Guide to Income-Contingent Repayment and Whether It’s Right for You

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For many borrowers, student loans can help fund an education that leads to a high salary. But not everyone is looking to make six figures.

If you plan to go into a low-paying but fulfilling career field, or your student loan payments are so high that they’re unaffordable even with a great salary, an income-contingent repayment (ICR) plan could help.

Here’s a look at how an ICR plan could make your student loans more manageable, as well as how to qualify. Specifically, we’ll look at:

Understanding income-driven repayment plans

Federal student loan borrowers have four income-driven repayment options, including Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), income-based repayment (IBR) and income-contingent repayment (ICR).

All four of these income-driven repayment options share certain characteristics, including:

  • A monthly payment determined by your income, family size and debt load
  • Loan forgiveness after a certain repayment period (20 to 25 years)
  • An annual review of your income, family size and debt load (meaning your monthly payment can change each year)
  • Federal income tax may be owed on your forgiven balance at the end of the repayment term
  • An often higher total interest paid over the life of the loan

What is income-contingent repayment?

Though there are several income-driven options available to borrowers struggling to make payments, it’s important to understand what makes income-contingent repayment different from the other options.

No income eligibility requirement

The biggest difference to consider is that ICR and REPAYE have no income eligibility requirements.

With an IBR or PAYE plan, the amount owed under each income-driven plan has to be less than what you’d owe on a 10-year standard repayment plan. Your income and family size affect the calculation.

Because ICR student loans aren’t subject to this partial financial hardship requirement, it’s easier to qualify (more on this below).

Eligible loans

Income-contingent repayment plans are available for the following loans:

The following loans are also eligible for ICR if the borrower first consolidates them into a Direct Consolidation Loan:

How income-contingent repayment works

The repayment period for ICR is 25 years. After that, your remaining loan balance is forgiven (if there’s anything left).

Keep in mind that any forgiven debt under ICR is considered to be taxable income. That means even if you do achieve loan forgiveness, you could be facing a steep tax bill in a quarter century.

Your monthly payment amount under the ICR plan is calculated as the lesser of:

  • 20% of discretionary income
  • What the payment would be on a fixed, 12-year payment plan, adjusted according to income

This does mean that, depending on your income, payments could end up higher than with the standard repayment plan.

The interest rate for the income-contingent repayment plan is fixed for the life of your loan. If you first consolidate your loans, your interest rate through ICR is the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans included, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.

Are you eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Borrowers on ICR who intend to pursue a career in public service could be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) after 120 consecutive, on-time payments.

One key difference between PSLF and forgiveness with ICR is that forgiven amounts are not considered taxable income under PSLF. The majority of PSLF applicants are being denied, though, so take that into consideration as you explore your options.

How to apply for income-contingent repayment

To apply for ICR, complete the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request online, which can typically be completed in 10 minutes or less. You could also request a paper application from your loan servicer.

As you fill out the request, you can specifically request ICR or ask that your loan servicer place you on the income-driven plan with the lowest monthly payment.

It’s important to note that if you have more than one servicer, you need to submit separate income-driven requests.

There is no application fee to apply for ICR. Private companies could offer help to borrowers for a fee, but they aren’t affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.

How to estimate your income-contingent repayment

Student Loan Hero has an Income-Contingent Repayment Calculator that can help you estimate your payments under this plan.

The calculator will seek the following personal info:

  • Your adjusted gross income
  • Your family size
  • Your state of residence
  • Your marriage status
  • Your annual income growth

It also wants the following loan info:

  • Your total student loan balance
  • Your current monthly payment
  • Your average weighted interest rate

Now that you know what is needed for the calculator, let’s provide an example.

Say you make $50,000 a year and have a student loan balance of $70,000 with an average interest rate of 6%. You’re a family of four within the continental U.S.

If you apply for ICR, you could cut your monthly payment from $766 to $423. That being said, you would pay $115,541 over the course of the loan. If you remained on your original plan, you would pay $93,452 total. So you’d pay $22,089 more if you switched to an ICR plan, but you wouldn’t pay as much monthly.

Note that you wouldn’t qualify for any forgiveness under this scenario because your loan would be paid off before the 25-year term is complete.

As you determine whether an income-driven plan is best for you, you could consider these options.

What to do if you don’t qualify for income-contingent repayment

If you realize that you don’t qualify for an income-contingent repayment plan, you might seek to lower your payments through student loan refinancing.

By doing this, you may be able to refinance one or more loan and lock in a lower interest rate. However, when you refinance your loans with a private lender, you give up many protections you have with federal student loans, like deferment, forbearance and the ability to switch to an income-driven plan such as ICR.

While some private lenders do offer certain protections, consider all your options as you look for what’s best for you.

Potential drawbacks to income-contingent repayment

ICR won’t be the right plan for everyone. In particular, borrowers who choose ICR to lower their monthly payments might find their payments are more per month than they would have been under the standard repayment plan.

In addition, extending the repayment term beyond the standard 10 years means you’ll probably pay more in total interest over time.

One final consideration is the way married borrowers are treated. If you apply for ICR and are married, your spouse’s income will be considered if you file your taxes together, likely resulting in higher monthly payments.

Why choose income-contingent repayment?

Student loan borrowers who are struggling with payments under the standard repayment plan might consider signing up for ICR. Since there is no income requirement for eligibility, this repayment plan is available to even those who earn a relatively high income.

Borrowers pursuing a career in public service could find signing up for ICR will reduce payments enough to make them affordable while still remaining eligible for PSLF after 10 years.

And while the 25-year repayment term may seem daunting to potential ICR borrowers, it’s important to remember that you aren’t locked into that loan term forever. If you decide to change repayment plans for financial circumstances, you are welcome to do so.

The good news is you’re being proactive about staying on top of your payments, which is a key step along the journey to becoming debt-free.

Renee Morad 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 7.75% 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% – 7.75%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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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

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