Are Variable Rate Student Loans the Best Option for You?

 April 21, 2020
How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

Student Loan Hero is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). Student Loan Hero does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero is an advertising-supported comparison service. The site features products from our partners as well as institutions which are not advertising partners. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

variable rate student loans

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

Refinance Student Loan rates starting at 2.49% APR

2.49% to 11.72% 1

Visit Lender

2.50% to 6.30% 2

Visit Lender

4.13% to 7.39% 3

Visit Lender

  • Variable APR

Note that the government has paused all repayment on federally held student loans through the end of 2022, with no interest to be charged during that period and no loans to be held delinquent or in default.

*         *         *

Private lenders offer variable rate student loans to borrowers looking to take out a new student loan or refinance their existing student debt. Unlike fixed rates, which stay the same over the life of the loan, variable rates fluctuate over time.

Because they can go up or down, variable rates entail more risk than fixed ones. But they also have the potential to save you hundreds of even thousands of dollars in interest payments.

When you borrow or refinance, you’ll have to choose between a variable and fixed rate student loan. Read on to learn whether variable rate student loans could be right for you.

What are variable rate student loans?

Variable rate student loans are defined mainly by how their interest rates are set. Remember, only private student loans have variable rates. All federal student loans have a fixed rate.

A variable rate means that the interest rate you are charged on the debt’s balance can (and often will) change over time. If your interest rate changes, your monthly payment can fluctuate, as well.

However, your lender can’t just raise rates whenever it feels like it to get more money out of you. Instead, rate increases are driven by prevailing interest rates in the financial market.

Most private lenders will set and raise variable rates in step with the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). This is the average of the interest rates banks charge each other to borrow and lend money between institutions. They usually charge a market rate plus the LIBOR rate.

Historically, LIBOR rates have remained fairly low since plummeting during the Great Recession in 2008. While they rose throughout 2018, rates started falling again in 2019.

Variable rates tend to start lower than fixed rates

Considering the fact that variable rates can increase, you might be wondering why anyone would choose a variable rate over a fixed one. Well, variable rates tend to start out lower than fixed rate student loans (though in a few cases, they could be higher).

So even though you’re assuming a certain level of risk that your rate could go up, you’re also getting a rate that’s lower than the one you’d get on a fixed rate student loan.

When variable rate student loans are a smart option

Because a variable rate student loan starts with a lower interest rate, there can be potential for savings.

If you’re considering taking out private student loans or refinancing student loans, here are some reasons a variable rate student loan could make sense.

You think interest rates will remain low

The variable rate for a loan will be tied to general interest rates. It’s impossible to truly predict the future of interest rates. But if you look at trends you might decide that the lower interest rate now, particularly in this falling rate environment in early 2020, is worth the risk of it rising later.

If you get an offer for a variable rate that’s a lot lower than your fixed rate offer, you could still save money over the life of the loan.

You’re looking for lower initial payments

Another benefit of a variable rate student loan is that with a lower initial rate, you also have lower monthly payments.

With the typical savings of 1.25% on a variable rate student loan, monthly payments will be about $10 to $12 less per month for each $10,000 of the loan.

There are plenty of recent college graduates who have entry-level pay now. However, they may expect big increases in pay in the years to come.

On average, workers see big wage growth in their 20s. Most 30-year-olds are earning 60% more than their entry-level pay, according to a PayScale survey.

If this sounds like you, a variable rate student loan can help you get lower monthly payments now. This is great if you need low monthly bills ASAP.

Just make sure you’re staying on track to earn pay increases. This will help offset the risk of monthly student loan payments becoming unaffordable if your variable rate increases.

You’re choosing a short repayment period

A shorter repayment period can also help you minimize the risk of a variable rate increase on your private student loans.

For example, if you have a 10-year repayment period, that exposes you to the risk of rising rates for a long time. But if you are planning to get a two-, three- or even five-year repayment plan, a variable rate student loan starts making much more sense.

That’s because there’s much less time for rates to increase, which makes it more likely that you will keep the savings you get with the initially lower variable rate. Likewise, you can also prepay your student loans and make extra payments to further limit your risk of rising rates.

Of course, a shorter loan term will mean higher monthly payments. So make sure you can realistically afford these monthly costs. After all, a shorter, variable rate student loan has a lot of potential for savings on interest.

You’re going back to school and want to refinance private student loans

Unlike federal student loans, repayment on private student loans typically can’t be deferred if you are returning to college.

This means many students who want to finish their undergraduate or graduate degree will have to figure out how to cover monthly payments for private student loans — while juggling a full course load in college.

That’s where refinancing private student loans can be a major cost-cutter for borrowers returning to school. Many borrowers with private student loans could refinance to get a lower interest rate. And, choosing a variable rate student loan can get them the biggest savings.

If they refinance with a variable rate student loan, this can help them get lower monthly payments while they finish school. These cheaper payments can ease up a lot of the pressure on a student’s already-tight budget.

Then later on, if rates do rise, they will hopefully have a degree that will help them earn more to cover those higher costs.

Are variable rate student loans right for you?

So should you choose a fixed rate or variable rate student loan when you get a new or refinanced student loan?

First, you should do the math to see what you’d actually be saving on interest. Use one of our student loan calculators to estimate your monthly payments and compare interest rates on multiple loan offers.

Besides doing the math, ask yourself how comfortable you are with the risk of a rate increase, along with how many years you expect it will take you to pay off your debt.

Variable rate student loans aren’t for everybody, but they can be a big money-saver for some. Depending on your circumstances, variable rate student loans could help you save on interest, lower your monthly payments and even pay off your education debt ahead of schedule.

Rebecca Safier contributed to the reporting of this article.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
2.49% – 13.85%1Undergraduate

Visit College Ave

2.55% – 11.44%2Undergraduate

Visit Earnest

3.25% – 13.59%3Undergraduate

Visit SallieMae

0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

Visit Edly

3.25% – 9.69%6Undergraduate



Visit FundingU

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  3. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

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

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% 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. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

3 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • 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 September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. 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.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

    Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.58%-11.72% (6.58% – 11.62% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.82% APR). 

    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.