Which Student Loan Should You Pay Off First?

June 05, 2019 · 5 minute read

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Which Student Loan Should You Pay Off First?

As a nation Americans are facing more student loan debt than ever before; the total debt is now around $1.5 trillion . According to the Pew Research Center , about four in 10 American adults hold student loans.

While the amount each individual holds varies greatly, on average those graduating from a four-year college have approximately $30,731 in student loan debt . If you have a graduate degree, that total could be even higher. Approximately 40% of all student loan debt is held by graduate students, which adds up to nearly $563 billion .

When crafting a plan to repay your student loans, it’s beneficial to start by making a budget. Outline all of your expenses, student loans, and any other debts you may have.

Then, tally up all of your income and investments. After cataloging all of that information, take a good look at your spending habits and see where you would be able to make any changes.

When you’re establishing your new budget, try to set aside extra funds to put toward paying off your student loans. And remember that student loans do not penalize you for prepaying on the loan.

What You Should Know About Interest Rates on Your Loans

Interest rates on federal student loans are set by Congress based on the 10-year treasury note. This means every borrower taking out a certain type of federal student loan, in a given year, will pay the same interest rate. These interest rates are fixed for the life of the loan.

Federal student loans also come with some limitations and are regulated by the Department of Education . For undergraduate students, the current aggregate (combined) limit of federal student loans as a dependent is $31,000; and no more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

As an independent undergraduate student, your aggregate loan limit is $57,500; and no more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans. As a graduate student, the aggregate limit for federal student loans is $138,500 for graduate or professional students; and no more than $65,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

The graduate aggregate limit includes all federal loans received for undergraduate study. If the plan of study you’ve chosen requires you to exceed those limits, you may have to consider taking out a private student loan.

These loans come with different interest rates and payment plans. You can learn more about the difference between federal and private student loans at the Federal Student Aid website.

If you’re not sure what your monthly payments will be, you can check out our student loan calculator to get an idea of what your loan payments could look like.

Here are three methods to consider if you’re ready to get serious about paying off your student loan debt.

The Debt Stacking Method

Take a look at your student loans and the interest rates you’re paying. The debt avalanche method, also known as debt stacking, focuses on repaying the debts with the highest interest rates first. In regard to student loans, that means if you have a federal graduate loan with a 6.6% interest rate, plus an undergraduate loan with a rate of 5.05%, you would prioritize paying off the graduate loan first, since it has the higher interest rate.

As you make your minimum monthly payments on all of your loans, you’ll also be paying a little extra toward the loan with the highest interest rate. When that loan is paid off, you’ll redirect those funds to the debt with the next highest interest rate. Continue using this rollover method until all of your debts are paid off.

If you are disciplined and organized when it comes to repaying your debts, the avalanche method could work well for you. Using the avalanche method of debt repayment will likely reduce the amount of money you pay in interest.

The Snowball Method

Another option for debt repayment is the snowball method, which disregards interest rates. With this method, after making the minimum payments on your loans every month, you will focus on the additional funds you have budgeted toward paying off the loan with the lowest balance.

When you have paid off this debt in full, you then roll what you were paying on those monthly payments into the debt with the next lowest balance. You continue to do this until all of your debts are paid off.

One of the benefits of this debt payoff strategy are the early rewards of paying off your smallest loans first. This helps keep you engaged in continuing your repayment plan.

If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of student loans you have to pay off, the snowball method could work for you. Often times when paying off debt, it can be discouraging if you don’t see immediate progress.

The snowball strategy works to encourage you to continue paying off your debts by establishing more frequent rewards. When you pay off that first loan, the sense of accomplishment you feel is enough to keep you committed to your repayment plan and financial goals.

Refinancing Your Student Loans

Another option to consider while you are setting your student loan repayment strategy is refinancing your student loans. Before you do, it’s important to understand that if you have federal student loans, certain benefits like deferment, forbearance, or the option for a Direct Consolidation Loan will be eliminated if you refinance with a private lender.

Refinancing allows you to take out a brand-new loan, with a new interest rate, and new loan terms. Often times, if you have good credit and income, you can lower your interest rate or potentially reduce your monthly payments depending on the loan term.

Another plus to refinancing your loans—instead of managing a number of monthly payments with different interest rates, you only have to worry about one monthly payment with one interest rate. To see how your payments and interest rate could change when you refinance, take a look at SoFi’s student loan refinancing calculator.

Consider refinancing your student loans with SoFi.

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.


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