Note that the government has paused all repayment on federally held student loans through the end of 2022, with no interest to be charged during that period and no loans to be held delinquent or in default.
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Are student loans good, or are student loans bad? Are they a big benefit, or do they just add up to one poor investment?
In reality, they can be both. Good student loan debt could deliver a college degree to help you climb the career ladder. Bad student loan debt can leave you ill-equipped for repayment, harming your finances for years to come.
To get a handle on the upsides and downsides of student loans and other debt, let’s review the following:
- Good debt vs. bad debt: the key difference
- When student loans are good debt — and when they’re bad
- How to make student loans into good debt
Let’s take a look at what the difference between bad and good debt is:
What is good debt, exactly? It’s about borrowing money for something that will appreciate or increase in value and make your loan worth the investment in time and money.
Mortgages: Home loans might be considered a “good” type of debt. Unlike a car, which loses value the moment you drive it off the lot, a house will (hopefully) increase in market value over time. If you sell it years down the line, you’ll (ideally) net enough of a profit to offset some of the principal and interest you’ve paid on the loan.
Small business loans: Entrepreneurs who borrow may also be staying on the good side of debt, since the money they put into paying for overhead, office space, equipment, employee training and salaries should pay off over time if their venture is a success.
Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney at New York-based Tayne Law Group, described good debt as “a debt that you can easily maintain in your budget and debt that has given you a benefit.”
Basically, good debt will allow you to “be thankful for what debt has allowed you to have,” she told Student Loan Hero.
In a nutshell, bad debt is borrowing money to pay for something that diminishes or drops in value over time.
Auto loans: Not only does potentially high interest add to the total amount of principal borrowed, but the car you bought is usually a depreciating asset. In this case, buying a car via an auto loan might just be adding extra interest costs on top of the maintenance, insurance and gas that normally add to the ongoing price of the car.
Credit cards: This can be a good form of revolving debt but might become “bad” if you let your balance build up, making the interest unmanageable. Although some cards come with rewards and perks, they may or may not be worth it if you end up paying a bundle in interest.
Payday loans and cash advances: Other debt like these products often come with insanely high interest rates that can eat your budget up alive. Likewise, big-ticket purchases that need to be financed — like luxury items you don’t need — can be considered bad debt since they don’t appreciate in value.
“Debt is only bad when it becomes unmanageable, out of your budget and you can no longer pay it,” said Tayne. “It can also include debts that simply don’t make sense or debt you didn’t even intend to take on.”
In the good debt versus bad debt debate, student loans fall into a gray area. They can be considered good debt because the money you’re borrowing to attend school is your ticket to earning a degree and getting hired at a well-paying job. That debt should pay itself off over time with a lucrative career in place.
In fact, having a college degree significantly increases your income potential, as compared to peers with less education, according to Student Loan Hero research.
On the other hand, student loans can be bad because that degree does not guarantee employment. Student loan debt currently exceeds the $1.64 trillion mark, with more than 45 million borrowers faced with repaying their obligation, according to our student loan debt statistics.
Even though unemployment for college graduates has been historically low, it doesn’t always stay that way. The Great Recession in 2008 and the coronavirus pandemic erupting in 2020 both worsened the job market for new and recent grads. Even those ex-students who find work more easily than their peers may not earn the kind of salary that makes repaying student debt easy.
In fact, student loans may be the hardest type of debt to narrow down to simply “good” or “bad,” since everyone’s financial and lending needs may differ. Instead, let’s consider both the benefits and drawbacks to student loans.
Is student loan debt good? Yes, when …
- Student loans allow you to pursue a college education without having to pay for your entire tuition in full. With a college degree, you improve your chances of finding well-paying, stable employment.
- Some federal loans are subsidized. If you qualify, you’ll have your interest paid during select periods of time.
- Interest rates on federal loans are currently lower than most other lending products, and the interest is tax-deductible.
- Federal student loans come with a variety of repayment plans (standard, graduated, extended, income-driven, etc.) that can make your loan payments easier to align with your budget.
- You have opportunities to refinance your student loans if you’re struggling with debt — and with federal loans, you have additional options, including mandatory forbearance and various loan forgiveness programs.
- With timely, disciplined payments, student loans can add positively to your credit history and score.
Is student loan debt bad? Yes, when …
- Even though a college education improves your career chances, you still might find yourself unemployed after graduation.
- Entry-level workers fresh out of college also may not earn enough to comfortably afford their loan repayments. Plus, the high amount of debt compared to a lower salary can produce a skewed debt-to-income ratio, which can hurt your credit.
- Unaffordable student loan debt can lead to delinquency and even default, which can ruin your credit score and prevent you from getting approved for other types of credit.
- Student loans have been historically difficult to discharge in bankruptcy, requiring you to prove that paying off the debt would cause you undue hardship.
The most certain way to make student loans into good debt is by having enough money on hand to pay down the majority of your interest before it accrues — but if that were the case, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to take out a loan in the first place.
A look at the above pros and cons may leave you wondering: Should I get student loans? From a financial standpoint, it’s often a necessary evil for students who don’t have the luxury of grants and scholarships, family money or other sources of money for college.
Borrowing money for student loans may be unavoidable, but by managing your debt carefully, you can shift it from bad to good.
Andrew Pentis and Laura Gariepy contributed to this report.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|2.49% – 11.72%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.30%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|4.13% – 7.39%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.99%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.99%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.24% – 8.24%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.48% – 7.98%||Undergrad |
|1.74% – 7.99%7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.69% – 9.92%8||Undergrad & Graduate|
|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 September 6, 2022.
2 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 $9 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.
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.
3 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
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 09/09/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 4.13% APR – 7.39% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.99% APR – 9.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
4 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 3.99% – 8.74% APR (3.74% – 8.49% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 2.74% APR to 8.24% APR (2.49% – 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.
5 Important Disclosures for Navient.
6 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
Fixed rates range from 3.99% APR to 8.24% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 3.24% APR to 8.24% 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.
7 Important Disclosures for Purefy.
Purefy Student Loan Refinancing Rate and Terms Disclosure: Annual Percentage Rates (APR) ranges and examples are based on information provided to Purefy by lenders participating in Purefy’s rate comparison platform. For student loan refinancing, the participating lenders offer fixed rates ranging from 2.73% – 7.99% APR, and variable rates ranging from 1.74% – 7.99% APR. The maximum variable rate is 25.00%. Your interest rate will be based on the lender’s requirements. In most cases, lenders determine the interest rates based on your credit score, degree type and other credit and financial criteria. Only borrowers with excellent credit and meeting other lender criteria will qualify for the lowest rate available. Rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice. Terms and conditions apply.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69%-9.92% (3.69%-9.92% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49%-10.11% (4.49%-10.11% APR).
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.39%- 9.60% (6.39% – 9.60% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.58% – 9.79% (6.58% – 9.79% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69% – 9.16% (3.69% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.35% (4.49% – 9.35% APR).
Education Refinance Loan for Parents Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69%- 9.09% (3.69%- 9.09% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.28% (4.49% – 9.28% APR).
Medical Residency Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69% – 9.16% (3.69% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.35% (4.49% – 9.35% APR).