20 Private Colleges That Help You Afford Tuition — and Avoid Debt

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As a college-bound student putting together a college wish list, you’ve probably noticed that private colleges tend to have high price tags. Maybe you’ve even decided that any private college is too far outside your budget to consider.

Indeed, the average annual tuition at a private college was $33,480 in 2016-17, according to the College Board Annual Survey of Colleges. Considering the average annual tuition at a four-year public college was $9,650 for in-state students and $24,930 for out-of-state students, it’s clear most private college students paid more.

Many of them likely relied on private student loans for their private education. In fact, graduates of private colleges ended up with more student debt: $32,300 on average, compared to the average debt of $25,550 for graduates of public colleges.

However, according to new Student Loan Hero college rankings, some nonprofit private colleges are worth a second look — even for cost-conscious college applicants. If you’ve been dreaming of the private-college experience on a public-college budget, start your search with this list of the 20 most cost-effective private colleges.

20 most affordable private colleges

The Student Loan Hero rankings highlighted private colleges that were affordable exceptions thanks to low tuition, subsidies, scholarships, and financial aid.

Among the top 20 private colleges offering the best deals for undergraduates, average graduate indebtedness was low. Students who attended these private colleges could expect to borrow less than even the $25,550 average for graduates of public colleges.

Plus, private colleges on this list charged tuition and fees that were often on par with what in-state students paid at public colleges. And these 20 private colleges’ costs were well below the typical tuition public colleges charged out-of-state students.

Lastly, these private colleges offered substantial financial aid awards that helped many students offset their total costs of attendance, from tuition to room and board. These awards contributed to lower net prices of attendance at top private colleges.

Here’s a look at the annual tuition costs, annual net prices (cost of attendance after financial aid was applied), and average student debt graduates left with for the top 20 most affordable private colleges.

1. College of the Ozarks in Missouri

  • Annual tuition and fees: $18,730
  • Annual net price: $13,567
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $5,339
  • Students with educational debt: 7 percent

2. Davis College in New York

  • Annual tuition and fees: $13,540
  • Annual net price: $12,690
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $5,360
  • Students with educational debt: 22 percent

3. Brigham Young University in Utah

  • Annual tuition and fees: $5,150
  • Annual net price: $12,900
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $15,720
  • Students with educational debt: 27 percent

4. Amridge University in Alabama

  • Annual tuition and fees: $6,900
  • Annual net price: $4,613
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $10,500
  • Students with educational debt: 63 percent

5. Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky

  • Annual tuition and fees: $11,460
  • Annual net price: $13,405
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $10,591
  • Students with educational debt: 42 percent

6. Berea College in Kentucky

  • Annual tuition and fees: $24,870
  • Annual net price: $3,125
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $7,928
  • Students with educational debt: 68 percent

7. Barclay College in Kansas

  • Annual tuition and fees: $14,390
  • Annual net price: $17,392
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $7,220
  • Students with educational debt: 72 percent

8. The Baptist College of Florida

  • Annual tuition and fees: $10,000
  • Annual net price: $10,360
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $17,174
  • Students with educational debt: 63 percent

9. Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary in Missouri

  • Annual tuition and fees: $11,320
  • Annual net price: $13,133
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $15,498
  • Students with educational debt: 63 percent

10. Princeton University in New Jersey

  • Annual tuition and fees: $43,450
  • Annual net price: $17,901
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $8,577
  • Students with educational debt: 16 percent

11. Alaska Pacific University in Alaska

  • Annual tuition and fees: $19,610
  • Annual net price: $19,536
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $8,922
  • Students with educational debt: 63 percent

12. Blue Mountain College in Mississippi

  • Annual tuition and fees: $10,852
  • Annual net price: $11,182
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $18,307
  • Students with educational debt: 70 percent

13. Webb Institute in New York

  • Annual tuition and fees: $46,000
  • Annual net price: $18,149
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $10,000
  • Students with educational debt: 20 percent

14. Piedmont International University in North Carolina

  • Annual tuition and fees: $9,580
  • Annual net price: $14,981
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $19,784
  • Students with educational debt: 69 percent

15. Columbia College in Missouri

  • Annual tuition and fees: $8,240
  • Annual net price: $17,891
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $23,515
  • Students with educational debt: 53 percent

16. Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

  • Annual tuition and fees: $15,604
  • Annual net price: $15,196
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $18,643
  • Students with educational debt: 64 percent

17. Mercy College of Ohio

  • Annual tuition and fees: $12,530
  • Annual net price: $16,744
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $18,652
  • Students with educational debt: 69 percent

18. Columbia International University in South Carolina

  • Annual tuition and fees: $20,430
  • Annual net price: $17,942
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $18,786
  • Students with educational debt: 51 percent

19. Heritage Bible College

  • Annual tuition and fees: $9,168
  • Annual net price: $13,412
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $15,000
  • Students with educational debt: 100 percent

20. Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Tennessee

  • Annual tuition and fees: $20,790
  • Annual net price: $28,632
  • Average indebtedness of graduates: $15,000
  • Students with educational debt: 47 percent

5 strategies for finding the best affordable private colleges

The cost of attending a private college can keep away students who are on a budget. Still, as a student, you might dream of attending a private college for a variety of reasons, such as:

If you know a private college more closely matches the college experience you hope to have, don’t overlook it as an option. Follow these tips so you can find an affordable private college and avoid leaving with a large amount of student debt.

1. Search for affordable private colleges that are a good fit

As you think about which college you want to attend, keep the whole picture in view. Although it’s important to consider tuition costs, make sure you consider other factors as well.

For example, a religious private college might not be a great fit for a nonbeliever, no matter the price tag. On the other hand, a studious or conservative student might prefer to avoid private universities with reputations as party schools.

Visiting colleges can be a great way to see campuses in person and get face-to-face time with students and university officials.

2. Widen your search to private colleges outside your state

As you consider colleges, it’s smart to include in-state public universities in your search. They can help you lower costs by allowing you to live closer to home — or even with family if there’s a college in your hometown.

But you might prefer to attend college farther afield, perhaps to assert your independence or because in-state choices are a poor fit for your academic and professional goals.

When you’re facing out-of-state tuition costs, the prices of private colleges seem more reasonable. Unlike public schools, private colleges don’t have different tuition rates based on residency. So whether a private college is in your state or across the country, its location won’t affect your costs.

As you search for colleges, widen your survey to include private colleges farther away.

3. Check graduation rates and career outcomes

Private colleges can improve your chances of academic and career success. Six-year graduation rates were 66 percent at private colleges in 2016, compared to 59 percent at public colleges, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

But just like you shouldn’t assume a private college is too expensive, you also shouldn’t assume it has rigorous academic standards or high-performing programs.

Ask colleges you’re interested in attending for statistics on the performance and success of the student body, including graduation rates, job placements, and average starting salaries. This information will give you a clearer picture of which college is most likely to set you on your desired career path.

Also, it’s probably best to steer clear of for-profit private colleges altogether. These colleges focus on making a buck, not offering the best educational experience to students. For-profit colleges often land students deep in debt and deliver poor job outcomes and decreased earning potential.

4. Pursue financial aid, grants, and scholarships

It pays off to maintain a focus on financial aid throughout the college admissions and acceptance process. To narrow down your private-college search, check for financial aid policies and programs that match your situation and needs.

Students from low-income families might seek out private colleges with policies that match 100 percent of demonstrated need. Berea College, for example, offers a Tuition Promise Scholarship that covers 100 percent of any tuition that is unpaid after applying other financial aid and scholarships.

Attending one of these schools can give you the peace of mind that, between financial and institutional aid, all costs will be covered.

Perhaps you come from a middle-income family and are unlikely to receive many need-based grants but have above-average academic records and test scores. In this case, private colleges can be the smarter choice. They have greater discretion (and larger budgets) to offer merit-based aid than public colleges, making it easier for you to bank on your academic performance to finance your education.

5. Compare your real costs at each college

Lastly, you won’t know for sure which college is the most affordable until you receive your financial aid award letter from each college you’re considering.

If you’ve filed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and received acceptance letters from colleges, the next step is to wait for financial award letters. These documents outline the financial aid packages colleges are offering you.

Each college will list grants and scholarships as well as other forms of aid, including work-study and student loans. Comparing these offers lets you figure out the net cost of attending each college, which can help you decide which one offers the best value.

Financial aid award letters typically arrive in plenty of time for students to compare offers, make their choice, and secure a spot by the college’s enrollment deadline. Take some time to understand each offer, including which aid is “free” and which aid will need to be repaid. Then you can see how the financial aid award letters match up and which colleges offer the best value without breaking your budget.

Give private colleges a chance

If you end up writing off an entire category of colleges, you could miss out on a unique experience and the generous financial aid packages many private colleges offer.

These new college rankings proved that private colleges can be a cost-effective option. Students can afford to attend a private college and still graduate with less student debt.

Any well-rounded college search should include private universities. These schools offer unique experiences, individualized assistance, and forms of financial aid many students would struggle to find at public colleges.

You won’t know if a private college could be a smart and cost-savvy fit until you investigate and compare costs for yourself.

Methodology: Student Loan Hero surveyed data for 670 private colleges and ranked institutions based on the factors of affordability and student debt.

Private colleges were ranked based on four factors: (1) tuition and fees for 2015-16 and (2) the 2014-15 estimates of net price, which is the cost of attendance after the average financial aid package is applied to costs, both sourced from the most recent data available from the National Center of Educational Statistics, and (3) the average indebtedness of a 2015 graduate from the college and (4) the proportion of students graduating with any student debt, both sourced from the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success Project on Student Debt.

Tuition and fees, net price, and proportion of students graduating with student debt were weighted equally (at one-fifth of the ranking score). The average indebtedness was weighted twice as heavily (at two-fifths of the ranking score). The top-ranked 100 private colleges are listed below.

RankName of institutionState2015-16 tuition and fees2014-15 net priceAverage indebtednessPortion of students with debt
1College of the OzarksMO$18,730$13,567$5,3397%
2Davis CollegeNY$13,540$12,690$5,36022%
3Brigham Young University-ProvoUT$5,150$12,900$15,72027%
4Amridge UniversityAL$6,900$4,613$10,50063%
5Alice Lloyd CollegeKY$11,460$13,405$10,59142%
6Berea CollegeKY$24,870$3,125$7,92868%
7Barclay CollegeKS$14,390$17,392$7,22072%
8The Baptist College of FloridaFL$10,000$10,360$17,17463%
9Calvary Bible College and Theological SeminaryMO$11,320$13,133$15,49863%
10Princeton UniversityNJ$43,450$17,901$8,57716%
11Alaska Pacific UniversityAK$19,610$19,536$8,92263%
12Blue Mountain CollegeMS$10,852$11,182$18,30770%
13Webb InstituteNY$46,000$18,149$10,00020%
14Piedmont International UniversityNC$9,580$14,981$19,78469%
15Columbia CollegeMO$8,240$17,891$23,51553%
16Gallaudet UniversityDC$15,604$15,196$18,64364%
17Mercy College of OhioOH$12,530$16,744$18,65269%
18Columbia International UniversitySC$20,430$17,942$18,78651%
19Heritage Bible CollegeNC$9,168$13,412$15,000100%
20Watkins College of Art, Design & FilmTN$20,790$28,632$15,00047%
21Maranatha Baptist UniversityWI$13,940$18,767$20,46163%
22Yale UniversityCT$47,600$18,164$15,52117%
23Harvard UniversityMA$45,278$15,742$16,72324%
24Louisiana CollegeLA$15,070$14,002$22,96966%
25Hodges UniversityFL$13,220$17,920$17,77584%
26Martin Luther CollegeMN$13,570$17,676$23,63662%
27Montreat CollegeNC$24,220$18,721$21,23852%
28Williams Baptist CollegeAR$16,430$14,955$21,12176%
29Amherst CollegeMA$50,562$16,861$15,75625%
30Pomona CollegeCA$47,620$18,423$13,38139%
31Haverford CollegePA$49,098$21,056$14,75028%
32Tennessee Wesleyan CollegeTN$22,900$10,754$21,64476%
33Thomas More College of Liberal ArtsNH$20,400$15,489$23,45265%
34Life UniversityGA$10,860$22,619$36,20020%
35Campbellsville UniversityKY$23,828$16,576$19,42072%
36Soka University of AmericaCA$30,642$12,295$18,95470%
37Liberty UniversityVA$20,109$23,468$21,06762%
38Cardinal Stritch UniversityWI$27,540$18,417$12,88890%
39Ave Maria UniversityFL$18,479$18,800$25,70259%
40Mississippi CollegeMS$16,064$16,017$29,18956%
41Thomas Aquinas CollegeCA$24,500$19,736$16,90180%
42Wellesley CollegeMA$46,836$22,138$12,45549%
43Oklahoma Baptist UniversityOK$24,000$17,320$24,45158%
44Stanford UniversityCA$46,320$19,245$21,23822%
45Calumet College of Saint JosephIN$17,000$11,218$23,46590%
46Bryan College — DaytonTN$23,300$16,153$16,99293%
47Saint Joseph’s College — New YorkNY$24,113$15,702$26,59557%
48Goddard CollegeVT$15,476$19,758$25,88369%
49Villa Maria CollegeNY$20,260$10,522$22,65891%
50Trinity College of FloridaFL$15,690$18,731$29,23158%
51John Brown UniversityAR$24,468$19,943$23,69560%
52Harding UniversityAR$17,805$17,578$25,29572%
53Ouachita Baptist UniversityAR$24,120$19,102$26,64851%
54Vanderbilt UniversityTN$44,712$22,937$21,50622%
55LeMoyne-Owen CollegeTN$10,680$9,114$27,44196%
56Swarthmore CollegePA$47,442$21,580$18,26233%
57Samford UniversityAL$28,370$28,578$23,77237%
58San Diego Christian CollegeCA$28,470$27,243$19,21258%
59Davidson CollegeNC$46,966$22,865$19,92927%
60Truett-McConnell CollegeGA$18,000$17,725$25,25176%
61Hilbert CollegeNY$20,700$16,019$21,83088%
62Middlebury CollegeVT$47,828$20,197$17,79741%
63Saint Augustine’s UniversityNC$17,890$21,503$19,50093%
64Oklahoma Christian UniversityOK$19,890$18,758$28,14261%
65University of Mount OliveNC$18,400$14,654$23,76690%
66University of the CumberlandsKY$21,000$16,515$25,19876%
67Friends UniversityKS$25,965$18,662$19,00886%
68Young Harris CollegeGA$28,012$16,193$23,73369%
69Lyon CollegeAR$25,280$17,213$22,32178%
70Duke UniversityNC$49,241$21,295$19,10435%
71Hamilton CollegeNY$49,500$21,907$17,65439%
72Williams CollegeMA$50,070$21,546$16,59343%
73Mercy CollegeNY$18,076$16,363$26,10081%
74Bethune-Cookman UniversityFL$14,410$16,645$24,43095%
75Drury UniversityMO$24,905$21,506$26,45157%
76Washington and Lee UniversityVA$46,417$21,379$21,68334%
77Lee UniversityTN$15,000$18,139$32,01664%
78Aquinas CollegeMI$28,820$17,551$22,39676%
79Fontbonne UniversityMO$23,790$18,514$24,28177%
80University of PikevilleKY$18,840$17,653$27,64576%
81Chaminade University of HonoluluHI$21,780$21,077$27,43964%
82Flagler College — St. AugustineFL$16,830$21,804$28,89767%
83Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and ArtNY$42,650$40,617$17,33822%
84California Institute of TechnologyCA$45,390$23,213$20,67739%
85The Master’s College and SeminaryCA$30,920$24,397$22,41759%
86Marymount California UniversityCA$34,680$25,886$17,70567%
87Mount Carmel College of NursingOH$12,180$14,524$32,45578%
88Webber International UniversityFL$24,792$23,783$23,42169%
89Lancaster Bible CollegePA$19,980$21,300$24,68179%
90Rice UniversityTX$42,253$22,462$25,52829%
91Bowdoin CollegeME$48,212$23,156$20,88334%
92Carson-Newman UniversityTN$25,360$16,662$26,85170%
93Lindsey Wilson CollegeKY$23,162$16,100$26,24978%
94Wingate UniversityNC$27,930$18,821$30,14548%
95Colgate UniversityNY$49,970$21,741$20,85934%
96Colby CollegeME$49,120$18,908$23,34232%
97Dartmouth CollegeNH$49,506$21,348$19,13543%
98King UniversityTN$26,480$18,504$22,60782%
99Xavier University of LouisianaLA$22,349$16,385$24,57087%
100University of Great FallsMT$22,170$18,336$26,32877%

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UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. 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. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)..


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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 require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate 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.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

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.

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.


7 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  2. Get a cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan when you earn at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in any academic period covered by the loan. Limitations Apply. Visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for terms and conditions.
  3. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate, graduate, health professions, law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of April 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Your APR will be determined after you apply. Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.
  4. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Private Consolidation Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants who are approved and choose a shorter repayment term, and include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of April 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Your APR will be determined after you apply. Visit Discover.com/student-loans/consolidation.html for more information, including up-to-date interest rates and APRs.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.