Melisa Boutin wished for the American dream and opportunity. Originally from St. Kitts-Nevis in the Caribbean, she emigrated to the United States when she was just a teenager.
She did everything by the book. She entered Florida on her own and became a legal permanent resident. Although the federal government offers financial aid to eligible non-citizens, Melisa faced unique hurdles because of her home country’s approaches to education and aid.
“Because I graduated [from high school] outside of the United States, it was difficult completing financial aid and application forms,” she says.
To finance her education, she ended up borrowing nearly $70,000 in student loans, some which had interest rates as high as 9.00%. Now, she’s tackling that debt head on and educating other recent immigrants about managing student loan debt and financial aid.
Financial aid obstacles as an immigrant
When Melisa entered the U.S., she had just graduated from high school in the Caribbean. She settled in Florida because she had an aunt who lived in Miami and worked for the University of Miami.
Determined to go to college and get her degree, she started to research financial aid options.
“Living in Florida as a new immigrant, I thought it made sense to check out the University of Miami,” she says. “The school gives grants to high school graduates from Florida. But even though I was living in Florida legally, I didn’t qualify because my high school was outside the U.S.”
Unable to qualify for those school grant programs, Melisa looked into federal financial aid and started to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, she found even more obstacles.
“Where I come from, there are no income tax returns,” she says. “So I had no way to enter that information.”
Melisa’s parents remained in St. Kitts-Nevis. She was on her own in Florida and sent money she made from part-time jobs back to her family in the Caribbean. But in the eyes of the federal government, she was a dependent. Her dependency status limited the number of options she had.
Applying for federal assistance
Working with the University of Miami’s financial aid office, she was able to complete the FAFSA as a dependent with her aunt as the guardian. With that change, and entering the numbers on her aunt’s tax return, she was able to access federal student loans.
However, the amount she could borrow wasn’t enough to cover the full cost of attendance. To fill the gap, she needed additional help. Since she was a recent immigrant, she turned to a Caribbean company for a loan. With that money, she was able to pay for school. However, those loans would come back to haunt her.
Melisa’s student loan wake-up call
In her freshman year, Melisa looked at her debt and was shocked by the numbers.
“I realized I would be on track to graduate with over $100,000 in debt,” she says. “I had to figure out a way to get off that path and take control of my financial future.”
She transferred after sophomore year to a less expensive four-year school in Texas and went on to graduate school to study engineering. She applied — and won — several scholarships through FastWeb, a site that has a database of thousands of scholarships.
But she still graduated with over $58,000 in student loans. Thanks to high interest rates, that balance quickly ballooned to over $70,000.
However, one of the toughest obstacles she faced was the private loan she borrowed from a Caribbean lender. After graduation, she paid over $4,000 toward that private loan, only to find out later they applied it only to the interest charges, not the principle.
“Banks in the Caribbean have limited regulations, and there are few financial protections,” Melisa says. “You can go over a year without receiving a statement, and they can apply your payments differently without telling you. I felt they took advantage of me.”
Managing student loan repayment
After she graduated with her master’s degree, it took Melisa nearly eight months to find a job in her chosen field. She deferred her loans while job searching until she got back on her feet. Once she got her first full-time job, she reviewed her debt and came up with an aggressive plan.
“I got my job, tallied up everything I had and owed, and came up with a plan to prioritize,” she says.
Her loan with a foreign lender had a 9.00% interest rate, so she focused her efforts on paying off that one first. By coming up with a budget, tracking every dollar, and limiting any extra spending, she was able to pay off $13,000 in debt in one year.
Because of her hard work, she was able to pay off her student loan debt in full just five years after completing her graduate degree — all while sending money back to St. Kitts-Nevis for her family.
Paying it forward
With her debt gone, Melisa is focused on helping other students navigate the financial aid process and manage student loans. She became a certified financial education instructor to help recent immigrants and millennials develop a plan to repay their debt. She also launched the blog Your Money Worth to share advice.
For those struggling to handle their own loans, Melisa recommends tackling your debt directly.
“My advice is that the first thing you do is release any stress or shame debt causes you,” says Melisa. “No matter how you fell into debt, whether you had to borrow to cover the gap or chose the wrong school, the first step is taking responsibility for the debt you have now. Get on top of the debt you have, and create a vision for the life you want without the debt.”
If you’re ready to aggressively pay down your debt, these tips can help you eliminate your student loans faster.
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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Splash Financial loans are available through arrangements with lending partners. Your loan application will be submitted to the lending partner and be evaluated at their sole discretion. For loans where a credit union is the lender, or a purchaser of the loan, in order to refinance your loans, you will need to become a credit union member.
The Splash Student Loan Refinance Program is not offered or endorsed by any college or university. Neither Splash Financial nor the lending partner are affiliated with or endorse any college or university listed on this website.
You should review the benefits of your federal student loan; it may offer specific benefits that a private refinance/consolidation loan may not offer. If you work in the public sector, are in the military or taking advantage of a federal department of relief program, such as income based repayment or public service forgiveness, you may not want to refinance, as these benefits do not transfer to private refinance/consolidation loans.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of May 1, 2020.
Fixed APR: Annual Percentage Rate [APR] is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rate options range from 2.88% (without autopay) to 7.27% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed rate options without an autopay discount consist of a range from 2.88% per year to 6.21% per year for a 5-year term, 3.40% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term, 3.45% to 5.08% for a 8-year term, 3.89% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term, 4.18% per year to 5.11% per year for a 12-year term, 4.20% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.51% per year to 7.27% 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).
Variable APR: Annual Percentage Rate [APR] is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Variable rate options range from 1.99% (with autopay) to 7.10% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Our lowest rate option is shown with a 0.25% autopay discount. Our highest rate option does not include an autopay discount. The variable rates are based on the Variable rate index, is 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 April 27, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.43763%. The interest rate on a variable rate loan is comprised of an index and margin added together. The margin is a fixed amount (disclosed at the time of your loan application) added each month to the index to determine the next month’s variable rate. Variable rate options without an autopay discount consist of a range from 2.01% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term, 2.09% per year to 3.92% per year for a 8-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 2.67% per year to 4.56% per year for a 12-year term, 3.44% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term, 4.75% per year to 6.93% per year for a 20-year term, or 5.14% per year to 7.10% for a 25-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. Variable interest rates 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. The maximum variable rate may be between 9.00% and 16.00%, depending on loan term. The floor rate may be between 0.54% and 4.21%, depending on loan term. These rates are 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.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
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.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of June 23, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
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 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% 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 July 31, 2020, 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 7/31/2020. 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 [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2020 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.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
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 0.18% effective July 10, 2020.