How to evaluate your personal finances

How to Evaluate Your Personal Finances

We all want to improve our money-management habits, but sometimes the path on how to achieve this goal is a little unclear.

If someone is looking to take their financial health to the next level, they can follow these seven steps to gain control of their spending and money.

Tips for Evaluating Your Personal Finances

1. Determine Your Net Worth

A net worth gives an overarching view of someone’s personal finances. Sitting down and taking time to calculate their net worth each year can help consumers adjust their financial plans as needed. A net worth takes into account everything someone owns and everything that they owe.

To calculate a net worth, take out a pen and paper (or computer document) and make a list with two sides. On one side, they will list the assets that they own. On the other side, they will list liabilities or debts, which is what they owe. Then they’ll subtract their liabilities from their assets.

Assets can include money in savings, checking, investing, or retirement accounts; real estate like one’s home; cars; as well as stakes in businesses; or valuable personal goods like jewelry or art. Liabilities can include student loans, automobile debt, mortgages, or credit card balances.

If someone finds that their assets are greater than their liabilities, that means they have a “positive” net worth. On the flip side, if they owe more than they own, they have a “negative” net worth. If the net worth is negative, they shouldn’t feel bad. They just need to adjust their financial plans in a way that will help them work towards paying off debt and then working to build up more assets.

2. Plan a Budget

One way consumers can improve their financial health is by following a budget that takes their financial goals into account. A budget is a plan that someone can follow that will help determine how much money they spend each month.

Budgeting properly can lead to saving money each month to invest or put towards a large financial goal, like a down payment. A budget should illustrate how much someone makes and how they spend their money.

Budgets come in handy if someone needs help guiding how they spend their money. While some expenses are fixed — like rent — others can be tempting to overspend on — like entertainment, eating out or daily lattes — without a budget in place.

To create a budget, start by gathering all bills and pay stubs. Alternatively, there are now many mobile apps, such as SoFi Relay(R), which can keep track of your spending and income. Such apps can analyze your financial trends for you and will be easily accessible in your pocket always, but make sure to research the mobile app’s safety and security features since they’ll be holding your personal information.

Subtract any expenses from income to discover how much room if left in a budget. From there, it gets easier to determine what consistent expenses to cut and how much to spend on variable expenses (like clothing or travel). Don’t forget to budget for less visible expenses like saving for retirement, an emergency fund or paying down debt.

Recommended: Are you financially healthy? Take this 2 minute quiz.💊

3. Evaluate Housing Costs

After creating a budget, housing costs are likely top of mind since they tend to be one of our largest monthly expenses. Taking a hard look at how much your rent or mortgage payments are taking a bite out of your monthly budget can be helpful.

A general rule of thumb in personal finance is that you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of income on housing costs. This allows individuals to be able to afford other discretionary costs.

If someone is spending more than that on housing, they may want to consider finding a more affordable option so they can make room in their budget to pay down student loan debt or to work towards other financial goals.

4. Determine Your Debt to Income Ratio

Speaking of debt, determining a debt to income ratio can give consumers a better idea of their financial health. A debt-to-income ratio takes monthly debt payments and divides them by gross monthly income.

Lenders often use a debt-to-income ratio to determine if a borrower will be able to make their monthly payments. If someone is planning on buying a home or taking out an auto loan, they’ll want to keep their debt-to-income ratio on the lower side. Working debt payments into a budget is a good way to stay on track towards lowering this ratio.

5. Refine Your Investment Strategy

Investing can be intimidating, which is why it’s important to gain a clear understanding of how it can help you work towards financial goals in a comfortable way. Investing inherently carries some risky because there’s a chance of losing some money rather than simply saving money in an FDIC-insured savings account.

However, those who stash cash away in savings accounts should remember that the value of their money is actually depreciating due to inflation, the tendency for the price of goods to rise over time.

Investments like securities and mutual funds aren’t federally insured and losing the principal amount invested is possible. It’s also possible to profit off investments, and diversifying investments can help mitigate risk. By spreading investments across multiple assets, if one investment loses money it can sting a bit less because a more successful investment may very well make up for that loss.

Recommended: Why Portfolio Diversification Matters

Diversification can’t guarantee success and if the market drops as a whole, all of a consumer’s investments can suffer as a result, but it can improve the chances of not losing a lot of money or all of it at once.

6. Determine Your Risk Tolerance

To determine which saving and investment products are a good fit, consumers need to understand what their risk tolerance is. For example, if someone is young and has 35 years of working left before they retire, they may feel more comfortable making a riskier investment, such as stocks, that can lead to bigger gains down the road.

Those who are 60 may feel differently and may want to go for a safer bet, such as in the bond market. Generally, if someone is pursuing a short term goal, it’s better not to choose a risky investment as the chances of profiting during a short period of time are not gauranteed.

Consumers can familiarize themselves with their investment options to help determine which they’ll be most comfortable with. There are plenty of investment products to choose from like:

•  Stocks
•  Mutual funds
•  Corporate and municipal bonds
•  Annuities
•  Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
•  Money market funds
•  U.S. Treasury securities

Before making any type of investment, it’s also important to understand what kinds of fees are associated with holding the investment or buying or selling as part of the investment strategy (like when investing in the stock market).

Having a solid investing strategy can make it easier to save for retirement or college and to make hard earned money grow.

7. Set Financial Goals

Once someone has evaluated their personal finances, they’ll have the insight they need to set clear financial goals.

After considering what they want their money to help them achieve (pay for a wedding, vanquish credit card debt, retire early, etc.), they can create a financial plan for reaching those goals by listing their goals by which are most important to them.

They can then put together a timeline, like a monthly savings plan, that will help them meet those goals.

The Takeaway

From mortgages, tuition bills, utility costs to taxes, modern life throws at individuals all sorts of financial obligations that they need to juggle. This has made evaluating one’s personal finances to often be a tricky task.

Individuals can, however, wrestle control over their financial future by tracking spending habits, changing them if necessary, and making thoughtful, realistic budgets.

If overspending is getting in the way of reaching important financial goals, SoFi Relay can help make staying on track easier. Users can work one-on-one with a financial planner to set goals for their money and track their financial habits to make sure they’re on their way to achieving those goals. It also offers free credit monitoring in a way that won’t impact your credit score.

Sign up for SoFi Relay today.

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8 Steps to Build Credit Fast

Your credit score can affect many areas of your life.

A poor credit score can make it harder to buy a car, get a job, purchase a home, rent an apartment, have the utilities turned on, and even get a cell phone.

It can also cost you money, since credit card companies and lenders typically consider your credit score when determining your interest rate.

Fortunately, if your credit is less-than stellar–or you haven’t yet had a chance to establish much, or any, credit history–there are some simple steps you can take to build or boost your score quickly.

While you can’t typically establish exceptional credit overnight, you may be able to improve your credit score in a matter of months by putting a few good credit habits into practice, building a positive payment history, and avoiding credit-damaging mistakes.

Simple Steps to Build Your Credit Faster

Here are some strategies that can help you establish or improve your credit profile ASAP.

1. Understanding What Goes Into Your Score

One of the most commonly used credit scoring models is the FICO® Score .

FICO has five factors it considers when calculating its credit scores.

•  Payment history: 35% of this score is related to your history of payments on credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and other loans. The algorithm looks at the frequency and severity of missed and late payments.
•  Credit utilization: 30% of this score is based on how much of your available credit you are currently using.
•  Length of credit history: The amount of time you’ve had each credit account open makes up 15% of this credit score. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to have perfect credit when you’re new to credit.
•  New credit: 10% of this credit score has to do with opening new credit. (However, opening several new credit accounts at the same time isn’t typically a good way to bump up your score, because that can look like you’re in financial trouble).
•  Credit mix: The final 10% of this credit score is based on the different types of credit you have and how you’ve managed them.

2. Checking Your Credit Report and Disputing any Errors

Credit scores are calculated on the information in your credit reports.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get copies of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus–Equifax , TransUnion and Experian –and to make sure all the information is accurate.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), one in five people have an error on at least one of their credit reports.

Everyone is entitled to see their credit reports for free once a year at the government-mandated site.

When you get your reports, it’s a good idea to comb through them carefully and to look for any inaccuracies, such as payments marked late when you paid on time, wrong account numbers, incorrect loan balances, or accounts that aren’t yours.

If you find an error in one or all your credit reports, you can reach out to the credit bureaus directly to dispute the information.

If you see accounts in your name that you never opened, and believe you may be a victim of identity theft, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at or 877-438-4338.

A mistake on one of your credit reports could be pulling down your score. Fixing it can help you quickly repair your credit.

3. Paying Bills on Time Every Time

Payment history is the single most important factor that affects your credit scores.

Not only that, a past due payment can stay on your report for seven years.

Setting up autopay, either through each provider or company, or through your financial institution, can be a great way to ensure you never miss a bill.

If you do miss a payment by a few days, all is not necessarily lost, however.

There is generally a small window of time to make up a missed credit card payment before any damage to your credit happens.

That’s because late payments are typically not reported to credit bureaus until the payment is at least 30 days late.

The key is to get it in as soon as you can.

4. Becoming an Authorized User on a Credit Card

If you have no credit or a low credit score, you may be able to build it up by becoming an authorized user of a credit card that the cardholder uses responsibly.

An authorized user has permission to use an account, but does not have any liability for debts.

If a friend or family member adds you as an authorized user to their account, the card issuer will then typically report you as an authorized user to the credit reporting companies.

In this way, you gain a credit history from the credit usage of your friend or family member.

5. Opening a Secured Credit Card

Some credit card companies offer “secured” credit cards, which allow you to build credit history with little risk to the credit card company.

Here’s how it works: You pay a cash deposit up front that is equal to the limit of the card. For example, if you put down a $500 deposit, you would have a $500 limit on the card.

You can then use it like a regular credit card.

Using the secured card responsibly–being mindful of the amount you’ve charged in relation to the card’s limit–and paying your bills in full and on time will all be reported to the credit bureaus.

6. Using your credit card regularly

One way to build credit is to display a history of responsible borrowing.

For that reason, you may want to place monthly bills and other expenses on your credit card–being sure to pay the bill in full each month by the due date.

7. Keeping Credit Card Balances Low

This can help move the needle on credit utilization, or the amount of debt you have compared to the total amount of credit that is available to you, and is expressed as a percentage.

After payment history, this is typically the second most important factor that influences your score.

The rule of thumb is to use no more than 30% of your total credit at any time. This includes access to all credit lines, as well as the percentage on individual cards.

One way to do this is make multiple payments on your credit card throughout the month.

If you’re able to keep your utilization low, instead of letting it build toward a payment due date, it could quickly benefit your score.

8. Keeping Credit Cards Open

It might seem to make good financial sense to close credit cards you never or seldom use.

But from a credit score perspective, it may not be a wise move.

That’s because closing a credit card means you lose that card’s credit limit when your overall credit utilization is calculated, which can lower your credit score.

A better bet might be to keep the card open and to use it occasionally so the issuer won’t close it.

The Takeaway

A credit score in the good to excellent range could provide you access to the most competitive interest rates for loans and credit cards, and also make it easier to rent an apartment, get a cell phone, and land a new job.

Some ways to improve your score quickly include having active open accounts that you are consistently paying on time, keeping your loan balances low, and disputing any errors on your credit reports.

Building good credit is also a matter of establishing good financial habits, such as tracking your spending (so you don’t come up short at the end of the month), and make sure all of your bills are posted by their due dates.

One move that can help you stay on top of your finances is signing up for SoFi Checking and Savings®.

SoFi Checking and Savings is a checking and savings account that allows you to earn competitive interest, spend, and save–all in one account. And you’ll pay zero account fees to do it.

SoFi Checking and Savings also allows you to track your weekly spending right from the dashboard in the SoFi Checking and Savings app.

You can also use the app to set up all of your bill payments to help ensure that payments are never missed or late.

Check out everything a SoFi Checking and Savings checking and savings account has to offer today!

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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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4 Tips for Repaying Federal Student Loans

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

Even though common sense might suggest that repaying any loan should be straightforward—that all you have to do is send money until you don’t owe any more—there is actually a fair amount of strategy involved. When it comes to repaying federal student loans, there are many ways to think about taking them on.

Having a game plan for eradicating student loan debt is a good idea: In the United States alone, 45 million borrowers hold more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, and payments to tackle that mountain of debt have been slowing, on the whole. Those numbers and that trend underline the necessity that a borrower knows how to shoulder debt while reducing it.

So here’s a guide that offers tips for repaying federal student loans. Are you the calculating sort? Our student loan payoff calculator is a good tool for getting an idea of your loan payoff date. (The Education Department also has a calculator if you want to play around with your numbers.)

As outlined in the CARES Act, and extended by executive order, both the suspension of loan payments and the 0% interest rate on loans held by the Department of Education are set to expire after Aug. 31, 2022.

Repaying Federal Student Loans

1. Taking Advantage of the Grace Period

An important factor to determine your strategy to pay off a federal student loan is when you are expected to make your first loan payment. This deadline can dictate the rest of your actions. According to the Federal Student Aid office , for most student loans, there is a set period of time after a student graduates, leaves school, or drops below half-time enrollment before payments begin.

This grace period could be six to nine months, depending on the program a student received a loan through. As the date of the first payment draws closer, the loan servicer should let the borrower know when the first payment will be due—but it helps to think of how to take advantage of the grace period in advance.

While it might be tempting to view the grace period as a time when you can sink your extra money into other things you want or need, it’s probably smarter to save up for when those payments will start coming due.

If you have a subsidized federal student loan, your loan will not accrue interest while you’re in school or during the grace period, so it helps make paying it off in the longer run less burdensome.

If you have an unsubsidized federal student loan, interest has been accruing since the loan was disbursed, so you could consider taking the time when you do not have to make principal payments to pay down some of the interest that accrued.

For more information on ways to pay off student loans, this link includes tips for budgeting during a grace period and others you can mull over in that time. Interest has a way of sneaking up on borrowers because they might have in mind only the principal amount when thinking about monthly payments.

Also be aware that some federal student loan programs can have an up-front interest rate reduction, which requires making a number of monthly payments on time to prevent the rate from increasing.

So, just as studying is important to one’s academic life, studying up on student debt strategies is important to your overall life.

Borrowers can also learn to harness momentum to pay off student loans faster.

2. Selecting the Right Repayment Plan

Federal student loans come with many options for repayment. The options that might be open to you will depend on the type of loan you took out.

This Federal Student Aid office brochure drills down on the most common plans and loans they apply to, and offers bullet points of comparison.

It also links to information on consolidating federal student loans. Refinancing loans is something else to consider.

Generally speaking, the most popular repayment plan for federal student loans is the Standard Repayment Plan. Part of the reason it’s the most popular is—wait for it—is that it’s the default plan borrowers will be designated for unless they request otherwise.

The Standard Repayment Plan affords borrowers up to 10 years to repay, with an expectation of fixed monthly payments of at least $50 during that time.

There’s also the Graduated Repayment Plan, which starts with lower payments that increase every two years. Under the plan, a borrower makes payments for up to 10 years.

With the Extended Repayment Plan, a borrower can take up to 25 years to pay the loan. There are specific eligibility requirements. The plan requires lower monthly payments than the 10-year Standard plan, though you will wind up paying more in interest for your loan than you would have over 10 years.

Then there are income-driven repayment plans, which are geared toward monthly payments that are intended to be affordable based on discretionary income and family size. These are meant to further lighten the financial burden for individuals who have additional ongoing expenses or obstacles.

As such, they offer a greater degree of flexibility on their terms—like the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan. With that plan, any outstanding balance will be forgiven if the borrower hasn’t repaid the loan in full after 25 years. (Income tax may still be owed on the amount that was forgiven.) Again, more details on each of these payment plans—and others—can be found in this Federal Student Aid office publication .

Some of these plans are good options if you are seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness—circumstances that apply if you are employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or nonprofit organization.

Many of the income-driven repayment plans may be good options if Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a light at the end of your federal student loan debt tunnel.

The Income-Based Repayment Plan is worth a mention, as monthly payments would be 10% to 15% of discretionary income, and payments are recalculated each year to factor in family size and discretionary income.

It’s normal to feel a little confused with so many numbers being thrown around. Our guide on fast ways to pay off debt makes a good addition to everything discussed so far.

3. Student Loan Consolidation

A Direct Consolidation Loan allows a borrower to consolidate multiple federal education loans into one loan at no cost. It’s just a way to minimize the headaches—and ulcers—that can stem from the obligation to make monthly payments on different loans.

It’s not usually a way to save money, as the new interest rate you get with a Direct Consolidation Loan is a weighted average of all your loans’ interest rates rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percentage point.

There is another asterisk in considering this option: Private student loans cannot be consolidated with federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. You can, however, pursue refinancing both types of loans with a private lender.

If you have solid credit and a stable income, among other personal financial attributes, it’s possible to qualify for a new loan at a lower interest rate.

But there’s an asterisk to this asterisk, which is that refinancing with a private lender can make you ineligible for the federal benefits and protections offered to qualified federal student loan borrowers, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment, deferment and forbearance.

4. Paying More Than the Minimum

A strategizer knows that there’s more to it than paying the lowest amount required every month on student loans.

A big reason to pay more than the monthly minimum is that student loan repayment is structured around amortization—a word you heard if you took an accounting or economics class that basically means a portion of fixed monthly payments goes to the costs associated with interest (what the lender gets paid for the loan) and reducing your loan balance (paying off the total amount owed).

Paying more than the minimum means you can accelerate reduction of the amount you owe rather than covering the interest—which is effectively the lender charging you for the privilege of having the loan in the first place.

That privilege isn’t exactly bragworthy, so it’s smart to make more than the minimum payment—however little more it might be.

One plan of attack for borrowers to consider is signing up for automatic payments through their federal loan servicer so the payments are taken directly from their bank account as they’re due.

The payment amount to be withdrawn can be customized, and there’s a discount for doing so: Those who have a Direct Loan will get an interest-rate reduction while participating in automatic debit.

Getting Student Loans Under Control

Nobody really enjoys thinking about student loans, but the upshot of that is the pain points associated with them are well known—and there are proven strategies to ease the pain and manage the process of repaying government student loans, whether going for a special payment program, consolidating, or refinancing.

All it takes is a little planning and a willingness to adapt those plans to the ways your life unfolds after you have that degree.

SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms and low fixed or variable rates. There are no application or origination fees. And getting prequalified online is easy.

Check your rate today.

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

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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.

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


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What Is the Student Loan Forgiveness Act?

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

With Americans facing over $1.6 trillion in combined student loan balances, many borrowers are on the hunt for ways to ease their debt burden. One option you may have seen was called the Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, which according to some websites, was a way for some borrowers to escape their debt for a small fee.

This offer might sound appealing, but there’s one problem: It’s fake. It’s just one example of real ads that scammers have used to target and bilk borrowers.

Fraudsters have used lines like this to lure in their marks, then charged them hefty fees to fill out forms they could’ve filled out themselves for free. In the worst cases, people end up paying for nonexistent services.

Here are some answers to your burning questions on student loan forgiveness, so you can get a better idea of how the program works:

Does Any Student Loan Forgiveness Act Exist?

Yes. The Student Loan Forgiveness Act (SLFA) was a congressional bill introduced in 2012 intended to help borrowers with paying down their student debt.

In addition to capping interest rates for all federal loans, the proposed law would have introduced a repayment plan that allows borrowers to have their loans forgiven after 10 years if they made monthly payments equivalent to 10% of their adjusted gross income. The bill also would have made borrowers in public service jobs eligible for loan forgiveness after five years, instead of 10.

Sound too good to be true? It was. The bill never made it out of committee.

So, What is Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Program?

Even though you may have heard about it, “Obama’s new student loan forgiveness program” doesn’t exist. During his tenure, President Obama did expand the reach of federal loan forgiveness programs. A bill he signed in 2010 allowed students who took out certain federal loans to have their balances forgiven in 20 years, rather than 25.

The same bill capped annual payments at 10% of adjusted gross income, rather than 15%. It also ushered in loan forgiveness after 10 years for borrowers working in qualified public service jobs.

Those changes preceded the introduction of the Student Loan Forgiveness Act (SLFA), and was never officially called “Obama’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program.” Likewise, there is no “new” student loan forgiveness program in Obama’s name, either, obviously.

Then Why Have I Read About Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Program?

Because it’s a term that debt relief companies use to confuse student loan borrowers. The name seems convincing since President Obama did take action on federal student loans and legitimate federal loan forgiveness programs exist. That’s why some borrowers have been duped into paying high fees for pointless—or nonexistent—services. Don’t be fooled: The program isn’t real!

Debt relief companies advertising the “Student Loan Forgiveness Act” or “Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Program” are bad news. Understanding which programs are real and which are fake can help you avoid being scammed—and find legitimate ways to actually have some of your student loans forgiven.

What Are Some Legitimate Options for Student Loan Forgiveness?

No, Obama’s Student Loan Forgiveness Act never passed. However, there are several real options for having federal student loans forgiven.

In fact, in response to the coronavirus epidemic, the CARES Act suspended federal student loan interest and payment suspension through September 2020. (Update: The pause on federal student loan repayment has been extended through Dec. 31, 2022)

The pending HEROES Act (narrowly passed by the House in mid-May, 2020) proposed $10,000 each of federal student loan AND private student loans forgiveness initially but may have more stringent eligibility requirements if passed by the Senate. While it’s definitely something to keep an eye on, here are some existing programs that may be helpful.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

The government currently offers four income-driven repayment plans for federal student loans that can forgive borrowers’ balances after 20 or 25 years.

There are eligibility requirements, like making required monthly payments for a designated period of time, which are tied to a person’s income. The plans a borrower qualifies for will depend on the types of loans they have and when they took them out.

These student loan repayment plans are based on borrowers’ discretionary income, or the amount they earn after subtracting necessary expenses like taxes, shelter, and food. Here is a brief overview of each one:

•   Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE): Borrowers’ monthly payment is typically 10% of their income. If all loans were taken out for undergraduate studies, they’ll make payments for 20 years; if they also took out loans for graduate or professional studies, they’ll make payments for 25 years. At the end of 20 or 25 years, the remaining amount will be forgiven.
•   Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE): People pay up to 10% of their discretionary income each month, but they never pay more than they would under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. After 20 years, the remaining debt will be forgiven.
•   Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR): People will pay 10% of their discretionary income for 20 years if they became a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, and 15% for 25 years if they were a borrower before July 1, 2014. They will never pay more than they would under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. Borrowers’ debt will be forgiven after either 20 or 25 years.
•   Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR): Borrowers choose whichever repayment plan is cheaper—20% of their discretionary income or what they would pay if they spread their payments out equally over 12 years. Any remaining balance will be forgiven after 25 years.

These four plans are designed to help borrowers make monthly payments they can actually afford. Some people may assume that an income-driven repayment plan that results in forgiveness is best for them, when in reality, this might not be the case.

Note that if the remaining balance of your loan is forgiven, you may be responsible for paying income taxes on that amount.

A repayment calculator can be a useful tool to help determine enrolling in an income-based forgiveness program that would be beneficial. After a borrower plugs in their information, they could discover that they would pay less, in the long run, should they enroll in, say, the government’s Standard Repayment Plan.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Borrowers can have their loans forgiven in 10 years under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. To potentially qualify, they must work full-time for a qualified government organization, nonprofit, or certain public-interest employers, such as a public interest law firm, public library, or public health provider.

Over those 10 years, borrowers must make 120 qualifying monthly payments, and the payment amount is based on their income. Those 120 payments don’t necessarily have to be consecutive. For example, let’s say a borrower works for the local government for three years, then switches to the private sector for a year.

If they decide to go back into public service after that year, they can pick up where they left off with payments rather than start all over.

The PSLF program can be difficult to qualify for, but some people have successfully enrolled. As of March 2020, 145,758 borrowers had applied for the program. Only 3,174 applications were accepted. 171,321 applications had been rejected, and the remaining applications were still processing.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Qualifying teachers can also get up to $17,500 of their federal loans forgiven after five years teaching full-time under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. The American Federation of Teachers has a searchable database of state and local loan forgiveness programs.

To qualify for the full amount, teachers must either teach math or science at the secondary level, or teach special education at the elementary or secondary level. Otherwise, borrowers can have up to $5,000 forgiven if they are a full-time teacher at the elementary or secondary level.

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

Health professionals have access to other loan assistance programs. The federal government’s NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program pays up to 85% of eligible nurses’ unpaid debt for nursing school.

To receive loan forgiveness, borrowers must serve for two years in a Critical Shortage Facility or work as nurse faculty in an accredited school of nursing.

After two years, 60% of their nursing loans will be forgiven. If a borrower applies and is accepted for a third year, an additional 25% of their original loan amount will be forgiven, coming to a total of 85%.

Borrowers interested in the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program can read about what qualifies as a Critical Shortage Facility or an eligible school of nursing before applying.

Indian Health Services’ Loan Repayment Program

The Indian Health Services’ Loan Repayment Program will repay up to $40,000 in qualifying loans for doctors, nurses, psychologists, dentists, and other professionals who spend two years working in health facilities serving American Indian or Alaska Native communities.

Once a borrower completes their initial two years, they may choose to extend their contract each year until their student loans are completely forgiven.

In 2019, the Indian Health Service’s budget allows for up to 384 new awards for two-year contracts, and around 392 awards for one-year contract extensions. The average award for a one-year extension is $24,840 in 2019.

Even those who aren’t typical medical professionals, like doctors or nurses, may still qualify. The IHS has also provided awards to people in other fields, such as social work, dietetics, and environmental engineering.

The National Health Service Corps

The National Health Service Corps offers up to $50,000 for loan repayment to medical, dental, and mental health practitioners who spend two years working in underserved areas.

Loan forgiveness programs are generally available for federal loans, as opposed to private ones. In rare cases, such as school closure while a student is enrolled or soon after, they could qualify to have their loan discharged or canceled.

Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) include facilities such as correctional facilities, state mental hospitals, federally qualified health centers, and Indian health facilities, just to name a few. Each HPSA receives a score depending on how great the site’s need is.

Scores range from 0 to 25 for primary care and mental health, and 0 to 26 for dental care. The higher the score, the greater the need.

Borrowers have the option to enroll in either a full-time or part-time position, but people working in private practice must work full-time. Full-time health professionals may receive awards up to $50,000 if they work at a site with a score of at least 14, and up to $30,000 if the site’s score is 13 or below. Half-time employees will receive up to $25,000 if their site’s score is at least 14, and up to $15,000 if the score is 13 or lower.

Interested in learning more about your options for student loan repayment? Check out SoFi’s student loan help center to get the answers you need about your student debt. The help center explains student loan jargon in terms people can understand, provides loan calculators, and even offers student loan refinancing to hopefully land borrowers lower rates.

Refinancing student loans through a private lender can disqualify people from enrolling in federal loan forgiveness programs and loan forgiveness programs, and disqualifies them from CARES Act forbearance and interest rate benefits.

Check out SoFi to see how refinancing your student loans can help you.

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.

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.

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 Equal Housing Lender.


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Student Loan Options: What Is Refinancing vs. Consolidation?

Student loans can have a way of making you feel like a hamster in a wheel—spinning like crazy but getting nowhere fast. And while knowing that around 44 million Americans carry student loan debt might offer some comfort in a “misery loves company” kind of way, the magical loan-forgiveness fairy is still—as far as we know—a myth.

In the meantime, though, there’s a bit of good news—you may have more control than you think. We are here to help illuminate some options available to student loan holders, so they can make decisions that fit best with their financial goals.

Have you been considering one of those options—choosing whether to consolidate or refinance student loans?

But what is consolidation, what is refinancing, and how do you know which one (if either) may be right for you?

This could be a somewhat complicated question, especially since these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. For example, consolidation simply means combining multiple student loans into one loan, but you have different options and can end up with different results by consolidating with the federal government vs. consolidating with a private lender.

Student loan refinancing is when you receive a loan with new terms and use that loan to pay off one or more existing student loans.

Consolidate vs. Refinance. Let’s break it down.

Here’s a simple overview of the different types of student loan consolidation, how they differ from student loan refinancing, and some tips for evaluating whether one of these options might work for you.

Federal Student Loan Consolidation

Federal student loan consolidation is offered by the government and is available for most types of federal student loans—no private loans allowed. When you consolidate with the government, your existing federal loans are combined into one new loan with a new rate, which is a weighted average of your old loans’ rates (rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percent).

This option may not save you any money, but there are still a few potential benefits:

1. Fewer bills and payments to keep track of each month.

2. The ability to switch out older, variable rate federal loans for one, new, fixed rate loan, which could protect you from having to pay higher rates in the future if interest rates go up. (Note: the last variable rate federal student loans were disbursed in 2006. Since then, all federal student loans have been fixed-rate.)

3. Lower monthly payments. But beware—this is usually the result of lengthening your repayment term, which means you might pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Private Loan Consolidation

Like federal consolidation, a private consolidation loan allows you to combine multiple loans into one, and offers some of the same potential benefits listed above. However, the interest rate on your new, consolidated loan is not a weighted average of your old loans’ rates.

Instead, a private lender will look at your track record of managing credit and other personal financial information when deciding whether to give you a new (ideally lower) interest rate on your new consolidation loan.

Bottom line: when you consolidate student loans with a private lender, you are also in fact refinancing those loans. When federal student loans are consolidated or paid off using a private loan, however, it’s important to know you will lose access to certain benefits such as income-driven repayment plans, forbearance and deferment options, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (among others).

Student Loan Refinancing

As noted above, student loan refinancing is when a new loan from a private lender is used to pay off one or more existing student loans. If your financial situation has improved since you first signed on the dotted line for your original student loans(s), you may be able to refinance student loans at a lower interest rate and/or a different loan term, which could potentially allow you to do one or more of the following:

1. Lower your monthly payments.

2. Shorten your loan term to pay off debt sooner.

3. Reduce the money you spend in interest over the life of the loan.

4. Choose a variable interest rate loan, which can be a cost-saving option for those who plan to pay off their loan relatively quickly.

5. Enjoy the benefits of consolidation, including one simplified monthly bill.

Unlike federal loan consolidation, student loan refinancing is only available from private lenders. However, SoFi will refinance both private student loans and federal student loans, so well-qualified borrowers can consolidate all of their loans into one with loans and/or terms that work better for them.

Things to Consider

While there are advantages to both consolidation and refinancing, sometimes the answer—depending on timing, your budget, or other outside factors—could be to leave well enough alone. As you research your options, consider asking yourself these questions:

What kind of student loans do you have?

Refinancing federal student loans through a private lender might result in a lower interest rate, but you will also lose access to the benefits that come with federal loans, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), flexible repayment plans, the ability to pause payments, and an interest rate that’s determined by Congress—not your credit score.

If your loans are private, they were issued based on creditworthiness to begin with, so a refinanced loan will follow similar qualifications, and each private lender will have its own underwriting criteria.

What is the loan payoff amount?

While the amount of a monthly payment is important, especially if a refinance could reduce it, it’s wise to read through all the terms of the loan to understand the big picture.

Are the monthly payments lower because the loan is now on a 20-year term instead of a 10-year term? Are there loan origination fees rolled into the payment? Knowing the full, total repayment amount can help ensure that short-term gains don’t bite you in the long run.

Named a Best Student Loan Refinance Company
by U.S. News and World Report.

What’s the goal?

Consider your reasons for a refinance or consolidation—lowering monthly payments, keeping better track of due dates, or paying off debt as quickly as possible will likely lead to different strategies.

Your monthly budget and what you can (and can’t) afford to put toward your loan repayment will also play a factor here. One way to help ensure the right decision for you is to play with your budget a bit to see which loan options might benefit you most.

What factors do lenders review?

This isn’t typically an issue when it comes to consolidating loans through the federal government. But people interested in refinancing student loans with a private lender will likely need to meet various lender requirements, much like they would for a mortgage or personal loan.

Lenders generally review information like the borrower’s credit history, income, debt-to-income ratio, and other factors to determine what type of interest rate and loan terms they may qualify for.

You may not be able to change the fact that you have student loans, but you can make smart decisions about them. And that’s what ultimately gives you power over your debt. For more information about student loans, you can explore SoFi’s student loan help center to find guidance and gain knowledge to help point you in the right direction.

Ready to refinance your student loans? Start today!

$500 Student Loan Refinancing Bonus Offer: Terms and conditions apply. Offer is subject to lender approval, and not available to residents of Ohio. The offer is only open to new Student Loan Refinance borrowers. To receive the offer you must: (1) register and apply through the unique link provided by 11:59pm ET 11/30/2021; (2) complete and fund a student loan refinance application with SoFi before 11/14/2021; (3) have or apply for a SoFi Money account within 60 days of starting your Student Loan Refinance application to receive the bonus; and (4) meet SoFi’s underwriting criteria. Once conditions are met and the loan has been disbursed, your welcome bonus will be deposited into your SoFi Money account within 30 calendar days. If you do not qualify for the SoFi Money account, SoFi will offer other payment options. Bonuses that are not redeemed within 180 calendar days of the date they were made available to the recipient may be subject to forfeit. Bonus amounts of $600 or greater in a single calendar year may be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as miscellaneous income to the recipient on Form 1099-MISC in the year received as required by applicable law. Recipient is responsible for any applicable federal, state, or local taxes associated with receiving the bonus offer; consult your tax advisor to determine applicable tax consequences. SoFi reserves the right to change or terminate the offer at any time with or without notice.

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 Equal Housing Lender.

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.

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.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .


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