Student loans are complicated, especially when it comes to figuring out how much the loan will actually cost you over time. Figuring out the interest rate and APR can feel like taking a trip back to freshman year algebra.
But knowing how APR formulas affect your student loans is an important part of maintaining financial health, and can even help you decide whether or not you should look into alternative loan repayment strategies, like consolidation or refinancing.
What Is Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?
Your annual percentage rate, known as “APR,” is the interest and fees you are responsible for paying on your student loan balance over the course of a year. The APR formula shows you your actual cost of borrowing, including your interest rate and any extra fees or costs, like origination fees or forbearance interest capitalization.
What Is the Difference Between APR and Interest Rate?
The interest rate on your student loan is the amount your lender is charging you for the loan, expressed as a percentage of the amount you borrowed. For example, the interest rate for Federal Direct Subsidized Loans and Unsubsidized Direct Loans is currently 5.05%, which means that you would be responsible for paying your lender 5.05% of the amount of money you borrowed in yearly interest.
That 5.05%, however, does not include other costs that are considered in the APR formula, including disbursement costs. For loans with no fees, it is possible that the APR and interest rate will match, but in general, the APR is considered a more reliable and accurate explanation of your total costs as you pay off your student loans. If you’re shopping around for student loans or planning to refinance your loans, the APR offered can help you decide which lender you would like to work with.
Still Confused? Let’s Take a Look at This APR example:
Let’s say you take out a student loan for $20,000 with an origination fee of $1,000 and an interest rate of 5%. An origination fee is the cost the lender may charge you for actually disbursing your loan, and it is usually taken directly out of the loan balance before you receive your disbursement.
So, in this example, even though you took out $20,000, you would only receive $19,000 after the disbursement fee is charged. Even though you only receive $19,000, the lender still charges interest on the full $20,000 you borrowed.
The APR accounts for both your 5% interest rate and your $1,000 origination fee to give you a new number, expressed as a percentage of the loan amount you borrowed. That percentage accurately reflects the true costs to the consumer. (In this example, if the loan had a 10-year term, the APR would be 6.124% .)
How to Find Your APR
By law, lenders are required to disclose the APR on their loans—including student loans. These disclosures help you make smart financial choices about your loans and ensure that you’re not blindsided by mystery costs when you take out a loan.
For federal student loans, the government lists the interest rates and fees online, but make sure to carefully examine any loan initiation paperwork for your exact APR, which will depend on other factors including the amount you plan to borrow, the interest rate, and origination fees.
If you’re currently paying off federal student loans, your student loan servicer can tell you your APR. If you use online payments, you can probably see your APR on your student loan servicer’s website or on your monthly bill.
If you’re shopping around for private student loans, your potential lenders must disclose the APR in their lending offer to you. Your APR will vary from lender to lender depending on many factors, which can include your credit score, any fees the lender charges, and how they calculate deferred interest , which is any unpaid interest that your minimum payment doesn’t cover. Once you’ve decided on a lender and taken out a loan, your APR should be reflected on your loan paperwork and usually on your lender’s online payment system.
Refinancing Your Student Loans to Get a Better APR
If you think the APR on your student loans is too high, refinancing your student loans may help you obtain a lower APR.
When you refinance your student loans, your lender will look at many factors, including your current financial situation to consider offering you a new loan, that may have a lower APR. If you decide to refinance, your lender will pay off your remaining student loans with your new refinanced loan.
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.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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 on credit.