Whether you’re an incoming freshman or a senior ready to graduate, it’s easy to view student loans as a solution to your current problem without any consideration for their terms.
But with the average student loan balance of $39,400 for Class of 2017 graduates, it’s essential that you understand what you’re getting yourself into — specifically, student loan interest rates.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about interest rates on student loans and how they impact your balance.
What are student loan interest rates?
When borrowing money to pay for college, lenders need something in return to make the deal beneficial for both parties. That’s where interest rates apply. They’re typically marketed as an annual percentage, but interest charges are added to your balance and paid monthly.
The APR on your loan will depend on a few factors and can even change over time, depending on whether you have fixed or variable interest rates.
How lenders determine student loan rates
Federal student loan interest rates are set by Congress and are tied closely to the 10-year Treasury note, plus an additional percentage.
Loan servicers aren’t able to set their own rates on federal student loans, and most loans have a fixed rate through the entire term. Interest rates are set each spring before a new school year.
Private lenders, on the other hand, determine their own student loan rates based on a risk-based pricing model. This means that they offer a range of interest rates, and the rate you receive when you get approved is based on how risky of a borrower you are.
Each lender has different criteria for determining interest rates, as well as varying rate ranges. Private lenders consider your credit history, income, and other factors when determining your rate. Private student loan rates can either be fixed or variable.
Average student loan interest rate
The average student loan interest rate depends on the type of student loan you get. Federal loans tend to charge lower interest rates for undergraduates, especially considering there’s no credit check as with private student loans.
But graduates and parents may find it worthwhile to compare federal loan rates with rates from private lenders.
Federal student loan interest rates, 2018-19
Federal student loan interest rates can change each year. Here are the interest rates you will pay for federal student loans during the 2018-19 school year.
|Loan type||Eligible borrowers||2018-19 rates|
|Direct Unsubsidized||Graduate and professional students||6.60%|
|Direct Graduate PLUS||Graduate and professional students||7.60%|
|Direct Parent PLUS||Parents||7.60%|
Average student loan interest rates from private lenders
Because private lenders can set their own rates according to their own underwriting standards, the average student loan interest rate is based on a wide range. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few top private student lenders.
|Lender||Eligible borrowers||Current rates|
|College Ave Student Loans||All students and parents||3.99% – 12.78%|
|Sallie Mae||All students and parents||4.50% – 11.85%|
|Citizens Bank||All students and parents||4.45% – 12.32%|
Learn more about these and other top private student loan companies to see if they’re a good fit for your needs.
How lenders apply student loan interest rates
Your student loan interest starts accruing the day you take out your loan. If you received Direct Subsidized Loans, the federal government pays your interest while you’re in school and during the six-month grace period after you leave.
But once that grace period is over, you become responsible for paying back both the principal and interest.
If you took out Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, or private student loans, interest accrues unpaid while you’re in school. If you don’t make interest-only payments, the accrued interest capitalizes and is added to your principal balance.
Going forward as you make payments, your student loan servicer will require you to pay off any late fees and accrued interest before applying any part of your payment to your principal balance.
Here’s how your interest gets calculated:
Interest Rate x Current Principal Balance ÷ Number of Days in the Year = Daily Interest
As an example, let’s say your current balance is $32,037 and your interest rate is 6.38%. Plug these numbers into the formula and you get:
6.38% x $32,037 ÷ 365 = $5.60 a day
The higher your balance and your student loan interest rates, the more interest will accrue on a daily basis.
How to reduce the interest you pay on your student loans
There are ways to reduce the amount of interest you pay over the life of your loans. The best way is to pay off your loans as quickly as possible. Since interest accrues every day, the faster you pay off your debt, the less interest will accumulate.
If you have unusually high interest rates on your federal loans, you can also potentially refinance them into a private loan at a lower interest rate. This can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
Take our refinancing eligibility quiz to see if it’s a good option for you.
Ultimately, the faster you pay off your loans, the better. Now that you understand how interest is calculated and added to your bill, you know how important it is to eliminate your student loan debt while paying as little interest as possible.
Cat Alford contributed to this article.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2019!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.50% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.49% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.27% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 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% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 17, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/17/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
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.
4 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.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.48% effective April 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.49% – 7.27%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 6.65%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.41%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.65%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.11%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.98% – 9.72%6||Undergrad & Graduate|