to Help Others

When someone is in financial need, lending money can help them get back on their feet. Whether it’s through providing a micro-loan, donating to a charity, or contributing to a scholarship, you can make a difference in the lives of others no matter how much you give.

But, if you don’t have savings, you may not be able to afford a helping hand.

Why Saving Money Is Very Important

Since money touches almost every area of your life, saving it for what matters most can be essential. Reining in your spending habits can be hard, no doubt, but the payoff quite literally is being able to afford your needs and your goals.

​​Online Banking With SoFi

Reaching your financial goals will likely depend, in large part, on your ability to save your money. While this can be difficult in the moment (saying no to splurges, for instance), it can set you up for years of financial wellness.

Whether you want to be able to celebrate big moments with friends, start your own business, own a home, or take a major vacation, saving money can help put you on the right path.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Can I get by without saving money?

While it’s possible to get by without savings, there may come a day when you run into an unexpected expense that causes financial hardship. If you live paycheck to paycheck without an emergency fund, an unforeseen cost could set you back and make it challenging to recover.

Is debt inevitable if you do not save?

Without savings to fall back on, it’s quite possible to go into debt when unforeseen expenses arise. Contributing to a savings account, even a small amount monthly, can make unexpected costs more manageable so you can sidestep debt.

When is the best time to start saving?

It’s best to start saving now to give yourself time to build a cushion. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere. Even if you can only save $20 per month, your future self will likely thank you.


Photo credit: iStock/nicoletaionescu

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


*Awards or rankings from NerdWallet are not indicative of future success or results. This award and its ratings are independently determined and awarded by their respective publications.

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Guide to Shared Branch Credit Unions

Guide to Shared Branch Credit Unions

Shared branch credit unions allow members to access banking products and services at other credit union branches that belong to a wider network. Joining a shared branch credit union can make managing your financial accounts more convenient if you live, work, or study in an area where your home credit union doesn’t have branches.

The types of transactions that can be carried out via shared branching are typically the same as those allowed by the home branch. There are, however, a few things you may not be able to do, so here’s a closer look.

What Is Shared Branching?

Shared branching is the practice of allowing members of one credit union to carry out financial activities at branches of other credit unions that are all located within the same branch network.

Here’s one example: The Co-Op Shared Branch managed by Co-Op Solutions, for example, offers access to more than 5,600 shared branches in the U.S. and over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs. This can be very convenient in terms of being able to bank at a variety of locations.

As long as your home credit union, meaning the credit union where you maintain your accounts, is part of a shared branching network, then you can access your accounts at other credit unions within the network. You don’t need to be a member of multiple credit unions to benefit from this sharing system.

Shared branching is a significant departure from traditional banking. If you have checking and savings accounts at Chase Bank, for example, you likely wouldn’t be able to walk into a Bank of America and conduct business.

💡 Quick Tip: Make money easy. Enjoy the convenience of managing bills, deposits, and transfers from one online bank account with SoFi.

How Can I Use a Shared Branch?

To use a shared branch credit union, you first have to determine whether your home credit union belongs to a sharing network. Co-Op Solutions, for instance, simplifies this process. It offers a shared branch and ATM locator tool that you can use to find shared credit union branches near you.

Once you find a shared branch, you can visit in-person to manage your accounts. You’ll need to bring a form of photo identification to verify your identity. You may also need to provide your phone number and the last four digits of your Social Security number. And of course, you’ll need the name and account number for your home credit union.

Generally, you can use a shared branch credit union much the same as your home credit union. That means you can use the ATM to make withdrawals or check account balances. If you need to make a deposit or complete other transactions, you can do those through a teller either inside the branch or at the drive-thru.

What Can Members Do at a Shared Branch?

For the most part, shared branch credit unions allow you to carry out the same range of transactions as you would at your home branch. If you’re not sure what a particular shared branch credit union allows, you may be able to find a list of services on the credit union’s website.

Here are some of the most important transactions you can complete via shared branching.

Deposits and Withdrawals

Credit union members can deposit funds to their accounts and make withdrawals through a shared branch credit union. That’s convenient if you need to deposit cash or withdraw money from your accounts. You may also choose to make deposits in-person if you’re concerned about mobile deposit processing times. (And if you’re wondering about whether mobile deposits are safe, the answer is typically yes.)

Transfer Money Between Accounts

Shared branching also allows members to move money between accounts. For example, you may want to shift some of your savings to checking or to a money market account at your credit union.

Can you move money from one bank to another via shared branching? Yes, if you have accounts at more than one credit union. If you need to transfer money from your credit union to a financial institution that’s not part of a shared branch network, then you’ll need to link the external account to schedule an ACH transfer or wire transfer.

If you need to send funds overseas, keep in mind that not all credit unions participate in the SWIFT banking system, which is used to facilitate international wire transfers.

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Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


Make Loan Payments

Credit union members can make payments to auto loans, personal loans, mortgages, and other loans through shared branches. You’ll need the loan number to make your payment. Being able to pay through a shared branch credit union could help you to avoid missed due dates.

What Can Members Not Do at a Shared Branch?

While shared branch credit unions allow for flexibility, there are some things members cannot do. If you belong to a shared branch credit union network, here are some of the things that are typically prohibited.

Open a Bank Account

If you’re visiting a co-op shared branch credit union, you can’t open a new account with your home credit union. Instead, you’d need to go to one of your home credit union’s branches or visit the credit union’s website to open the accounts. Of course, you could ask how to open a business bank account or personal bank account options at the shared branch if you’re interested in being a member of that credit union.

Access Deposited Funds Immediately

Just like banks, credit unions process transactions according to a set schedule. When you deposit money at a shared branch credit union, you can’t expect to be able to withdraw it right away. The deposit hold time or processing time can vary by the credit union. You may be able to expedite processing if the credit union allows it, but you may pay a fee for that.

Withdraw an Unlimited Amount of Money

Shared branch credit unions can impose limits on the amount of money members can withdraw each day. For example, members of the Co-Op Solutions Shared Branch Network are typically limited to no more than $620 per day in withdrawals from their ATM network. That limit may be higher or lower than the limit imposed by your home credit union.

Open an Individual Retirement Account

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) offer a tax-advantaged way to save money for retirement. Credit unions can offer IRAs to savers, though you typically cannot open one through a shared branch. Instead, you’ll need to go to your home credit union to open an IRA either in-person or online.

Benefits of Shared Branching

If you prefer credit unions to traditional banks, then belonging to a shared branch credit union can offer some advantages. Remember, you don’t have to do anything special to enjoy the benefits of shared branching, other than belonging to a credit union that’s part of a sharing network. You don’t have to open multiple bank accounts to have privileges at more locations.

Convenience

Shared branch credit unions make it convenient to access your money wherever you are, as long as there’s a shared branch location nearby. So whether you’re traveling for business, taking a family vacation, or planning a move, you don’t have to worry about leaving your credit union accounts behind.

Flexibility

Doing business at a shared branch credit union allows for flexibility since you can do most of the things you’d be able to do at your home branch. Again, the main things you wouldn’t be able to do include opening new checking or savings accounts, opening an IRA, or applying for a loan. You’d only be able to do those things if you also choose to become a member of the shared branch credit union.

Avoid Fees

Banks make revenue by charging fees for the services they provide. Being part of a shared credit union may help you avoid some fees. If you use a shared-branch credit-union ATM network while you’re traveling, you may be able to avoid out-of-network ATM surcharges. While shared branch credit unions may charge fees for certain services, others may be provided free of charge.

Drawbacks of Shared Branching

While shared branching does have some advantages, there are some potential downsides to consider. Here are some of the main cons of using shared branch credit unions.

Availability

Credit unions are not obligated to join a shared branch network. If your home credit union isn’t part of a sharing network, then you’ll be limited to using only that credit union’s branches. That could make managing your accounts more challenging if you regularly travel for business, school, or pleasure.

(However, many people today are used to banking without brick-and-mortar locations, which is a key difference between online banking versus traditional banking. This availability issue may not be a big concern to some who do their money management online or via an app.)

Withdrawal Limits

As mentioned, credit unions that are part of the Co-Op Solutions network can limit your withdrawals. If you need to withdraw a larger amount in cash than is permitted, you’d need to find a branch of your credit union to do so, assuming your credit union has a higher daily cash withdrawal limit.

Use Limitations

Shared branch credit unions can be used to do quite a few things, but they’re not all-encompassing. There are some transactions that you’ll only be able to do at your credit union’s branch or via the credit union’s website or mobile app.

The Takeaway

Deciding where to keep your money matters. Shared branch credit unions can make banking easier. With shared branches, you don’t have to be limited to a certain geographic area when managing bank accounts in person or via ATM. You can avoid fees by being part of a large network of connected credit unions. While there are some drawbacks, the benefits of convenience and cheaper banking costs can be very appealing to some consumers.

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for online banking and its associated benefits.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Should I join a credit union or a bank branch?

It depends on your needs. Joining a credit union could make sense if you’re looking for lower interest rates on loans and fewer fees, provided you meet the credit union’s requirements to join. If you do choose to join a credit union for those benefits, you can still open an account at a traditional or online bank and enjoy the benefits those offer.

Is it good to be part of a credit union?

Credit union membership can offer certain perks that you may not always get at a bank. For example, credit unions may charge lower interest rates for loans while offering higher interest rates on deposit accounts. You may also be able to get access to discount programs and other special incentives for being a member.

Can I withdraw money from any bank branch?

You can withdraw money from any branch of your bank, either by seeing a teller or using the ATM to access your accounts. However, you wouldn’t be able to walk into a branch of Bank A to withdraw cash from accounts held at Bank B.


Photo credit: iStock/Marco VDM

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


*Awards or rankings from NerdWallet are not indicative of future success or results. This award and its ratings are independently determined and awarded by their respective publications.

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.

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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Tips for Paying Off Outstanding Debt

A car loan, a mortgage, student loans, credit cards. It might feel like a dark debt cloud is looming over you sometimes. If you carry some debt on your personal balance sheet, you’re not alone.

Total household debt in the U.S. rose to $17.69 trillion in the first quarter of 2024, according to the latest statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.That includes everything from mortgages to credit cards to student loans. We’re a heavily indebted nation, and for some, it may take a psychological toll. If that’s you, here’s the comforting news: There are some tried-and-true strategies for paying back outstanding debt.

What Is Considered Outstanding Debt?

Outstanding debt refers to any balance on a debt that has yet to be paid in full. It is money that is owed to a bank or other creditor.

When calculating debt that’s outstanding, you simply add all debt balances together. This could include credit cards, student loans, mortgage loans, payday loans, personal loans, home equity lines of credit, auto loans, and others. You should be able to find outstanding balance information on your statements.

How to Find Outstanding Debt

When paying off outstanding debt, you first might need to track it all down.

As you move throughout the debt payoff journey, you may find it helpful to start a file for your statements and correspondence. Also, you could create a list or input information into a spreadsheet. Organizing your information is necessary for building a debt payoff strategy.

It can be a good idea to build a list of all debts with the most useful information, such as the outstanding balance, the interest rate, the monthly payment, the type of debt, and the creditor. If you have an installment loan, such as a personal loan, the principal amount of the loan is another helpful piece of information.

What if I Can’t Find All My Outstanding Debts?

If you feel as though you’ve lost track of some debts, you may want to start by requesting a credit report from at least one of the three major reporting agencies, Experian®, TransUnion®, or Equifax®. You are legally entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies per week. It’s easy to request a credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.

A credit report includes information about each account that has been reported to that particular agency, including the name of the creditor and the outstanding debt balance.

It is possible that some outstanding debts may have been sold to a collection agency. The name of the original creditor may be included on the credit report. If that is not the case, you may need to investigate further.

Some outstanding debts may not appear on a credit report. Creditors are not required to report to the agencies, but most major creditors do. That said, a creditor could choose to report to none, one, two, or all three of the agencies. If you’re in information-collecting mode, you may want to consider requesting reports from more than one agency, or all three.

Outstanding Debt Amounts

Aside from how a debt is structured — revolving or installment debt — it can also be thought of as “good” debt or “bad” debt.

Generally, if borrowing money (and thus incurring debt) enhances your net worth, it’s considered good debt. A mortgage is one example of this. Even though you might incur debt to purchase a home, the value of the home will likely increase. As it does, and as you pay down the mortgage balance, your net worth has the potential to increase.

Bad debt, on the other hand, is debt taken on to purchase something that will depreciate, or lose value, over time. Going into debt to purchase consumer goods, such as cars or clothing, will not enhance your net worth.

Each person has a unique financial situation, level of comfort with debt, and ability to repay debt. What one person may be able to justify may be completely unacceptable to another.

How Does an Outstanding Debt Impact Your Credit

One thing lenders may consider during loan processing is the applicant’s debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which compares how much you owe each month to how much you earn. Lenders will often look at this number to determine their potential risk of lending. Different lenders have different stipulations about this ratio, so asking a potential lender about theirs is a good idea.

Calculating DTI is done by dividing monthly debt payments by gross monthly income.

•   Monthly debt payments can include rent or mortgage payment, homeowners association fee, car payment, student loan payment, and other monthly payments. (Typically, monthly expenses such as utilities, food, or auto expenses other than a car loan payment are not included in this calculation.)

•   Gross income is the amount of money you earn before taxes and other deductions are taken out of your paycheck.

Someone with monthly debt payments of $1,000 and a gross monthly income of $4,000 would have a DTI of 25% ($1,000 divided by $4,000 is 25%).

Generally, a DTI of 35% or less is considered a healthy balance of debt to income.

Should I Pay Down Outstanding Debt?

Barring extenuating circumstances, it’s a good idea to make regular, consistent payments on your debt. Whether or not you decide to pay the debt back on an expedited schedule is up to you.

Some may not feel the need to aggressively tackle their outstanding debt. They may be just fine to continue paying off a balance until the loan’s maturity date. This may apply to people with manageable debt payments, those who have debts with lower interest rates, or those focusing on other financial goals.

For example, someone with a low-interest-rate mortgage loan may not feel the need to pay it down faster than the agreed-upon schedule. So they continue to make regular, scheduled payments that make up a manageable percentage of their monthly budget. Therefore, they are able to work on other financial goals in tandem, such as saving for retirement or starting a fund for a child’s college.

Other scenarios may call for a more aggressive strategy to pay down debt. Some reasons to consider an expedited plan:

•   Your debt levels, and therefore monthly payments, feel unmanageable.

•   You’re carrying debts with higher interest rates, like credit cards.

•   You want to avoid missed payments and added fees.

•   You simply want to have zero debt.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that carrying a large debt load could negatively affect your credit. One factor in a credit score calculation is the ratio between outstanding debt balances and available credit on revolving debt, like a credit card — the credit utilization rate.

Using no more than 30% of your available credit is recommended. So, if a person has a $5,000 credit limit on a card, that would mean using no more than $1,500 at any given time throughout the month. Using more could result in a ding on their credit score.

Carrying debt also means paying interest. While some interest may not be avoidable, it’s generally a sound financial strategy to pay as little in interest as possible.

Credit cards tend to have some of the highest interest rates on unsecured debt. The average interest rate on a credit card is 27.65%, as of June 6, 2024. With high rates, it’s worth seriously considering paring back debt balances.

Outstanding Debt Management Strategies

The next step is to pick a debt reduction plan.

Two popular strategies for paying off debt are called the debt snowball and the debt avalanche. Both ask that you isolate one source of debt to focus on first.

Simply put, you’ll make extra payments or payments larger than the minimum monthly payment on that debt until the outstanding balance is eliminated. You’ll continue making the minimum monthly payment on all your other debts.

Debt Snowball

A debt snowball payoff plan involves listing all of your debt in order of size, from smallest to largest, ignoring interest rate. You then put extra funds towards the debt with the smallest balance, while making the minimum required payments on the rest. Once that debt is paid off, you put extra money towards the next-smallest debt, and so on.

The idea here is that there’s a psychological boost when a card is paid off, so it makes sense to go after the smallest first. That way, when a person works up to the card with the next highest balance, they can focus singularly on it, without a bunch of annoying, smaller payments getting in the way of the ultimate goal.

It’s called a snowball because the strategy starts small, gaining momentum as it goes.

Debt Avalanche

Alternatively, the debt avalanche method starts by listing debt in order of interest rate, from highest to lowest. You then put extra money towards the debt with the highest interest rate. Because this source of debt costs the most to maintain, it is a natural place to focus. Once that debt is paid off, you focus your extra payments towards the debt with the next-highest interest rate.

The debt avalanche is the debt payoff strategy of choice for those who prefer to look at things from a purely mathematical standpoint. For example, if a person has one credit card with a 27% annual percentage rate (APR) and another with a 22% APR, they’d focus on that 27% card with any extra payments, no matter the balance.

Of course, it is also possible to modify these strategies to suit personal preferences and needs. For example, if one source of debt has a prepayment penalty, maybe it drops to the bottom of the list. If there’s a particular credit card you tend to overspend with, perhaps that’s a good one to focus on.

Outstanding Debt Payoff Methods

Once you decide on a strategy, whether it’s one discussed above or something that works better for your financial situation, you’ll need to figure out where the money will come from to pay down outstanding debt.

A good first step is to simply list your monthly income and expenses. If you find that you have enough money to begin making extra payments toward your outstanding debt balances, then you might choose to start right away.

Some people choose to keep a 30-day spending diary to get a clear picture of what they spend their money on. This can be a good way to pinpoint areas you might be able to cut back on to have more money to apply to outstanding debt.

If your existing budget is already tight and won’t accommodate extra payments, you might consider looking for some other financial strategies.

Increasing Income

Sometimes the answer is just to make more money. That could mean getting a part-time job or selling things you no longer need or want. You might also think about asking for a pay raise at your regular job.

Using Personal Savings

Tapping into money you’ve saved can be another way to pay down outstanding debt. Savings account interest rates, even high-yield savings accounts, generally pay much less interest than you’re paying on your outstanding debts. Keeping enough money in a savings account as an emergency fund is recommended, but if you have a surplus in your personal savings, putting that money toward your debt balances is a good way to make headway on outstanding debt.

Consolidating With a Credit Card

Using a credit card to pay off debt may seem like an unwise choice, but it can make sense in some situations. If your credit score is healthy enough to qualify for a credit card with a zero- or low-interest promotional rate, you might consider transferring a higher-rate balance to a card like this.

The benefit of this strategy is having a lower interest rate during the promotional period, potentially resulting in savings on the overall debt.

There are some drawbacks to transferring a balance in this way though. One is that promotional periods are limited, and if you don’t pay the balance in full during this period, the remaining debt will revert to the card’s regular rate. Also, it’s typical for a promotional-rate card to charge a balance transfer fee, which can range from 3% to 5%, or more, of the balance transferred. This fee will increase the amount you will have to repay.

Consolidating With a Personal Loan

Using one new loan to pay off multiple outstanding debt balances is another debt payoff method. A personal loan with a lower overall rate of interest and a straightforward repayment plan can be a good way to do this.

In addition to one fixed monthly payment, a personal loan provides another benefit — the balance cannot easily be increased, as with a credit card. It’s easy to swipe a credit card for an additional purchase, potentially undoing the progress you’ve made on your debt repayment plan.

To consolidate your outstanding debt with a personal loan, you might want to look around at different lenders to get a sense of what interest rates they might offer for you. Typically, lenders will provide a few options, including loans of different lengths.

The Takeaway

Outstanding debt can be a heavy burden. Many people owe large amounts of debt, but don’t know how to start making a dent in their balances. A good place to begin is by identifying your current income and expenses to see your overall financial picture. From there, you may decide to focus on paying down certain debts over others. You can then choose the best paydown method for your financial situation.

Ready to kick-start your debt payoff strategy? With low fixed interest rates on loans of $5K to $100K, a SoFi Personal Loan for credit card debt could substantially decrease your monthly bills.

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


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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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