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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
- How not to spend your student loan refund
- What to do with leftover student loan money
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
- Keep your food allowance minimal
- Cover transportation costs
- Buy books and supplies
- Hire a tutor
- Pay for necessary additional expenses
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2021!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|1.88% – 6.15%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.88% – 5.64%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.85%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.89% – 5.90%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.99% – 6.59%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.88% – 5.64%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.90% – 5.25%7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.39% – 6.01%||Undergrad |
|2.13% – 5.25%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 June 1, 2021.
2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Interest Rate Disclosure
Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.48% APR to 5.79% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.88% APR to 5.64% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance 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 2.04% and 5.8% to the one month LIBOR. Earnest rate ranges are current as of 6/8/2021, and are subject to change based on market conditions.
Auto Pay Discount Disclosure
You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay.
Student Loan Refinancing Loan Cost Examples
These examples provide estimates based on payments beginning immediately upon loan disbursement. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 5.89% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,042.39. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 6.04% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,249.77. Your actual repayment terms may vary.Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest. com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Earnest Loans are made by Earnest Operations LLC or One American Bank, Member FDIC. Earnest Operations LLC, NMLS #1204917. 535 Mission St., Suite 1663, San Francisco, CA 94105. California Financing Law License 6054788. Visit earnest.com/licenses for a full list of licensed states. For California residents (Student Loan Refinance Only): Loans will be arranged or made pursuant to a California Financing Law License.
One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC with support from Navient Solutions LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
© 2021 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. 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 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
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.
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 SoFi.
Fixed rates from 2.49% APR to 6.94% APR (with autopay). Variable rates from 1.99% APR to 6.59% APR (with autopay). All variable rates are based on the 1-month LIBOR and may increase after consummation if LIBOR increases; see more at SoFi.com/legal/#1. If approved for a loan your rate will depend on a variety of factors such as your credit profile, your application and your selected loan terms. Your rate will be within the ranges of rates listed above. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers, or may become available, such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license #6054612; NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org). Additional terms and conditions apply; see SoFi.com/eligibility for details. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
6 Important Disclosures for Navient.
7 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 04/07/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.75% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
8 Important Disclosures for PenFed.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.89%-4.78% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.13%-5.25% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. 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.