5 Financial Goals to Prioritize Before Paying Off Your Student Loans

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In 2018, nearly 70% of college graduates went out into the real world with a degree in hand and an average of $29,800 in student loan debt. Graduating with debt means worrying about making an average payment of $393 each month. If you graduated with student loan debt, chances are you feel the burden of it every day.

Despite this, paying down student loans fast shouldn’t necessarily be your top financial goal. Although it’s certainly important to make a concerted effort every month to pay above the minimum on your bill, there are other financial goals that should probably take precedence.

Here are some financial goals that may be more important than paying off student loans.

  1. Save for retirement
  2. Pay off high-interest debt
  3. Create an emergency fund
  4. Establish a budget
  5. Save for your children’s education

1. Save for retirement

There is always considerable debate over whether you should first pay off debt or save for retirement. However, there’s no reason why you can’t do both.

In the rush to get their student loan balances down to zero, many people hold off on saving for retirement for too long, losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in compound interest and principal growth. Just a few years of lost compound interest can make a huge difference in the amount of money you have saved at the end of your career.

If your job offers a 401(k) employer matching program, this is the best place to start. This is free money, and if your employer is matching 3% or 5% of your contributions, it makes sense for you to contribute the maximum your company will match regardless of your student loan interest rates.

The next step when deciding whether to invest your money or pay off student loans is to look at your interest rates. Long-term investments in the stock market usually earn annual returns of 6% to 7%. Meanwhile, undergraduate federal student loans typically come with a 4.53% interest rate. In this case, you can typically earn more by investing the extra money than you can save by paying off your student loans early — especially considering that student loan interest is tax-deductible. However, if your student loan interest rate is 6% or higher, you might want to put your extra money toward paying off your debt or consider refinancing to a lower rate.

If you feel intimidated, know that getting started with investing is easier than you think. Investing apps like Acorns, Robinhood and Betterment are valuable for those with student loans because you can invest as little as a few dollars and don’t need any stock market know-how. These online robo-advisors ask questions about your financial life and preferences and then use algorithms to invest your money accordingly.

Even though putting saving for retirement ahead of paying off student loan debt might not be the right choice for everyone, it can feel good knowing that you have saved money for your future.

2. Pay off high-interest debt

Most student loans have relatively low interest rates when compared to credit card interest rates. Though the interest rate on private student loans can run as high as 14.24%, credit card interest rates can be much higher, sometimes as steep as 24.99%.

To determine which debts to pay off first, take the time to organize your debt repayment and create a plan. You’ll want to consider two factors when prioritizing debt — interest rate and balance due on each account — so write those down.

There are two main methods to paying off multiple debt balances: the snowball method and the avalanche method. If you need small wins in the beginning to motivate you, the snowball method involves paying off your smallest balances first so you feel hopeful and ready to tackle the big ones. However, sticking to the avalanche method will get your debt paid off more quickly because it involves getting rid of your highest-interest balances first. This will also save you the most money. If you have extremely high-interest debt — for example, $5,000 of credit card debt at a 24% interest rate — consider tackling that balance first.

You may want to consider applying for a personal loan at a lower interest rate so you can consolidate the high-interest credit card debt. You can do this through your local bank or even try peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper or LendingClub.

The math makes the case for paying off the high-interest debt, and it will be far better for you in the long run if you make that a priority before significantly reducing your student loan balance. Once you’ve gotten your interest rate down or paid off high-interest balances, you can consider switching to the snowball method to pay off remaining balances that have similar interest rates.

3. Create an emergency fund

Having access to liquidity — that is, cash — is valuable in itself. It’s great to be able to make large payments toward your student loans, but won’t help if you get into a car accident and have to go to the hospital and don’t have the money to pay for it. Unfortunately, the unexpected does happen sometimes.

If you don’t have an emergency fund in this case, you could be forced to miss student loan payments altogether, which can damage your credit report and your future. Instead, create an emergency fund before you start making extra payments on your student loans.

Start with at least $500 if you’re tackling high-interest debt like credit cards. If you’re just up against low- to moderate-rate student loans, aim for six months’ worth of basic living expenses. That way, if something bad happens, you have the money to handle it and can keep paying your loans uninterrupted.

4. Establish a budget

When you make a payment toward your student loans, you can’t get it back. Even if you are excited that you made a $1,000 dent in your loans, it won’t be worth it if you need the money just a few days later. This is where establishing a budget comes in.

Paying down your student loan requires discipline, not only to make your payments on time, but to incorporate your payments into your overall financial plan for your day-to-day life. A monthly budget, where you list out all of your bills and expenses and compare them to your monthly income, will allow you to see just how much you can put towards your loans. It might also show you areas where you can cut back so you can boost your student loan monthly payment.

However, this may not be possible without setting up your budget before you aggressively pay down your student loan debt. Once you know your financial tendencies and personality, you’ll be far better off in your debt repayment journey.

5. Save for your children’s education

As your children grow up, you might want to shift your priorities from quickly paying off your student loans to saving for their college education. This is understandable — you’ve experienced the burden of student loans firsthand and don’t want your kids to go through the same experience.

There’s no reason why you can’t multitask and save for your child’s future while you continue to work toward becoming debt-free yourself, especially considering you can invest your child’s college savings and potentially reserve returns greater than what you’re paying in student loan interest.

The key is to start early. Doing so will allow you to save in small increments while taking advantage of long-term investment returns. You can also consider a college savings plan, like a 529 plan, which allows you to invest your money now and withdraw it tax-free when it’s time to pay for your kid’s education.

The choice is up to you, but even if you don’t want to prioritize saving for your children’s college over paying off your student loans, at least consider it in the future.

The bottom line

In the rush to get your student loan balance to $0, it’s important to avoid neglecting the rest of your financial life. Paying off your student loans should be a priority, but it shouldn’t be your only one. There are benefits to building an emergency fund and a budget, as well as starting to save for retirement, to make sure you have a bright financial future.

Elizabeth Aldrich contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.59% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.27% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.89% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of August 15, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/15/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.49% APR to 7.94% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.27% APR to 7.55% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.27% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.27% minus 0.15% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details.The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score.  
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. 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. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

FIXED APR
Fixed rate options consist of a range from 3.50% per year to 5.55% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.00% per year for a 7-year term, 4.30% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 4.60% per year to 6.80% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.05% per year to 7.02% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. The fixed interest rate will apply until the loan is paid in full (whether before or after default, and whether before or after the scheduled maturity date of the loan). The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.50% per year to 5.55% per year for a 5-year term would be from $184.00 to $193.00. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.00% per year to 6.00% per year for a 7-year term would be from $138 to $148. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.30% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104 to $115. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.60% per year to 6.80% per year for a 15-year term would be from $79 to $91. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.05% per year to 7.02% per year for a 20-year term would be from $68 to $80.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

VARIABLE APR
Variable rate options consist of a range from 2.43% per year to 6.05% per year for a 5-year term, 3.75% per year to 6.10% per year for a 7-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.15% per year for a 10-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.25% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 1.50% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 1.75% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.00% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.25% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 2.43% per year to 6.05% per year for a 5-year term would be from $179 to $195. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.75% per year to 6.10% per year for a 7-year term would be from $137 to $148. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.00% per year to 6.15% per year for a 10-year term would be from $103 to $114. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 15-year term would be from $77 to $88. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 20-year term would be from $65 to $77.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.


4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.37% effective July 10, 2019.


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.26%. Variable interest rates range from 2.46%-9.24% (2.46%-9.24% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 3.45%-9.62% (3.45%-9.62% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan. 
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance,including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled. Applicants with an Associate’s degree or with no degree must have made at least 12 qualifying payments after leaving school. Qualifying payments are the most recent on time and consecutive payments of principal and interest on the loans being refinanced. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan. 
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply. Borrowers whose loans were funded prior to reaching the age of majority may not be eligible for co-signer release. Note: co-signer release is not available on the Student Loan for Parents or Education Refinance Loan for Parents. 
  7. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan and Education Refinance Loan for Parents Eligibility: For the Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan and Education Refinance Loan for Parents, primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not reached the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required and may not be eligible for co-signer release. For the Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan, applicants may not be currently enrolled in school and applicants with an Associate’s degree, or with no degree, must have made at least 12 qualifying payments after leaving school. Qualifying payments are the most recent on time and consecutive payments of principal and interest on the loans being refinanced. Citizens Bank observes the right to modify or discontinue these benefits at any time. Both Education Refinance Loans and Education Refinance Loan for Parents are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned or affordability, as applicable. The minimum student loan refinance amount is $10,000. Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. Resources are available to help the borrower make a decision, including a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits, at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/federal-vs-private.
2.27% – 6.89%1Undergrad
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2.27% – 7.55%2Undergrad
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2.43% – 6.65%3Undergrad
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2.24% – 6.67%4Undergrad
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2.37% – 7.95%5Undergrad
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2.46% – 9.24%6Undergrad
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