Editor's Note: Since the writing of this article, the federal Student Loan Debt Relief program has been blocked due to two court decisions; the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments for both appeals in February. In the meantime, the Biden administration extended the federal student loan payment pause into 2023. The US Department of Education announced loan repayments may resume as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans received stimulus checks from the federal government. As of March 2021, a year into the pandemic, the third round of stimulus checks have been approved with the American Rescue Plan Act.
This package includes one time payments of $1,400 for individuals making $75,000 or less and per person for couples earning $150,000 or less. Additionally, those with dependents would qualify for another $1,400 per child. The IRS sent out “Economic Impact Payments” as checks in the mail or electronically via direct deposit.
The stimulus checks are a measure to provide financial relief to millions of Americans. Many people used the proceeds of the checks to pay for food, utilities, credit card bills and other expenses while others saved the money for future emergencies.
The federal government also provided stimulus checks in 2008. The amount was much lower—individuals received $600 and couples filing jointly received up to $1,200.
These economic impact payments could be used by consumers in several ways, including paying off debt such as credit cards or private student loans, starting an emergency fund, or by investing the money for retirement.
Paying Off Debt
The additional $1,400 can come in handy for people who want to pay off their debt, especially higher interest debt such as credit cards. Consumers could use all or a portion of the stimulus payment to make extra payments on a credit card, loan, or other debt. Additional payments could go towards the principal portion of what is owed, or what the consumer originally borrowed, helping pay down the interest faster; if you want to do this, it’s smart to contact the lender to let them know and ensure those extra payments are applied to the principal balance.
People who still have other credit card debt could look into obtaining a personal loan. Generally, personal loans have lower interest rates than credit card debts. Securing a lower interest rate could potentially help expedite debt repayment, so long as the repayment term is not extended.
For some, student loan debt may be a focus. In March 2020, the CARES Act temporarily paused federal student loan payments, reduced interest rates to 0% on all federal student loans, and temporarily halted collections on federal student loans in default. These protections have now been extended through Aug. 31, 2022. This does not apply to private student loans. The stimulus payment could help a borrower pay down their federal student loans or make extra payments.
Some may consider refinancing their student loans, should they be able to qualify for a lower fixed or variable interest rate, or preferable lending terms. This can make sense for some borrowers, especially those who already hold private student loans, but won’t be right for everyone. Federal loans offer borrower protections that private loans do not, so borrowers with federal student loans may want to consider all of their options carefully. Refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from all federal benefits, including the temporary relief offered by the CARES Act.
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Starting an Emergency Fund
An emergency fund comes in handy to pay rent or a mortgage, auto loan, student loans, or credit cards if you lose your job or your hours are slashed. Finding another full-time or part-time job could take several weeks or months and the additional money could be useful.
Saving for an emergency fund can be difficult after paying your bills each month. The money from the stimulus check could provide a boost to help start a rainy day fund. Having the extra savings can help prevent someone from having to rely on their credit cards and rack up more debt in case there is an emergency, say something like a last minute car repair or a sudden illness.
Having the extra money can also be a relief in the event of a job-loss since it can take several weeks for unemployment funds to arrive.
General recommendations suggest that people save three to six months of expenses in their emergency fund. In some situations, it may make sense to save more than three to six months worth of expenses. For example, freelancers with a fluctuating income may want to have more saved up. If you are not sure how much money you need, look at your monthly bills and determine which ones you can’t ignore if you lost your job for an extended period.
Another way to gauge how much to save in an emergency fund is to factor in things like the deductibles for your car and health insurance in case there is an accident and you need to make repairs to the auto or you get injured.
Starting an emergency fund with the money from your stimulus check is one way to get started. From there, more money can be added to your savings account whenever you get the opportunity. There are many ways to stash more money into your rainy day fund. Clean out your closet and see if there are any items you can sell online such as electronics, clothing, a bike, or musical instrument.
Save the money earned from a part-time job, freelance work, or your annual tax refund. Or review your budget and see if there is anything you can cut such as a streaming service you rarely use.
Those in a comfortable financial position, could transfer some money automatically from your weekly or bi-weekly paycheck into a new savings account. The amount could be small, but even $25 a week adds up over a year.
Investing the Stimulus Check
The extra money from the stimulus check could also be an investment. Depending on individual financial circumstances, the stimulus check could be used to make a contribution to a retirement account like an IRA. Others may be focusing on other goals like a downpayment for a house, a vacation, a wedding, or a home remodel.
Once you open an account and start putting money towards it weekly or even monthly, you may see the balance grow, especially as the investments appreciate in value and interest compounds
The stimulus checks are intended to provide temporary relief to those struggling due to the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. How you use the money will depend on your individual circumstances. Some options include paying down debt, establishing an emergency fund, or investing.
A SoFi checking and savings account could be one place to stash your stimulus check. Getting started is as easy as depositing the stimulus check. From there, SoFi Checking and Savings makes it easy to earn interest and receive cash back on purchases. A SoFi Checking and Savings account allows you to spend, save, and earn money from one place. There are no account fees and your cash balance earns interest. The interest rate and fee structure is subject to change at any time, but SoFi aims to offer competitive interest rates and not charge any account fees.
With SoFi, account holders can create financial vaults within a SoFi Checking and Savings account for different reasons such as an emergency fund or investing account.
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If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.