Student loans — federal or private — begin accruing interest when they’re disbursed, and the borrower is responsible for paying the interest on all but subsidized federal student loans during grace periods or deferment.
There are a few exceptions, though, including periods of deferment for certain subsidized loans. And if you have federal student loans that were subject to the payment pause that began in 2020, it’s important to know when those loans begin accruing interest again in 2023.
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Interest Accrual Basics and Exceptions
As a general rule, interest begins accruing on a student loan as soon as it’s disbursed. While the repayment of the loan is usually subject to a grace period (detailed later in this article), the interest continues to accrue even while the payments are paused.
The one exception is when certain loans are on deferment. Interest on the following types of loans usually does not accrue when a loan is on deferment:
• Direct Subsidized Loans
• The subsidized portion of Direct Consolidation Loans
• The subsidized portion of Federal Family Education Loan Consolidation Loans
The other major exception is the federal student loan forbearance that the government implemented in March 2020. Not only did this pause federal student loan payments, it also set federal student loan interest rates at 0%, thereby pausing all interest accrual. The 2023 debt ceiling bill officially ended the payment pause, requiring interest accrual to resume on Sept. 1 and payments to resume on Oct. 1, 2023.
Some private student loan issuers offer deferment or forbearance for specific reasons. Any unpaid interest will likely accrue and be added to the principal after the payment pause, though.
The Basics of Student Loan Interest
A student who takes out a student loan (or a parent who takes out a parent-student loan in their own name) signs a promissory note outlining all the terms of the loan, which include the loan amount, interest rate, disbursement date, and payment schedule.
Federal student loans issued after July 1, 2006, have a fixed rate. The repayment default is the standard 10-year plan, but there are options, such as income-based repayment or a Direct Consolidation Loan, that can draw out repayment to double that or more. The Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan is one of the federal student loan repayment options to consider.
The SAVE Plan is the most affordable repayment plan for federal student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Borrowers who are single and make less than $32,800 a year won’t have to make any payments under this federal income-driven repayment plan. (If you are a family of four and make less than $67,500 annually, you also won’t have to make payments.)
Private student loans are not eligible for federal income-driven repayment plans. Interest rates on private student loans may be fixed or variable, and are based on your — or your cosigner’s — financial history. The repayment term can be anywhere from five to 20 years.
When does interest start on student loans? Federal and private student loans typically begin accruing interest when they’re disbursed. With federal student loans and most private student loans, payments are deferred until after you graduate. Interest will have accrued, and in almost all cases you’re responsible for paying it.
Interest and Grace Periods by Loan
Capitalized interest on student loans can significantly increase how much a borrower owes. This is when a lender adds unpaid interest to your principal loan balance and then charges interest on your larger balance.
The Department of Education implemented new regulations in July 2023 eliminating all instances of interest capitalization that are not specified in the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). That means federal student loan interest capitalization no longer occurs when a borrower first enters repayment status following the grace period.
A federal student loan borrower who exits a period of deferment on an unsubsidized loan or who overcomes a partial financial hardship on the Income-Based Repayment Plan may face capitalized interest charges. Federal student loan interest capitalization can also occur upon loan consolidation. These are the few instances where federal law requires interest capitalization.
Fixed interest rates on newly disbursed federal student loans are determined by formulas specified in the HEA. These are the rates and loan fees (deducted from each disbursement) for the 2023–24 school year:
• 5.50% for Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans for undergraduates
• 7.05% for Direct Unsubsidized loans for graduate and professional students
• 8.05% for Direct PLUS loans for graduate students, professional students, and parents
Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans
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Unsubsidized Student Loans
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students with no regard to financial need.
Loan fee: 1.057%.
Grace period: While you’re in school at least half-time and for six months after graduation.
Subsidized Student Loans
Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergraduates with financial needs.
Loan fee: 1.057%.
Grace period: While you’re in school at least half-time and for six months after you leave school. The government pays the interest during those grace periods and during any deferment.
Direct PLUS Loans
Taken Out by a Parent
A Parent PLUS Loan acquired to help a dependent undergraduate is unsubsidized.
Loan fee: 4.228%.
Some private lenders refinance Parent PLUS loans at what could be a lower rate.
Grace period: First payment is due within 60 days of final disbursement, but a parent can apply to defer payments while their child is in school at least half-time and for six months after.
Taken Out by a Graduate Student or Professional Student
Grad PLUS Loans are available to students through schools participating in the Direct Loan Program.
Loan fee: 4.228%.
Grace period: Automatic deferment while in school and for six months after graduating or dropping below half-time enrollment.
Private Student Loans
Some banks, credit unions, state agencies, and online lenders offer private student loans.
Rate and fee: Rates can be fixed or variable, and rates and fees vary by lender
Grace period: Student loan interest accrual begins when a private student loan is disbursed, but payments may be deferred while a borrower is in school.
How Is Interest on Student Loans Calculated?
Student loans typically generate interest every day. Your annual percentage rate (APR) is divided by 365 days to determine a daily interest rate, and you are then charged interest each day on the total amount you owe.
That interest is added to your total balance, and you’re then charged interest on the new balance — paying interest on interest until the loans are paid off.
If you don’t know what your monthly payments will be, a student loan payment calculator can help. This one estimates how much you’ll be paying each month so you can better prepare for your upcoming bills.
The amount you pay each month will be the same, but the money first goes toward paying off interest and any fees you’ve been charged (like late fees); the remainder goes to pay down the principal of the loan.
As you pay down your loan, because the principal is decreasing, the amount of interest you’re accruing decreases. And so, over the life of your loan, less of your monthly payment will go toward interest and more will go toward the principal. This is known as amortization
💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.
How You Could Save on Interest
Because interest can add up so quickly, it’s important to pay attention to the interest rates you’re paying on your student loans.
Student loan refinancing — taking out a brand-new loan that pays off your current loans — can lower the amount of interest your loans accrue if you qualify for a lower interest rate or a shorter term. To see how refinancing might save you money, take a look at this student loan refinance calculator.
Even a small difference in interest rates could help you save a substantial amount of money paid in total interest over the life of the loan, depending on the term you select.
It’s important to know, though, that refinancing federal student loans will make them ineligible for federal benefits like income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
💡 Quick Tip: If you have student loans with variable rates, you may want to consider refinancing to lock in a fixed rate before rates rise. But if you’re willing to take a risk to potentially save on interest — and will be able to pay off your student loans quickly — you might consider a variable rate.
When does student loan interest start accruing? The minute the loan is disbursed, and you’re usually responsible for paying it. It’s important for borrowers to understand and pay attention to capitalized interest.
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.
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.
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.
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