How to Prioritize Which Debt to Pay Off First

If you’re buried deep in debt, you might be confused as to which creditor you should pay off first. Being in debt can be an overwhelming and discouraging experience, but you can turn it around once you begin to take control of your financial situation.

In this article, we’ll look at which debt to pay off first and how to create a plan.

How to Take Control Over Your Debt

Being burdened with massive debt usually brings feelings of depression and gloom. You regret the financial decisions you made, you feel hopeless about your future, and you suffer in despair about not having enough cash flow to survive. You might even feel a sense of isolation when you see others having fun with their money.

The truth is, many Americans carry heavy debt, so you’re not alone. And many financial decisions you might regret come from the increasing costs of housing, tuition, and medical care.

When you gain control over your debt, you’ll be able to build a solid foundation and slowly prepare for rising costs and unexpected expenses.

Part of the despair you feel is not from the debt itself, but from having a lack of control over money. A first sense of relief will come from pulling out your account statements and making a strategy on how to overcome it.

The First Two Steps to Tackling Debt

  1. Know the terms. Read your statement to see balances, interest rates, and any other terms like details on expiring promo balances. Dive in deep and become familiar with your cards and accounts. Having clarity will help you gain a sense of power.
  2. Make a list of all debt. Don’t worry about which creditor to place at the top just yet. For now, list the debt on a piece of paper or an Excel spreadsheet. Write the most important information next to each debt: interest rate, balance, and minimum payments.

You might have two or three different interest rates listed in your statement. Most cards keep track of how much you’ve borrowed for lower-rate promo offers and cash advances. You can split the balances on your list and make two lines if you’ve borrowed money at various rates.

Which Debt Should You Pay First?

You’ve probably heard conflicting information about whether to pay down smaller amounts or work on higher interest rates first.

Paying off high-interest rate loans first is the best way to keep money in your pocket and pay loans off quicker. You’ll save the most money by paying higher interest debt off first because you are getting rid of the debt that costs the most to maintain.

Break Down Large Balances into Smaller Chunks

Both credit cards and student loans have balances that you can split into separate amounts. You may have gotten a special promo balance on your credit card that made your interest rate drop to zero on part of the total. If the interest rate is low on a portion of the card, you should place the low-interest part further down the list.

You can pay your student loan debt this way too. Many people take out both federal and private student loans with different terms. You could have 4 or more student loans, all at different rates by the time of graduation. It’s best to break down the loans into smaller chunks and pay the highest interest loans first.

Another tip? Check out student loan refinancing if you have good credit. It could save you thousands!

Breaking down large balances into bite-sized pieces will make it easier to get rid of high-interest debt that may be weighing the total balance down. It’s also a good way to examine the entire loan and make a  strategy for tackling it.

Make a budget and make sure you have enough to cover the minimum payments for each of your different kinds of debt. Then, put any extra money you have towards your highest interest debt.

Conclusion

If you are buried under a mountain of debt, it can be overwhelming and frustrating. But becoming aware of your total balances and interest rates is the first step to paying them off.

Once you’ve paid off the highest interest creditor first, you’ll feel better knowing that they’re not getting a penny more of your hard-earned dollars. Why give them more money than necessary?

After you pay off the first debt on your list, apply the money you were paying toward the second debt on the list. If you keep using this tactic, it won’t be long before you’re down to the very last debt on the list.

Are you working on paying off debt? What is your favorite way to prioritize which creditor to pay off first?

Student Loan Income-Driven Repayment Programs Explained

Many student loans are based on income driven repayments – that is you don’t have a set payment based on the size of you loan, but a payment amount that varies with your income. This is designed to make sure your repayments are comfortable for you and your lifestyle, but it means that calculating your required repayments can be confusing!

What is ‘Discretionary income’?

The first confusion is that repayments aren’t based on your actual income, but your discretionary income. Theoretically, this is the income you have left over after you pay for the bare necessities, but what does that actually mean? Studentaid.ed.gov defines discretionary income as:

“For Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and loan rehabilitation, discretionary income is the difference between your income and 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your family size and state of residence. For Income-Contingent Repayment, discretionary income is the difference between your income and 100 percent of the poverty guideline for your family size and state of residence.”

Poverty guidelines are defined by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and vary based on your location and family size.

Repayment Plans

There are four different income-driven repayment plans, and they all come with slightly different payments terms.

REPAYE (Revised Pay As You Earn) Plan

A REPAYE loan repayment will generally be worth 10% of your discretionary income. For an undergraduate loan this will generally take 20 years to pay off, though for a graduate loan or professional studies it can take 25 years.

PAYE (Pay As You Earn) Plan

A PAYE loan will be 10% of your discretionary income, but under this plan your will never pay more than the 10-year Standard Repayment plan. This loan will also take 20 years to pay when making minimum repayments.

IBR (Income Based Repayment) Plan

Income based repayment plans have change in the last few years. If you were a new borrower on or after July 1 2014 then your repayments are 10% of your discretionary income, and will take 20 years to repay. If you had borrowed before July 1 2014, then your repayments were 15% of your income (never more than the standard 10-year repayment rates) but would take 5years longer to pay the full amount.

ICR (Income Contingent Repayment) Plan

Income contingent repayment plans have 2 options, either 20% of your discretionary income, or the same payment as a fixed 12-year loan, adjusted for your income. You will pay on whichever rate is less and it generally takes 25 years to pay your loan.

So which is best?

Great question! Tthe answer is – how long is a piece of string? Different loan types have differing requirements, and in some cases, you can only apply if you can clearly demonstrate that regular repayment plans are outside of your affordability.

Rather than jump through a million hoops and read all the eligibility criteria statements, you can crunch the numbers a student loans calculator. Enter either your loan requirements or take an estimate based on your study length and whether you are going to private or public schooling. Once you add in your income, family size and state of residence, the calculator will return your monthly repayments, total payment over the life of the loan and let you know what type of loan you are eligible for. You should note that if you have refinanced your student loans, you are not eligible for income-driven repayment plans.

 

The Importance of Managing your Finances in Marriage

Relationships are a pivotal part of society. From a young age, we go looking for a soul mate to spend our hearts, our dreams and our futures. We think about sharing our homes and our day-to-day lives; we think about having children and pets together, but many people forget to think about sharing their wallets.

We often think that love conquers all, but money is the leading cause of relationship divorce and breakdown. While love is powerful, the hip pocket is mightier than the heart.

Love and Money, Where to Start?

While dating is a whirlwind and falling in love can be intoxicating, it is important to consider money early on in your relationship. While entering a relationship with equal finance is not necessary, entering a relationship with shared ideals is important.

In a relationship, money can quickly become a taboo conversation if it’s not handled from the beginning. Once you have been living together for a while patterns become established whether you had agreed on them or not. It is important to set up the structure around who is paying for what before the bills hit your doorstep, otherwise you may find an inequality in who pays for what.

What’s Mine Is Yours

Different countries and states have different laws about when couples are merely dating and when they are in a relationship for finance’s sake. After moving in together, you can start claiming the benefits of marriage such a shared tax returns and shared health insurance.

While there are many benefits, that are also risks. Once you are in a relationship, sharing a home, bills and supporting one another then your things become shared. Challenges are shared, furniture is shared, victories are shared and assets are shared. Both in your eyes, and possibly in the eyes of the law. Even if you aren’t married, if your relationship falls apart you may have to split your assets with your ex-partner, even without a wedding ring.

Developing Goals as a Couple

The strongest way to keep your finances on track and to protect your relationship is to make shared goals. Sharing money goals and discussing them regularly can be the quickest way to ensure that you and your partner are open about your spending habits.

Without shared targets, it can be easy to start spending ‘your’ money without considering how it affects the relationship. At first this can be okay – after all, no relationship ever broke down because of one extra beer at happy hour, or a new pair of shoes. However, when couples don’t have shared goals and one is saving heavily while the other is bulking out their wardrobe.

While relationship breakdown isn’t likely from a slight mismatch in spending habits, hiding those habits can become an issue. Especially when one partner is in debt (perhaps student loan debt), or brings debt to a relationship.

Without shared financial goals, and open communication money can tear apart even the most loving relationship.

What Are the Benefits of Student Loan Refinancing?

After years of studying you’ve finally made it, you’ve graduated. Now you have a massive debt hanging over your head with just a few short months to find a job and get your finances in order before you have to start paying back your loans. Maybe you’ve just started paying back your loans, maybe you’ve been paying them forever. Whatever your situation, student loans are a burden everyone would like to be rid of sooner rather than later.

Typical repayments

Depending on the size of your loan and the length of it, your payments may vary wildly. Many people have multiple loans with different organizations. Different types of loans with different organizations will have different rates and repayment terms, but there are a few things you should now.

If your required monthly repayments are more than you can handle, you can apply for an income-based repayment plan to ease your budget. In the case of federal loans, you may be able to suspend payments for a short time, say if you are between jobs or on medical leave. In both cases your loans will keep accruing interest, so delaying payments may mean you end up owing more.

Refinancing your student loans

You can refinance your student loans with a new lender to improve your situation. While you might lose access to income-driven repayment plans and various federal loan forgiveness programs, you can dramatically lower the interest rates on your loans.

As a student, many people sign up for a loan without reading the fine print. Even if you did you may have noticed that the rates on a student loan are often quite high. Rates on student loans reflect the market at the time the loan was taken out, so if you took out a loan in 2007 you would be paying 6.8% interest. SoFi is currently quoting their highest rate for student loans as 6.54%, with a low of 2.615%.

Switching a 10-year loan to a private lender like SoFi could save you almost $3,500 on a $25,000, while also lowering your monthly repayments $30. Refinancing to a shorter term (e.g. 5 years) would increase your monthly payments, but save you over $7,000 on the life of the loan.

Think before you switch

While refinancing can lower your overall payments, as well as month to month payments there are risks involved. You will no longer have access to any income-driven repayment plans, meaning if you take a pay cut or are without income for a period of time, you will still have to pay your loans.

There are also programs in place such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which will allow you to wipe the slate clean of any remaining debt after working for a qualifying public service for 10 years. Switching to a private lender removes this option.

However, if you want to pay off your loans quickly, and have no concerns about future income, switching to a private lender could be your savior. The shorter term you set, the lower the rate you can expect to be offered. Once you are free of your student loans you’ll have plenty of breathing room, and spare cash, to consider your next adventure.

Navigating the Confusing World of Student Loans

In today’s post-secondary education climate, student loans are becoming a necessity for a large number of students. While scholarships and money from jobs are enough for some, the cost of four or more years of college education continues to rise.

Luckily, student loans are available through both government-subsidized programs and from private lenders. Of the two, government loans are much more attractive than private loans. Because they are funded by the government, these loans accrue interest at much lower rates than private (for-profit) loans.

It is generally advised that an individual only uses government loans to pay for school and that private loans only be taken after all other avenues have been exhausted. Government-backed loans are taken much more often than private loans due to the better terms, and this post will be focusing on the types of government loans.

Subsidized Stafford Loans

Stafford loans are loans that are funded directly by the Federal Direct Student Loan Program but can vary significantly depending on whether they are subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are preferable because they do not begin accruing interest (that you are responsible for) until after you graduate. However, the subsidy is not available to everyone. Generally, it is reserved for those that demonstrate financial need (reported via the required FAFSA form) and not available to those coming from incomes in excess of the $50,000-60,000 range.

While your school is ultimately responsible for determining the amount you are awarded, the program caps freshmen at $3,500 for the year, sophomores at $4,500, and each year of undergraduate studies after that at $5,500. The total amount that a borrower can take in Subsidized Stafford Loans is capped at $23,000. Interest rates on Stafford Loans are subject to change, but those loans issued between July 1,

While your school is ultimately responsible for determining the amount you are awarded, the program caps freshmen at $3,500 for the year, sophomores at $4,500, and each year of undergraduate studies after that at $5,500. The total amount that a borrower can take in Subsidized Stafford Loans is capped at $23,000. Interest rates on Stafford Loans are subject to change, but those loans issued between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, typically carry a rate of 3.76%.

Unsubsidized Stafford Loans

Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are much like their subsidized counterparts, except that the borrower is responsible for paying interest that accrues while they are still in school. However, the payments are usually deferred until the student graduates. Additionally, all students are eligible for the unsubsidized Stafford, regardless of income. The loan availability amount ranges between $5,500 and $20,500 depending on income status, dependent status, student grade classification, and whether or not the student is a graduate student. Graduate students and financially independent students are eligible for larger dollar amounts per year, usually increasing slightly as their grade classification progresses. While these usually loans carry the same stated rate of 3.76% for undergraduate students, the actual amount owed will often be higher than subsidized due to the accrual of interest during the student’s tenure in school.

Stafford Loans – Grace Period

One of the most important features of federal (public) loans is the grace period. For Stafford loans, this period is six months after graduation, dropping out, or after going below half-time enrollment. Institutions may vary widely on what they consider half-time, so it is best to check at your individual institution to see what restrictions may apply. During this six-month grace period, a borrower is not required to make payments on their student loans. This allows students to find a source of income before becoming swamped with debt.

Perkins Loans

Although the Perkins Loan program will come to its end on October 1, 2017, it is still possible for a student to be awarded a Perkins loan before that date, though unlikely. Perkins Loans offered fixed interest at 5% and, like Subsidized Stafford Loans, deferred interest until leaving school. Another major feature of Perkins loans is the 9 month grace period usually attached to them.

Parent PLUS Loans

PLUS loans are loans to graduate students or to parents helping their children pay for college. The most noteworthy feature of PLUS loans is that there is no hard cap to the amount a borrower can take. Instead the cap is effectively the cost of attendance at the student’s school, if no others factors are present. PLUS loans are less preferable than Stafford loans because they have a higher interest rate. For 2017, the rate is 6.31%.

In summary, public loans are far less predatory and costly than private loans. Along these lines, the more subsidized, the better. Subsidized Stafford loans offer the lowest interest, rates and deferred interest, but have income restrictions on eligibility. Unsubsidized Stafford loans have the same low rate, but do not defer interest and have no income restrictions. Perkins loans, though on the brink of extinction, offer the next lowest interest rate and a grace period of nine months (three months longer than Stafford). PLUS loans are only available to assisting parents and graduate students and are effectively capped at the cost of attendance for a given school, however they carry the highest interest rate of public loans.