The Right Way to Use Student Loans for Living Expenses

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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 2021!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.89% – 6.15%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.50% – 6.85%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.90% – 5.25%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.25% – 6.64%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 5.90%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

2.15% – 4.42%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

2.00% – 5.63%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Nelnet Bank

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 1, 2021.


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 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% 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 October 26, 2020, 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 10/26/2020. 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 protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 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 CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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 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 04/07/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance:1. Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.64% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.64% 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 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.12% plus 2.38% 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. The discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the interest savings are applied to the principal loan balance, which may help pay the loan down faster. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. *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. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 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.
 


7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

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 2.15%-4.42% 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.


8 Important Disclosures for Nelnet.

Nelnet Disclosures

Credit Score

Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score.

Auto Debit

Interest rate reduction of .25% for automatically withdrawn payments from any designated bank account (“auto debit discount”). Auto debit discount applies when full payments (including both principal and interest) are automatically drafted from a bank account. The auto debit discount will continue to apply during periods of approved forbearance or deferment if the auto debit discount was in effect at the time of receiving the forbearance or deferment. Auto debit discount will remain on the account unless (1) the automatic deduction of payments is canceled or (2) there are three consecutive automatic deductions returned for insufficient funds at any time during the term of the loan.

Cosigner Release

Request for the cosigner to be released can be made by the borrower after 24 consecutive, on-time payments (not later than 15 days after the due date) of principal and interest have been made. Borrowers in deferment or forbearance must make 24 consecutive, on-time payments after re-entering repayment to qualify for the release. The borrower must be current on their payments at the time of the cosigner release request and show the ability to assume full responsibility of the loan(s) by meeting certain credit criteria on their own at the time of the request, including, but not limited to, being a U.S. citizen or having permanent residency in the United States, being the age of majority in their permanent state of residency, providing sufficient proof of income, and having no student loans in default.

Hardship Protection

Hardship forbearance allows you to temporarily suspend payments on your loan(s) while you are experiencing financial hardship. It is offered in increments of two or three months, with a maximum of 12 months available, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. If your loan(s) are in good standing at the time of your request, you will be eligible for forbearance in increments of two monthly payments. If, at the time of your initial request, your loan(s) are considered past-due, you will be eligible for forbearance in increments of three monthly payments. Future increments of forbearance, up to a life-time maximum of 12 months, may be requested upon the completion of making a certain number of principal and interest payments. During the two- or three-month forbearance period, you will not be required to make payments; however, any unpaid interest will continue to accrue and will be capitalized (added) onto your principal balance at the end of the forbearance period. You may continue making payments in any amount without penalty during the forbearance period. Your loan repayment term will be extended by the number of months in the forbearance period.

Loan Eligibility

Refinance Loan Eligibility: You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security number, and be the legal age to enter into binding contracts in your permanent state/territory of residency, or be at least 17 years of age and apply with a cosigner who is at least the age of majority in their state/territory. Non-residents can apply with an eligible cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security number. The student loans you refinance must be in their grace or repayment period, and you can no longer be enrolled in school on a half-time or more basis. You must have at least $5,000 in student loans to refinance. You, or your eligible cosigner, must have an annual income of at least $36,000. Approval subject to credit review. Other credit criteria may apply.

Refinance Loan Limits:

  • Minimum loan amount: $5,000
  • Maximum student loan limits:
    • $125,000 for borrowers with an undergraduate degree.
    • $175,000 for borrowers with a graduate or doctorate degree.
    • $175,000 for borrowers with an MBA or graduate law degree.
    • $500,000 for borrowers with a graduate health professions degree.

Loan Refinancing Risks: Federal student loans include benefits that may not be offered with private student loans. Carefully review any potential benefits that may be lost by refinancing federal and private education loans, such as the loss of any remaining grace periods. To learn more about what to take into consideration when refinancing federal student loans with private education loans, click here

Interest Rates

Selecting ‘Get Started’ results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score.

Refinance Loan

Fixed interest rates range from 2.99% APR (with auto debit discount) to 6.25% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. The fixed interest rate will remain the same for the life of the loan.

Variable interest rates range from 2.00% APR (with auto debit discount) to 5.63% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. Variable rates may increase after consummation. The variable interest rate is equal to the One-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (“One-Month LIBOR”) plus a margin. The One-Month LIBOR in effect for each monthly period (from the first day of the month through and including the last day of the same month) will be the highest One-Month LIBOR published in The Wall Street Journal “Money Rates” table on the twenty-fifth (25th) day (or if such day is not a business day, the next business day thereafter) of the month immediately preceding such calendar month. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for a variable interest rate loan will change monthly on the first day of each month if the One-Month LIBOR index changes. This may result in higher monthly payments. The current One-Month LIBOR index is 0.15% as of 5/4/2021.

The lowest interest rate for each loan type requires automatically withdrawn (“auto debit”) payments, a five-year repayment term, and the borrower making immediate principal and interest payments. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rate. The interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) may be higher depending upon (1) the credit history of the borrower and, if applicable, the cosigner, (2) the repayment option and loan term selected, (3) the loan type selected, and (4) the highest level of education attained. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate qualified for within the stated range.

*Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score. **Your actual savings may vary based on interest rates, outstanding balances, remaining repayment terms, and other factors.