If you’re struggling to repay your student loans, you’re not alone. The changing economy and the COVID-19 pandemic have made this a particularly difficult time for people from all walks of life. As you explore your options, you may wonder whether you can use a personal loan to pay off your student loans. The short answer is yes, but before deciding whether it’s the right move for you, consider other options and details so you can make an informed decision for your unique situation.
Paying Back Student Loans
Using a personal loan to pay off your student loans just means swapping one kind of debt for another. You may get a different interest rate and loan term, but that’s pretty much it. You’ll still be locked into monthly payments until the debt is paid off.
Before applying for a personal loan, consider all of your options for paying back your student loans.
- Forbearance: Forbearance allows you to temporarily stop making payments on your student loans. During that time, interest will accrue on your loan balance.
- Deferment: Deferment works similarly to forbearance. The major difference, however, is that your balance will not accrue interest.
- Income-driven repayment plans: The U.S. Department of Education offers four repayment plans for federal student loans that are meant to keep monthly payments manageable, based on your income and the number of people in your family.
- Consolidation: When you consolidate your loans, you combine multiple federal student loans into one so you can make a single, more manageable monthly payment. That can allow you to extend the term of your loan and lower your monthly payments with a new interest rate.
- Refinancing: Refinancing occurs when you replace all of your private and/or federal student loans with another personal or student loan from a private lender. With this strategy, you may be able to secure a lower interest rate and save money. However, refinancing federal loans cancels out any protections and benefits that came with them.
In response to COVID-19, the federal government automatically placed federal student loans into forbearance and reduced interest rates to 0%. The program started in March 2020 and was extended through September 30, 2021. During this time, borrowers can still make payments on their student loans if they choose. Refinancing federal student loans would cancel out this relief. In March 2021, this relief was expanded to include Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) held by private parties. Any garnished wages or tax refunds occurring between March 13, 2020, and September 30, 2021, will be returned to the borrower.
If none of these is a viable option, then a personal loan may be the right move for paying back your student loans. Refinancing your student loans is similar to applying for and using a personal loan for your student loan debt, so it’s important to look into that option first.
Personal Loan vs. Refinancing Student Loans
According to Jared Andreoli, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and president at Simplicity Financial, refinancing is usually more favorable than a personal loan, because you’ll likely be able to land a lower interest rate.
Refinancing is also a simpler process, as the lender will pay off your previous student loans automatically. With a personal loan scenario, however, you’ll receive the lump sum of money and have to pay off the student loans yourself.
Travis Tracy, CFP and founder of Fortitude Financial Planning, agrees that refinancing is typically the best option as long as you can secure a lower interest rate. One of his clients had private student loans with a 12% interest rate through Sallie Mae. Tracy helped her reach out to a local credit union and refinance them so she could enjoy a lower monthly payment and save a lot in interest over time.
If you’re still convinced that a personal loan is your best option, weigh the benefits and drawbacks before applying.
Pros and Cons of Using a Personal Loan to Pay Student Loans
New loan terms, including interest rate
Potentially more flexibility
Ability to combine federal and private loans into one
Loss of federal student loan protections and forgiveness
Potentially higher interest rate
May be hard to qualify
Loss of tax deduction for student loan interest
If you don’t like the terms of your current student loans and can land better terms such as a lower interest rate, paying back student loans with a personal loan may be a good option. A lower interest rate can lead to lower monthly payments and allow you to pay off your balance sooner.
“In addition, if you opt for a personal loan through a credit union or community bank, for example, you may have more flexibility if you encounter a rough patch,” Leo Marte, CFP and president of Abundant Advisors, told The Balance.
However, the reality is that there are more drawbacks than advantages to using a personal loan to pay back student loans. This is particularly true if you have federal student loans, as you’ll miss out on income-based repayment plans, federal loan protections, and loan forgiveness.
“Personal loans do not offer these options, so you’ll be locked into your payment until you pay them off,” Logan Murray, CFP at Pocket Project, told The Balance.
Converting your student loan to a personal loan could wind up costing you at tax time, too. That’s because you can deduct up to $2,500 of interest you are required to pay on your qualified student loans, depending on your modified adjusted gross income.
If you have student loans with a co-signer, and your credit isn’t strong yet, you may have trouble qualifying for a personal loan on your own. And even if you do qualify with fair or poor credit, your interest rate might not be lower than your student loan interest rate. Lenders may also take other details into account, like your debt-to-income ratio. See what you prequalify for before you apply for any personal loans.
Compare Your Options
While you can use a personal loan to pay off your student loans, you’ll simply be swapping debt for debt, and you will be locked into repaying that personal loan with fewer protections if you can’t. When you’re trying to figure out how to tackle your student loans, consider all of the options at your disposal first. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your lender and find out whether it can help. It’s also wise to take a close look at your income and expenses so you can figure out a way to increase your savings and knock down student loan debt as quickly as possible.
If you haven’t refinanced your federal student loans, consider income-based repayment plans. They can help you lower your monthly payments and potentially qualify you for loan forgiveness down the road.