3 Ways Autopay Helps You Pay Student Debt Faster

 December 21, 2020
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An easy way to ensure you don’t miss a payment on your student loans is to set up automatic loan payments. Not only will using autopay let you “set and forget” your monthly student loan bills, but it will also likely get you a 0.25 percentage-point rate cut on your loans.

Here’s how you can use automatic student loan payments to stay up to date on your bills and save money on interest — specifically:

How automatic student loan payments work

If you’re trying to pay off your student loans, enrolling in automated loan payments can be a smart approach to relieving this debt. With autopay, your payments will be automatically sent by your bank to your lender, instead of you sending them manually each month.

There are three main ways of automating payments:

1. Automatic withdrawals by the lender
2. Online bill pay from your bank
3. Credit card bill pay

1. Automatic withdrawals by the lender

With this method of automatic payments, you give the details of your bank account to your loan servicer. By doing so, you authorize the lender to withdraw your student loan payment from your account each month.

By setting up automatic student loan payments with this method, you ensure your payments are always on time and that you’ll never miss one. What’s more, lenders may offer a discount on your student loan interest rate for setting up automatic payments.

The most common rate reduction offered by federal student loan servicers — and many private lenders — is 0.25 percentage point on your interest rate. With a lower interest rate, you’ll accrue and pay less interest over time, which will save you money.

There are a few downsides to this method, however. Since you aren’t controlling the payments, you have less flexibility and control over them. And if your bank account is running low, an automatic payment could overdraw your account and incur a fee from your bank.

However, if you’re interested in saving on interest and can keep your bank account well-funded to cover the monthly payments, enrolling in automatic student loan payments could be the best way to go.

2. Online bill pay from your bank

Another common method for setting up automated loan payments is to use auto debit from a bank account through online bill pay.

Banks typically offer this feature to customers who log into their accounts online or through a mobile app. You can enter your lender as a payee and set up an amount to be automatically paid to the lender each month.

The benefit of auto debit is that it gives you more control over your money. You won’t have to give the lender access to your bank account, and you can update or change your payment settings at any time. You also can likely set up alerts to get a text or email from the bank reminding you when your student loan payment is due.

A potential downside is that these types of payments might take a little longer to process. Under this method, your bank typically prints an authorized check and sends it to your payee by mail, which could get delayed. To avoid late payments, set your online bill payment to be made a few days before your loan’s due date.

Online bill pay can be the right choice if you’re more comfortable in controlling your payments. It’s also an easy method to use if you want to pay more than just the minimum amount on your student loans each month and pay down your debt faster.

3. Credit card bill pay

Many federal student loan servicers don’t directly accept payments via credit card, but it may be possible to find private lenders or loan refinance servicers that do.

If your student loan servicer does accept credit card payments, it likely will require automatic monthly withdrawals from the card. You can also check whether your credit card issuer offers an online bill pay feature, if you prefer that method.

There are some potential benefits to making student loan payments with a credit card. For instance, if you pay with a rewards card, you might earn points or miles on your student loan payments.

This method can also provide a little more flexibility for repayment of the credit card debt. Since the payment is made against your credit limit, it won’t come due for another payment cycle. It could give you some wiggle room during a month when other expenses come up.

However, there are some major downsides to paying with a credit card. Credit card companies charge a processing fee to payees, which is why many lenders don’t accept this type of payment. If these fees are transferred to you, they could offset any rewards you’re earning with your credit card.

Credit card debt comes with a high interest rate. So if you fail to pay the balance off in full each month, you’ll get hit with a big interest charge. And if you’re using credit cards to cover automatic student loan payments because you can’t afford them, it can quickly turn a bad debt situation into something much worse.

Even if your student loan issuer doesn’t accept payment via credit card, you might be able to get a card with a 0% introductory APR and transfer the loan balance to it. A balance transfer is different from paying your student loan with a credit card, but you’ll need to find a credit card issuer that allows student loan balance transfers (and make sure your student loan servicer accepts it, too).

Plus, you need to keep in mind that your 0% rate would be available only for a limited time, after which the interest rate could be much higher than that on your student loan.

How to decide if automated student loan payments are right for you

Overall, setting up automatic student loan payments can help you keep up with payments and free up some mental energy for other financial tasks.

But the method you choose can either help or hurt your student loan repayment goals. Be sure to consider each autopay method carefully and take the time to understand how they could affect your loans before signing up for one.

On a final note, even if you opt against autopay, it can also be wise to divide your monthly payment in two. Making payments every two weeks will equate to 26 payments per year — or 13 full payments — which is one payment more than you’d make on the standard 12-payment cycle.

This way, your budget won’t feel strained, but you’ll be able to pay your debt down even faster.

Rebecca Safier and Laura Woods contributed to this report.