The Right Way to Use Student Loans for Living Expenses

 June 13, 2020
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Using student loans for living expenses like housing is expected by loan providers. Typically, when you take out loans for college, the money is sent directly to the school to cover things like tuition and room and board, fees, textbooks and other educational expenses.

If you borrowed a certain amount for all of these things but financial aid covered more than you thought, you could receive a refund check for the balance. What should you do now?

You could simply send the check back to your loan provider. You could also keep the money and put it towards additional school expenses. You might even be tempted to upgrade your car or spring break plans.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at:

How to spend your student loan refund

There are many ways you can use a student loan refund check to enhance your college experience, but remember, “free” money does not exist. Your check is not extra spending money; it’s a refund of your leftover loan amount that you will be expected to repay, with interest. If you are going to spend the funds, it is wise to carefully think about how to best utilize your cash. Simply living off your student loans without a plan may not be a wise decision.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office, you can use student loan funds only for education expenses like tuition, room and board, textbooks and other school supplies.

And, you can also use it for transportation to and from college and child care. Student loan providers don’t check your bank account, but you are not supposed to spend your loan dollars on things like a new school wardrobe or a big trip. The same rules apply to your refund.

Here are some things you could use your student loan refund to help with your college experience:

Find Affordable Housing

If you live in a dorm, the expense is considered a direct educational cost and is covered by your student loan before you receive the balance of your disbursement. But if you live off campus, it’s your responsibility to find and pay for housing yourself.

If you use your student loan refund to cover your off-campus housing, try to keep it simple. Find out if your school offers co-ops or keeps a list of affordable and student-friendly local buildings. Try to find an affordable apartment in a decent neighborhood close to campus. If you want to save further, consider cutting the cost down by getting a roommate or two.

Keep your food allowance minimal

The refund money may tempt you to order more take-out and hit more happy hours, but doing so could be an easy way to burn through your do-it-yourself meal plan to save money.

It’s usually cheaper to cook healthy meals for yourself than to eat out or even join a school’s meal plan. And there’s no shortage of cheap and easy recipes online. Plan out and budget for your meals by shopping at grocery stores and local or campus-based farmers markets.

Cover transportation costs

Unless you live on campus or within walking or biking distance, you’ll need to spend on transportation.Using your student loan refund to pay for transportation could allow you to get to and from a part-time job, helping you make money in the long run.

Buy books and supplies

Your student loans are supposed to be used to cover education-related expenses. So, a refund check can be a great way to buy the books and supplies you need. Just make sure to shop around for your best deals, which you probably won’t find at the campus bookstore. Look for used books online or rent textbooks to save even more money.

Hire a tutor

If you’re struggling with your studies, paying for a tutor may be worth the expense. Ask your professors for recommendations or check online to hire a graduate student to help you with your studies.

Pay for necessary additional expenses

If you were approved for additional money to cover special expenses — such as child care, disability-related costs, an updated computer or software — use it accordingly. Try not to skimp on goods and services you need to make the most of your education.

How not to spend your student loan refund

You might be tempted to use your refund money to spruce up your life a bit, but try not to do any of the following:

Buy furniture

If you’re living off campus in an unfurnished apartment, you’re going to need some household items. But before you (and your refund check) run off to Ikea, consider your options. You could bring what you can from home, and for your remaining needs, buy it used. You’ll find plenty of cheap, gently used items online at Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, or at yard sales or thrift stores.

Purchase new clothes

A new wardrobe isn’t usually needed for college, unless maybe you are from sunny Florida and heading to school in snowy Maine, for example. If weather is a big game changer, then it may be advisable to invest in a warm coat and other necessary cold-weather gear.

But you don’t need to purchase a brand new wardrobe. Keep as much of your current clothes as possible and shop local at thrift stores, check websites such as thredUP or Poshmark, or get together with friends for a clothing swap.

Get a new car

It can be a big mistake to use your student loans on a new car. Drive the one you have until it stops working. If you don’t have a car, try to learn to make college life work without it. If you live on campus, it’s easy. If not, check out public transportation or invest in a bicycle. Many colleges also offer shuttles to help students get around.

Buy alcohol

In our opinion, alcohol is a waste of money, and if you’re not careful, it also can be costly to your health, studies and relationships. And if you are under 21 years of age, it’s also illegal to purchase it.

Go on vacation

Whether it’s a ski weekend or spring break, travel is a luxury that shouldn’t be funded by student loan money. There are plenty of ways to have free fun in a college town and its surrounding areas.

What to do with leftover student loan money

Save it

If you have more student loan money than you need, this is the perfect time to learn an essential life lesson — how to save for an emergency. You never know what might come up. If you do have leftover funds, sock them away for a rainy day.

Give it back

There is no rule that says you have to keep all the student loan money you receive. In fact, you can return part of your loan interest-free within the first 120 days.

If that 120-day window has closed, you still can pay a portion of your loan back. Take whatever you have left and make a student loan payment while still in school. You’ll reduce your debt and free yourself from the interest you’d otherwise pay on that amount when you graduate.

If you want to give back the refund, but still could use some extra cash, there are ways to earn money in college to help fund your life. Try making money via apps on your smartphone or find a part-time remote job and work from the comfort of your apartment or dorm.

Spend as little as possible

One purchasing decision might seem like a drop in the bucket, but you’ll make hundreds of purchasing decisions while you’re in college. From housing to food to entertainment, that could add up to thousands of dollars in savings over the course of your college career.

While you should focus on keeping your costs down, you should also consider how to reduce your debt. As mentioned earlier, maybe try taking on a side hustle while you’re in school. That way, you can make money to cover your costs rather than using your student loan refund check.

If you can use your part-time income to pay for books, transportation and other educational expenses, then your entire refund can go toward paying back your student loans.

Maya Dollarhide contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.74% – 8.70%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.74% – 7.99%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.74% – 7.99%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 5.90%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.74% – 7.99%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit NaviRefi

2.05% – 5.25%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

1.86% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

N/A7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

1.99% – 8.38%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Citizens

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 May 4, 2022.


2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 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%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 1.74% APR to 7.99% 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.


4 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 $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.

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.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

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.
 


5 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.99% – 8.24% APR (2.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (1.74% – 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.


6 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.

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 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Fixed Rate Loan Terms: 5 years/60 monthly payments, 8 years/96 monthly payments, 12 years/144 monthly payments or 15 years/180 monthly payments. Annual Percentage Rate is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rates range from 3.29% to 5.43% APR. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed APR: Fixed rates will not change during the term. This rate is expressed as an APR. Since there are no fees associated with this loan offer, the APR is the same percentage as the actual interest rate of the loan. These rates are 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.


8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

CitizensBank Disclosures

Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure:  Variable interest rates range from 1.99%-8.38% (1.99%-8.38% APR). Fixed  interest rates range from 2.99%-8.63% (2.99%-8.63% APR).

IS Variable Rate Disclosure:  Variable Rates advertised are 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 December 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%.  Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will  vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Your final variable rate may  be based upon the 30-day average SOFR index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.

ERL Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of May 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 0.29%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

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. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, 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. 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 on our website 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.
 
Citizens Student Loan Eligibility: : Applicants must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution.
 
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, DC, DE, FL, MA, MD, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VA, 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.
 
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. 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.