Student Loan Amortization Explained: How to Pay Off Your Debt Faster

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Student loans can be intimidating.

There are so many technical terms you need to learn in order to maximize your repayment strategy. Terms like IBR, REPAYE, above-the-line deduction, and amortization.

Let’s tackle that last, shall we? Exactly what is student loan amortization and how does it affect your monthly payments?

What Is Amortization?

To understand amortization, let’s start with a brief overview of loans.

There are two types: the first is a revolving loan, like a credit card. With a revolving loan, you have a line of credit for a particular amount (let’s say $1,000) that you can borrow from again and again. Your monthly payment depends on how much of that amount you’ve currently borrowed. As long as you don’t exceed the limit and make at least the monthly payment, you can borrow the same money many times.

The second type of loan is an installment loan, which includes mortgages, auto loans, and student loans. This is a loan you borrow once, then gradually pay back over time. Generally, these loans have a fixed monthly payment — part of that payment goes to principal and a certain amount to interest.

Amortization refers to the process of paying back an installment loan on a fixed payment schedule. Unlike a revolving loan, you can’t “re-borrow” money you’ve paid back, but your monthly payment amount under an installment loan won’t fluctuate the way it can under a revolving loan, either.

How Amortization Affects Your Monthly Student Loan Payment

Perhaps counterintuitively, even though your payment under a typical installment loan is the same each month, the amount of your monthly payment allocated to principal and interest changes over the life of the loan.

Almost always, more of your monthly payment goes toward interest during the early years of repayment. Below is a table of my own student loan payments from 2013. Notice how almost all of my payment goes toward interest until I started paying extra in August:

Payment Date Minimum Payment Actual Payment Principal Paydown Interest Charged
1/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $18.43 $202.87
2/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $0.00 $221.30
3/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $15.25 $206.05
4/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $0.00 $221.30
5/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $0.89 $220.41
6/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $0.00 $221.30
7/28/2013 $221.30 $221.30 $0.88 $220.42
8/28/2013 $221.30 $353.80 $129.33 $224.47
9/28/2013 $221.30 $353.80 $129.82 $223.98
10/28/2013 $221.30 $353.80 $137.53 $216.27
11/28/2013 $221.30 $353.80 $130.84 $222.96
12/28/2013 $221.30 $367.71 $152.43 $215.28
Year 2013 $2,655.60 $3,332.01 $715.40 $2,616.61

 

You can see that despite paying over $3,300 toward that loan over the course of the year, I only reduced my balance by about $700 — and that’s only because I started making extra payments.

Since the balance on that loan was over $55,000, that was pretty tough to swallow. So if you just started making student loan payments, you could be paying hundreds of dollars a month only to see your balance decrease by a fraction of that amount. Frustrating! #AmortizationInAction

Amortization and Income-Driven Repayment

Under certain repayment plans, especially income-driven plans like IBR, PAYE, and REPAYE, your monthly payment isn’t fixed — it varies according to your income.

However, the amount of interest you’re being charged doesn’t vary. This can lead to a situation where your monthly payment not only doesn’t pay off any principal at all, it doesn’t even cover the interest due! This is called negative amortization.

Watching your balance grow because of negative amortization can be disheartening, but worth it in the long run if you’re holding out for loan forgiveness. Just remember that if you leave an income-driven plan, your interest may be capitalized (added to your principal balance). When that happens, you are paying interest on your interest. No good.

Fortunately, you can make extra payments even if you are on an income-driven plan, which helps avoid negative amortization.

Additionally, if you’re on an income-driven repayment plan, the government will pay the remaining unpaid accrued interest on your subsidized loans, including the subsidized portion of a consolidation loan, for up to three consecutive years after you begin repayment under IBR or PAYE. The new REPAYE plan will also have a similar benefit.

How to Get the Best of Student Loan Amortization

Amortization can’t be avoided entirely, since it’s how all installment loans work. However, if you are strategic about your repayment plan, you can maximize the amount that is going toward principal and start to make a bigger dent in your balance.

Whether you are dealing with negative amortization or regular, run-of-the-mill amortization, the best way to reduce the amount of interest you are being charged is to pay extra towards your student loans — as much as you can, as often as you can.

Here are some things to keep in mind when making extra payments:

1. Make extra payments according to the “debt avalanche” method.

Under this method, you pay the minimum on all balances except the one with the highest interest rate. Any money you have leftover in your budget for extra payments, as well as any windfalls, should be directed to that highest-interest balance.

Because your extra payments will be directed toward principal, and because the amount of interest you are charged is based on your principal balance, the debt avalanche method is the best method for reducing the amount of interest you pay over the lifetime of the loan.

Check out this prepayment calculator to see the impact it could have on your loans.

2. Make it explicit that extra payments are to be applied towards the principal of the loan you designate.

Sometimes loan servicers will apply extra payments toward the next month’s payment (read: next month’s interest) instead of toward principal. Additionally, if you have multiple loans with one servicer, they may also apply the extra payment to a loan of their choosing rather than the one you’re targeting.

Include a note in the appropriate field of your online payment or physical check, then double-check that your payment was applied as directed and contact your servicer for a correction if necessary.

3. Refinance at a lower interest rate.

The lower your interest rate, the more of your monthly payment goes toward principal, and the faster you pay back your loans — even during months when you can’t make extra payments for one reason or another.

Be careful when refinancing ; if you currently have federal loans, for example, you could be giving up benefits like access to deferment, forbearance, or income-driven repayment options if you refinance with a private lender. However, with refinancing lenders offering rates as low as 1.9% as today, the money you save could be used to help you get out of debt faster.

Amortization isn’t your friend, but it can be conquered!

While there’s nothing fun about seeing part of your hard-earned student loan payments going toward interest, understanding the process can make it less scary. And once you’re operating from a place of logic rather than fear, you’re in a better position to strategize the best way to put amortization — and student loan debt as a whole — behind you, once and for all.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2018!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
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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. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

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 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, 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.