7 Student Loan Repayment Strategies from Experienced Borrowers

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When it comes to repaying student loans, everyone’s approach will look a little different.

One borrower might choose an income-driven repayment plan to cap their monthly bills. Another might postpone their payments through deferment, while a third makes extra payments each month to get out of debt faster.

To find out more about the various approaches to paying off loans, I spoke with four different borrowers about their experiences. Here are the strategies they used to manage their student loans without falling behind or going broke.

1. Throwing extra payments at student loans

When Michael Outar graduated from college, he owed $24,000 in student loans. But instead of sticking to the standard 10-year plan, Outar paid off this debt in just two years by making extra payments each month.

How did Outar find room in his budget?

“A neat trick I used to pay off my debt quickly is to cut my spending and pretend like I am spending the same amount of money — but I am actually using the money I saved to pay off my student loans,” said Outar.

Outar cut his spending considerably and put his extra money toward his loans. Now a personal finance blogger at Savebly.com, Outar advises other student loan borrowers to take the same approach.

“Find ways to cut costs or ways to increase your income, and use that money to pay off your student loan debt,” advised Outar. “Throw whatever extra money you have at your student loan debt!”

By making extra payments, you could save money on interest and get out of debt years ahead of schedule.

2. Deferring payments while job searching

While extra payments can save you money on interest and get you out of debt faster, not everyone has room in their budget for this approach. In fact, you might be struggling just to make the regular payment each month.

In this case, postponing payments through deferment or forbearance might be a better strategy. That’s what Jason Butler, owner of My Money Chronicles, chose to do for a couple of years after graduating with $38,000 in student loans.

“It took me a year and a half to find a full-time job after I graduated from college,” said Butler. “I couldn’t pay the loans, so I had to defer them.”

While pausing payments can help, it might also come with some downsides. Unless you have subsidized loans, your debt will continue to accrue interest during this time. Once you resume repayment, you’ll be facing an even bigger balance.

Butler’s loans, for example, grew to nearly $62,000. Still, though, Butler says deferment was the right choice at the time.

“It was helpful, because if I didn’t defer the loans, I probably would have defaulted on them,” he said.

Deferment and forbearance can be useful options, but make sure you understand the downsides of postponing student loan payments, too.

3. Refinancing at a lower interest rate

Once he found a steady job, Butler decided to be proactive about getting his loans out of repayment and paying them off more aggressively.

“I got focused on … paying [off] the debt,” said Butler. After reading about how refinancing can lower your interest rate, Butler decided to refinance his private student loans.

He shopped around with refinancing providers, finally landing on an offer from Earnest. Butler’s new loan had a starting variable interest rate of 5.6% and a repayment term of 20 years, though he plans to pay it off ahead of schedule.

That last point is important, since although a longer loan term translates into a smaller monthly payment, it will also keep you in debt longer, meaning you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Note too that Butler refinanced private student loans rather than federal ones. While it’s sometimes also worth refinancing federal debt, swapping federal loans for a private refinancing loan means you’ll lose access to income-driven repayment plans and some government loan-forgiveness programs.

4. Applying for Income-Based Repayment

On the standard 10-year repayment plan, finance professor Brandon Renfro was paying $1,000 per month toward his student loans. To reduce this hefty bill, he decided to apply for Income-Based Repayment (IBR).

“I chose to use an income-driven repayment plan so that I could lower my payments,” said Renfro. “IBR lowered [my monthly payments] to $700. That’s a 30% reduction, which certainly isn’t trivial.”

Income-driven plans such as IBR base your monthly bills on how much you make. Depending on when you borrowed, an income-driven plan could cap your payments at 10%, 15%, or 20% of your discretionary income. What’s more, if you still have a balance after 20 or 25 years of on-time repayment, the remainder can be forgiven.

Reducing his monthly bills through IBR not only helped Renfro become a homeowner, but it also allowed him to work as a professor at a private not-for-profit college.

“Although I knew I wanted to be a professor, the existence of student loan programs like IBR … made it much easier, said Renfro. “The general idea behind these types of programs is that it makes jobs that are relatively less-compensated more feasible. I can safely say I’d be in an industry position if it weren’t for [IBR].”

5. Seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Reducing monthly payments wasn’t the only reason Renfro put his loans on IBR. He’s also hoping to get his loan balance wiped out earlier through Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

“The Public Service Loan Forgiveness allows borrowers to have any remaining portion of their student loans forgiven after making 120 qualifying payments,” said Renfro. “IBR payments are qualifying.”

Other income-driven plans will also make you eligible for PSLF, which forgives your loans after just 10 years if you work in a qualifying organization.

“Any governmental job or employment at a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) employer qualifies,” explained Renfro. “I am a finance professor at a private, not-for-profit school, so my employment qualifies.”

While PSLF is a great option for public service employees, it’s important to note that the program has become a hot-button topic as of late. Several Republican lawmakers proposed eliminating PSLF with the PROSPER Act, and many borrowers have seen their applications denied on technicalities. Although the program is still running, there’s no guarantee that it won’t disappear in the future.

6. Setting up a side hustle for extra income

After Making Momentum founder Scott Wesley earned his degree, he felt overwhelmed by his student debt burden of $38,000.

“I was entering adulthood and wanted to push forward with my life. This debt felt like a weight around my ankles that I needed to shed ASAP,” Wesley said.

He jumped into action, refinancing his student loans to a lower rate and increasing his monthly payments to get out of debt more quickly. Knowing that cutting his spending could only help so much, Wesley made it his mission to increase his income as well.

“I set a goal of making $1,000 fast in order to test the side-hustling waters and understand what options to make money outside my 9-to-5 were available,” said Wesley. “Freelancing the skills I had through Upwork by waking up at 5 a.m. every day started earning me an additional $1,200 each month.”

In addition to freelancing, Wesley made extra cash through selling his stuff.

“Similar to most people, I had a ton of stuff in my closet,” said Wesley. “I did another audit and sold excess clutter that wasn’t bringing value to my life. This total of $2,500 in electronics, clothes and sporting goods was also immediately put against the principal.”

By setting up additional streams of income, Wesley was able to speed up his student loan repayment timeline from seven years to just three.

7. Avoiding the temptation of lifestyle inflation

For Wesley, increasing his income was no easy feat. Along with finding the willpower to wake up early and hustle, he also had to avoid the temptation to increase his spending.

“As my career income increased, bonuses at work came in, and side hustle streams grew, I didn’t let lifestyle inflation creep in or ‘FOMO’ [fear of missing out] shift the goal I had set,” he said.

Because he was so focused on paying off his debt, Wesley made sure he kept his spending low, even when he had more money coming in.

“I made paying off this debt my top financial priority, as I wanted to rid myself of the stress and lack of freedom it created,” he said.

At the same time, he recognizes that each person’s situation is different, and his approach might not be for everyone.

“Personal finances are of course personal. What worked for me may not be entirely applicable to your situation,” said Wesley. “However, the strategies above are evergreen, and I believe can help those struggling with student loan debt shift their mindset and ideally conquer that ‘balance owed’ sooner.”

If you can find ways to increase your income and cut your spending, you can get out from under the shadow of debt faster than you might realize.

Explore your options for student loan repayment

When it comes to dealing with student loans, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone’s situation is different, and what works for one borrower might not work for another.

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, for instance, an income-driven plan, forbearance or deferment could offer relief and help you avoid default.

But if you can find ways to cut your spending or make extra money, then applying some extra payments to your loan could lead you to a debt-free life more quickly.

Inform yourself about your options for repayment so you can choose the best one for your situation.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2019!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance:

    Fixed rates from 3.890% APR to 8.074% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.500% APR to 7.115% 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 2.500% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.50% plus 0.00% 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. See eligibility details. 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)

2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

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 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% 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 hello@earnest.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

FIXED APR
Fixed rate options consist of a range from 3.75% per year to 5.80% per year for a 5-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term, 4.55% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term, 4.85% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.30% per year to 7.27% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. The fixed interest rate will apply until the loan is paid in full (whether before or after default, and whether before or after the scheduled maturity date of the loan). The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.75% per year to 5.80% per year for a 5-year term would be from $183.04 to $192.40. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.25% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term would be from $137.84 to $147.29. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.55% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term would be from $103.88 to $114.31. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.85% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.30 to $90.16. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.30% per year to 7.27% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.66 to $79.16.

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.

VARIABLE APR
Variable rate options consist of a range from 2.75% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.75% per year to 6.90% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. 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. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.25% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 1.50% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 1.75% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.00% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.25% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 2.75% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term would be from $178.58 to $194.73. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term would be from $136.69 to $147.77. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term would be from $102.44 to $113.04. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term would be from $76.50 to $87.94. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.75% per year to 6.90% per year for a 20-year term would be from $64.62 to $76.93.

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.

LendKey Disclosures

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.

CommonBond Disclosures

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 2.49% effective March 10, 2019.


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable 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 April 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.50%. Variable interest rates range from 3.00% – 9.74% (3.00% – 9.74% 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 co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 3.89% – 9.99% (3.89% – 9.99% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown 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. Applicants with an Associate’s degree or with no degree must have made at least 12 qualifying payments after leaving school. Qualifying payments are the most recent on time and consecutive payments of principal and interest on the loans being refinanced. 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. Borrowers whose loans were funded prior to reaching the age of majority may not be eligible for co-signer release. Note: co-signer release is not available on the Student Loan for Parents or Education Refinance Loan for Parents.

2.50% – 7.27%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.50% – 7.12%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.81% – 8.79%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.50% – 6.65%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.55% – 7.12%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

3.00% – 9.74%6Undergrad
& 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. 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 to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with 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.