//Can I Use My Student Loans to Pay Off Debt, Credit Cards?

Can I Use My Student Loans to Pay Off Debt, Credit Cards?

Note that the situation for student loans has changed due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and relief efforts from the government, student loan lenders and others. This includes an interest-free automatic pause to repayment for all federally held student loans. Check out our Student Loan Hero Coronavirus Information Center for additional news and details.

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Whether you’ve leaned on credit cards to cover you between paychecks or took out a personal loan for an emergency, the debt can start to haunt your finances.

You may already be working through creative solutions, such as using student loans to pay off debt. And if you’re a college student or recent graduate, lower student loan interest rates are probably looking good against those higher APRs of credit cards and personal loans.

But even with the potential savings, this debt-shuffling strategy may not always be wise. Here are four facts to unpack before you decide:

1. Merits of paying off debt with student loans depends on the interest
2. Using student loans to pay off debt may not be smart
3. Paying off other debt could violate your loan agreement
4. There are alternatives to using student loans in this way

Before using student loans to pay off debt, consider the interest rates

Using student loans to pay off credit card or other high-interest debt may seem like a good idea when it comes to saving on interest.

Federal student loan interest rates are generally designed to keep college affordable and accessible. Currently, the fixed interest rate for undergraduate direct loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) is set at 2.75% for the 2020-21 school year. It’s likely to be significantly lower than the interest rates most college students would qualify for on credit cards or personal loans.

A typical credit card interest rate is around 15.00% or higher, but some evidence suggests that the average APR of a student credit card may be even higher. That’s more than five times higher than federal student loan interest rates, which means these balances will grow five times faster than student loans.

Of course, if you have a higher student loan interest rate (depending on when you borrowed) or a lower credit card APR, the difference could be smaller.

Averages tell an important story, though. The average credit card balance for a college student is $1,183, according to a 2019 Sallie Mae report. With a 17% APR, if you paid $100 a month toward the principal, you would accrue $121 in interest in a year. If it were switched to a student loan at the 2020-21 federal undergrad rate, however, and you paid $100 toward the principal, the annual interest charge would be $18.

Despite the potential savings, using student loans to pay off debt may not be smart

While the numbers may seem convincing, there are reasons to hold off on using student loans to pay off debt — that’s because there are some key differences between credit cards, personal loans and education debt.

Federal student loans offer some unique perks. They offer options like income-driven repayment plans that can help keep payments affordable if your income is low. Interest paid on student debt is also tax-deductible, saving you more money in the long-run.

On the other hand, student loans have been historically more difficult to discharge in bankruptcy than consumer debt. This means that student loans are more likely to follow you throughout your life, as turning consumer debt into student loan debt may make it harder for you to ever get out of debt if you need to turn to bankruptcy as a last resort.

Additionally, sticking with a credit card or personal loan and working to pay it off could be a more effective way to build credit. Rather than shuffling debt, it may be a smarter strategy to focus on paying down consumer debt, and then coming up with ways to pay down your student loan as well.

Low interest is still interest, and that interest will accumulate over time. While using student loans to pay off debt may seem like a smart short-term strategy, you’re still dealing with a large balance that could become overwhelming very quickly.

Using student debt to pay off other debt could violate your loan agreement

In addition, there are legal guidelines for how student loans may be used. The Federal Student Aid (FSA) Offices contends that “all loan funds must be used for your education expenses.” You can spend student loans on costs including tuition, room and board, transportation and a personal computer.

This means that using student loans to pay down debt may technically fall under the categorization of misuse of student loans. It’s difficult for the Department of Education to track and enforce “misuse,” but if your loan originator finds out that this is how you’ve used your loans, you might get in trouble for violating your lending agreement and be subject to punishment, such as a fine or losing your eligibility for future financial aid.

Note that there might be some gray areas if your debt was incurred during college. Maybe you used student loans for living expenses that fall under the FSA’s definition of educational expenses, such as travel related to school or a car used to get to class.

You could also be in the clear if you’re using student loans to pay off credit card debt accumulated for generally approved education expenses. If you used the plastic in your wallet to buy a new laptop (so that could score the cash-back bonus, for example), using student loans to pay off credit card balances makes more sense.

Know that there are alternatives to using student loans for credit cards and other debt

Paying down high-interest debt now, with cash, could save you more in the long-run than just bumping it over to your student loan balance.

There are many ways you could make this sort of progress without resorting to using student loans to pay off debt, including:

Getting a side job and applying extra funds you earn towards paying off your highest-interest debt first
Earmarking financial windfalls, such as graduation gifts for your debt accounts
Borrowing money from family or friends, maybe in the form of a low-interest loan
Transferring a balance to a new credit card with a 0% introductory rate
Taking out a debt consolidation loan, perhaps with the help of a cosigner

If you are able to pay down debt, try and work toward prepaying your student debt once you’ve graduated. Getting ahead on payments will help you save on interest so you can work toward being completely debt-free.

In the meantime, suss out what got you into debt in the first place. A budget can help you stay on track and avoid these issues in the future. It also may be a good idea to come up with a plan to build an emergency savings account to cover unexpected expenses.

While you may have been on a tight budget as a student, having good financial habits can help you manage a salary and stop debt from spiraling out of control in the future.

Andrew Pentis and Anna Davies contributed to this report.

Need a student loan?
Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!

LenderVariable APREligibility 

1.09% – 11.98%1Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

1.25% – 11.10%*,2Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

1.24% – 11.99%3Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

1.24% – 11.44%4Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit Earnest

1.78% – 11.89%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.69% – 12.98%6Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Ascent

3.52% – 9.50%7Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

* 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.

Important Disclosures for College Ave.
CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust 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.

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.
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. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student 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 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. 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 11/2/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
.br-none br{display:none}3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Discover Disclosures
Aggregate loan limits apply.
Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of October 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
Lowest APRs shown for the Discover Private Consolidation Loan are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of October 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Visit Discover.com/student-loans/consolidation for more information, including up-to-date interest rates and APRs.

Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Earnest Disclosures
Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
 
Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

Available Terms
For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).

Important Disclosures for SoFi.
sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.88% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.78% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.95% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.88% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. 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. Information current as of 11/04/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).

Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.152%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 11/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)

​ Undergraduate Loans: Your variable interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an APR range between 2.69% and 12.98%.  Fixed rate loans will not increase or decrease over the life of the loan and have an APR range between 3.58% and 14.50%. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. The following table shows a 48 month in-school period plus 9 months of grace prior to a full repayment term of either: 60-months (lowest fixed/variable rate), 144-months (highest fixed rate) or 180-months (highest variable rate) with examples of (i) Interest Only payments, (ii) $25 Minimum payments, and (iii) Deferred repayment options.((See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
Graduate Loans (Graduate, MBA & Law): Your variable interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an APR range between 3.65% and 12.40%. Fixed rate loans will not increase or decrease over the life of the loan and have an APR range between 4.62% and 13.54%. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25%. The following table shows a 36 month in-school period plus 9 months of grace prior to a full repayment term of either: 84-months (lowest fixed/variable rate), 144-months (highest fixed rate), or 180-months (highest variable rate) with examples of (i) Interest Only payments, (ii) $25 Minimum payments, and (iii) Deferred repayment options. (See Graduate Loan repayment examples.)
Medical: Your variable interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an APR range between 3.65% and 12.40%. Fixed rate loans will not increase or decrease over the life of the loan and have an APR range between 4.62% and 13.54%. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25%. The following table shows a 48 month in-school period plus 36 months of grace prior to a full repayment term of either: 84-months (lowest fixed/variable rate), 144-months (highest fixed rate), or 240-months (highest variable rate) with examples of (i) Interest Only payments, (ii) $25 Minimum payments, and (iii) Deferred repayment options. (See Medical Loan repayment examples.)

Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
Interest rate reduction of either 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) or 2.00% (for Undergraduate Future Income-Based Loans) applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner sign up for automatic payments and the payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. The amount of the discount is dependent upon the loan product and credit history of the borrower at the time of application. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of in-school, deferment, grace or forbearance, unless a regular payment amount has been arranged with the servicer. If you have two (2) consecutive returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the interest rate reduction.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:

The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.

Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.

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 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.

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