The Real-Life Advice Financial Planners Give Their Clients About Student Debt

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What do you think of when you hear the phrase “financial advisor?” For many, the title conjures images of older men behind big, fancy mahogany desks that could have cost more than our cars, giving advice to other older, rich people.

You wouldn’t normally think of a financial advisor as someone who can help someone like you, with few assets and a whole lot of student loan debt – right?

That’s not necessarily the case anymore. The number of financial planners who want to work with Gen X and Gen Y is on the rise. And these advisors don’t push products, make commissions from sales, or require you to have a minimum amount of money to invest before working with you.

In fact, many of these advisors have clients with more debt than assets!

Many not only focus on working with Gen X and Gen Y, but also specialize in serving people with student loan debt. They’re experts at providing counsel and advice on the best ways to manage and repay these loans.

That’s why we reached out to them to ask what exactly what advice is and we’re sharing their insights and ideas with you.

Understand your unique situation – then take action

Mark Struthers is a CFA, CFP, and runs Sona Financial. He says that, in general, the best tips he can offer to clients dealing with student loan debt are:

  1. Don’t ignore the problem.
  2. Don’t give up!
  3. Understan things are rarely cut and dry on either side – for you as the borrower or for your loan servicer.
  4. Make the most of your situation.

To follow Struthers’ fourth tip, you must understand what that unique situation is. He believes there are three main types of borrowers: the Almost Bankrupt, the In-Between, and the In Good Shape. The advice he gives to his clients depends on where they fall in this spectrum.

How to handle student loans when you’re in “Good Shape”

Struthers gives the example of real-life clients to illustrate what it means to have loans but still be in good financial shape.

One couple he works with has about $100,000 in debt, but make about $155,000 gross income per year. They maintain a low standard of living to leave room in their cash flow to contribute to retirement accounts and make at least the minimum payments on their student loan debts.

Their financial planning challenge – as it is with anyone in good shape but with loans to repay – is understanding how to make the most of their cash flow and prioritize their goals.

Struthers looked at his clients’ goals in relation to what they had to work with, including cash flow, assets, interest rates on their loans, loan balances, and their job security. Then, he evaluated their options, which included various repayment programs and considering refinancing or consolidation.

“For the in-good-shape borrower,” says Struthers, “it’s about making the most out of their situation. This means balancing goals and risk and return, and making the most out of the assets and opportunities.”

If you’re feeling financially sound, you probably need little help in understanding how to change your spending or how to set up a better budget. You may benefit from looking into refinancing to lower your interest rate, or bumping up your payment to make more than the minimum so your loan balance is repaid faster.

What to do when you’re “Almost Bankrupt”

If you’re in this category, you likely don’t have assets and are in or close to default on your student loans. Struthers says it may be time to get a lawyer involved if you find yourself here.

“Stay calm, get good representation, and know it usually works out better than you think,” he advises. “It’s still about making the most out of what you have, including assets, liabilities, income, and cash flow.”

Ask for forgiveness when you can

Marcio Silveira is a CFP® and founder of Pavlov Financial Planning. He’s based out of Washington, D.C. and likes to make sure his clients are well aware of their options for student loan forgiveness.

“I believe that anyone working for nonprofits or the government should get informed about Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” he explains. “It may be a very valuable tool.”

Silveira says he has one client who works as a doctor and has over $300,000 in student loan debt. She was recently accepted to a highly competitive three-year residency program at a prestigious non-profit institution in the Mid-Atlantic and is considering getting married.

The client wanted to understand her options for repayment. Silveira recommended that she apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). And he also suggested his client postpone getting married.

“The reason is that the amount of loan repayments is a function of the Adjusted Gross Income,” says Silveira. “If she files as a single taxpayer, her income is small, but if she checks the ‘married filing jointly’ box, the combined income – and therefore, her monthly loan repayment amounts – would be much larger.”

More than just math

“Whenever I advise clients on student loan debt, I find that it’s more of a counseling session than trying to figure out the best or fastest strategy to pay down debt,” says financial advisor and CFP Angel Melgoza.

He finds that, with most clients, he moves through three main processes to help them better manage their student loans.

First, he suggests establishing a written budget. “I used to be a personal fitness trainer and I always describe a budget like a diet,” says Melgoza. “The only way it works is if you can stick to it. I caution my clients to let themselves have fun in their budget – not too much, but enough to let them live a comfortable lifestyle where they don’t feel the stress of paying off a large student loan.”

Next, he advises his clients to speak with their loan servicers. He says loan services can offer flexibility with payment arrangement, but only if you ask. “They’re not mind readers,” he says. “If you do not contact them to make suitable payment arrangements, they will not help.” By reaching out, you can tap into new options to make sure you stay in control of your financial life.

Melgoza also walks clients through payment plans that could help them manage payments that work into their monthly budget, including the Standard Repayment Plan, the Extended Repayment Plan, and plans that are income-driven, which are designed to help you manage your debt by reducing the monthly payment to a certain percentage of your discretionary income.

Beyond payment plans, Melgoza also educates clients on options like deferment and forbearance. “Deferment is where the principal and interest of your loan is delayed for a certain period of time. During deferment, the government pays the interest on subsidized loans,” he explains. “Forbearance is where your can stop making payments on your loans or significantly reduce the payment amount for up to a year. During forbearance, interest is still due on all of your loans.”

Finally, Melgoza notes that your student loans and debt repayment don’t need to be the center of your financial life. “It’s okay to have other goals,” he says. “Many graduates panic about the need to be debt-free to the point that they forget to live their lives.”

He’s seen clients overwhelm themselves with extra payments and going to extremes, focusing on their debt with tunnel vision.

“Life passes them by and they forget to travel and celebrate special occasions,” he shares. “They delay marriage, put off buying a home, and even neglect saving for retirement. From my experience, most clients just need reassurance that it’s okay to have a life, maintain goals, and still be in debt.”

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2018!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
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Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. 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.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% 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 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% 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. 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. (

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable 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, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% 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 cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, 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 We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at, 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, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. 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.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. 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 understand what you are buying, and consult 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. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.