Should You Pay Off Student Loans or Save Your Money?

 May 28, 2021
How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

Student Loan Hero is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). Student Loan Hero does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero is an advertising-supported comparison service. The site features products from our partners as well as institutions which are not advertising partners. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

pay off student loans or save
Logo

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

Note that the situation for student loans has changed due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and relief efforts from the government, student loan lenders and others. Check out our Student Loan Hero Coronavirus Information Center for additional news and details.

*          *          *

Figuring out whether to pay off student loans or save your money is a common conundrum. Both are important financial goals, so how do you know which one to prioritize?

At the very least, you should always keep up with your minimum student loan payments — otherwise, you could rack up late fees or even default on your loans. But if you have extra money at the end of the month, you might have to pick between making extra payments on your debt or putting that money into savings and investments.

While everyone’s financial situation is unique, thinking through the following eight points can help you figure out the right course of action for you.

Should I pay off student loans or save? 8 questions to ask

1. Do I need emergency savings?
2. Should I pay off student loans or invest in my retirement savings?
3. Should I save for any major life events?
4. How high are my interest rates?
5. Do I need to lower my debt-to-income ratio?
6. What do I value most?
7. Can I work on savings and student loans at the same time?
8. Could focusing on one goal help me achieve the other?

1. Do I need emergency savings?

When deciding whether it’s better to pay off student loans or save, the first thing to consider is whether you have a solid financial safety net — your emergency fund.

An emergency fund should be a buffer of cash that you keep on hand to weather any surprise expenses or costs that life throws your way. This fund is crucial for helping you avoid future debt and the worst consequences of financial setbacks.

Only you know how big your emergency fund should be to achieve the level of financial security comfortable to you. That said, it’s typically a good idea to save enough to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses in the event you lost your job.

You’ll also want to weigh emergency savings against student loans. Depending on factors such as the student loan interest you face, your college debt might feel like the emergency. If this is the case, you might choose a minimal emergency fund for now, and put your extra cash toward extinguishing the burning fire of your student debt.

2. Should I pay off student loans or invest in my retirement savings?

Then there’s another important financial goal: saving for retirement. When you’re facing student loan payments each month, retirement can feel far off. But when it comes to saving for retirement, there’s no replacement for an early start.

Even small contributions now can be worth thousands more in retirement, with decades in between to grow your savings via compounding interest.

Here are a few other ways saving for retirement can be financially savvy:

  • Tax-advantaged retirement accounts let you lower your taxable income
  • You get more money if your employer matches your retirement contributions
  • The return on your investments can sometimes beat the cost of your student loan interest rates

If your employer does offer a retirement savings match, it’s a good idea to max that out. Since this match is an immediate 100% return on investment, its value outweighs the cost of student loan interest.

3. Should I save for any major life events?

Consider important future life events that you’d need money for. Unlike emergencies, these are anticipated and planned, and could include:

  • Moving out on your own for the first time
  • Moving to another city or state
  • A wedding
  • Starting a family
  • Starting a business
  • Going back to college or switching careers
  • Getting a divorce

When deciding whether it’s better to pay off student loans or save, spend some time thinking about your student debt and your significant life events. Five years from now, which would you regret more — delaying or not taking one of these life steps or still having your student debt?

At the same time, don’t lose sight of the financial side of the equation. Think carefully about how far these big costs could set back your student loan repayment.

4. How high are my interest rates?

If your student loan interest rates are high, you might prefer to pay your debt off ahead of schedule. But if your rates are relatively low, your student loans don’t have to be the highest priority on your list.

This is especially true if you have other debt with higher interest rates. The average APR on credit cards, for instance, is 19.39%, according to LendingTree. So, if you have high balances on your credit cards, it makes more sense to pay them off first before tackling your student loans. The same goes for a high-interest personal loan or payday loan.

If your student loan rates are fixed, you don’t have to worry about those rates increasing in the future. But if you have variable rates that are rising, then student loans might be more of a priority — either repaying them quickly or, if possible, refinancing them to a fixed (and hopefully lower) interest rate.

5. Do I need to lower my debt-to-income ratio?

If you’re hoping to take out a mortgage or car loan in the near future, you might consider ways to lower your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Lenders use DTI to decide whether to approve your loan, and according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they often want that ratio to be 43% or lower if you’re seeking a qualified mortgage.

If student loans have lifted your DTI to a relatively high level, it might make sense to pay down some of that debt as quickly as you can. By decreasing your debt (and/or increasing your income), you can lower your DTI and boost your chances of qualifying for a low-rate mortgage or car loan.

Snagging a lower rate will decrease your interest costs, so even if you’ll have to spend more on your student loans in the short term, you might save money on your home or car loan in the long run.

If you want to crunch the numbers on your DTI, try out this calculator:

Debt-to-Income (DTI) Calculator

6. What do I value most?

Of course, financial calculations and returns on investment are just one side of the equation. The other factor in any financial decision, including whether to save money or pay off student loans, is you. Specifically:

  • What is most important to you?
  • What are your goals and dreams?
  • How comfortable are you with being in debt?
  • What kind of lifestyle do you want?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve this?

Considering financial questions alongside your personal goals can help you compare their importance to you. You might have certain goals or achievements you value more than repaying student loans.

Many people will live with student loan payments and interest if it means they can travel more while they are young, work at a lower-paying job they’re passionate about or build a robust investment portfolio.

Then again, that might not be you. You might see your debt as a significant source of stress and hate the idea of having it. If freedom from debt is the top concern, then paying extra on student loans would likely be a higher priority than saving for a house.

7. Can I work on savings and student loans at the same time?

Of course, your finances don’t have to be a zero-sum, all-or-nothing game. It can be possible, and even beneficial, to work toward repaying student loans and saving money at the same time.

Say you have $300 of discretionary income a month to put toward financial goals. You could throw all of this toward either saving or repaying student loans, but you could also split the money between both.

One possible strategy to do this is “temptation bundling,” where each time you put extra money toward your student debt, you also use some money for something you really enjoy. Maybe you reward yourself for every extra $200 paid toward student debt by adding $50 to a vacation fund.

Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche: What’s the Best Way to Strategy?

8. Could focusing on one goal help me achieve the other?

On a related note, you might want to think through how your goals of saving and paying student loans can actually work together.

For instance, money-saving strategies can help you save, but they can also help find extra funds to put toward student loan repayment.

Likewise, effectively managing your student loans can help you accelerate a savings goal. For example:

You have a variety of financial goals, life events and big purchases to plan for. If you take some time to focus on what’s most important — not only with your money, but with your life — you can reach the right decision for you.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.74% – 8.70%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.74% – 7.99%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.74% – 7.99%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 5.90%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.74% – 7.99%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit NaviRefi

2.05% – 5.25%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

1.86% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

N/A7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

1.99% – 8.38%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Citizens

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

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 4, 2022.


2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 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%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 1.74% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. 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. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.


4 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.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

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 April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


5 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.99% – 8.24% APR (2.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (1.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.


6 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.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Fixed Rate Loan Terms: 5 years/60 monthly payments, 8 years/96 monthly payments, 12 years/144 monthly payments or 15 years/180 monthly payments. Annual Percentage Rate is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rates range from 3.29% to 5.43% APR. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed APR: Fixed rates will not change during the term. This rate is expressed as an APR. Since there are no fees associated with this loan offer, the APR is the same percentage as the actual interest rate of the loan. 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.


8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

CitizensBank Disclosures

Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure:  Variable interest rates range from 1.99%-8.38% (1.99%-8.38% APR). Fixed  interest rates range from 2.99%-8.63% (2.99%-8.63% APR).

IS Variable Rate Disclosure:  Variable Rates advertised are 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 December 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%.  Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will  vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Your final variable rate may  be based upon the 30-day average SOFR index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.

ERL Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of May 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 0.29%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

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. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, 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. 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 on our website 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.
 
Citizens Student Loan Eligibility: : Applicants must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution.
 
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, DC, DE, FL, MA, MD, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VA, 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.
 
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. 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.