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I don’t think I will ever forget this past Saturday when I learned that the student loan deferment was going to be extended until December 31st, 2020. As in, there is 0% interest on student loans for an extra three months this year due to COVID. This only applies to public student loans, not private student loans. Therefore, if you refinanced with a private lender, I would confirm whether deferment applies or not. But anyway, back to how this Saturday went.
It was sunny, and I was sitting at the park with Mike, my two siblings and my roommate. We were with my parents who had made us a nice barbeque. After spending the early afternoon poolside for hours with Mike, the BBQ was the icing on top of an already relaxing weekend. We had just finished looking up at the sky watching a jet plane spell “Marry Me” for a proposal to someone whose family happened to be setting up a picnic at the bench across the way. We knew it was related because of the champage, white roses, and blatant (and shall I say pre-emptive?) congratulatory sign.
We were discussing the ways in which to propose to someone. I’d like to think my siblings are of the non-romantic variety, probably to off-set my mother’s wildly lovey-dovey emotions. The conversation was about how unnecessary extravagant proposals were, and the frivolities on which we throw our money – when my brother glaned at his phone and announced that he just got a text with an update. Four new executive orders were released. He casually listed all four but I remember the giddiness (and shock) I felt when he announced that student loans were deferred at 0% interest for three more months.
My jaw literally dropped. I’m sure my eyes got all big like they do when I am swept with disbelief. I think my heart stopped for a moment, too. I asked a ton of questions, to which he replied, “That’s all I read,” with a shrug that told me he’s already moved on.
I could not believe my luck. I was smiling so big. This moment was very big for me.
I will remember this as the moment when I felt like everything I have done amounted to something really worthwhile.
My loans started at $575,000. It is taxed at 6.8% interest, but by switching from IBR to REPAYE after consulting Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link), we saved over $10,000 in interest. This is because REPAYE pays for half of the monthly interest for the first three years of the program whereas IBR does not.
When COVID hit, our principle was at $436,000. We stopped paying the loans aggressively since the interest rate went down to 0%, meaning the loan is not growing. We do still pay the minimum payment because we don’t want to be categorized as deferring our loan. Even though there is no penalty on your credit score for deferment, the “deferment” designation stays on your record. This could affect certain situations such as purchasing a house. If a mortgage lender sees that you had a deferment in the past year, they may decide not to lend you money. In that sense, deferment may still have an effect on your future financial endeavors. This is why I would recommend continuing to make the minimum payments, if able.
Meanwhile, we took the rest of our large, monthly payment and placed it in a high yield savings account at Marcus. This allows us to grow our money more while still keeping a liquid asset. A few hundred dollars of interest over the course of eight months may not seem like a lot, but it’s literally FREE money. I want my money to do the work for me, and this is one of the ways that we do that.
Of course, we can invest but our original plan was to pay off a huge sum on September 31, 2020 when the deferment was supposed to end. In fact, our plan was to reduce our loan from $436,000 to $380,000! We were simply setting the money aside and we did not want to tie it up in investments. I know that investments may give a better return, but we want to stay focused on our goal, which is to pay back the debt as soon as possible.
But now that we are going to wait until the new year to make our payments, my goal is to get our loans down to $350,000 on December 31st! Which means that on our anniversary (yes we got married on New Year’s Eve) we will be dropping the most we have ever dropped on our loan.
You may be wondering, how does the student loan deferment help us with our situation?
Well, let’s run some numbers.
$436,000 at 6.8% interest means that $29,648 of interest is added on to my loans each year.
Under REPAYE, half of that is paid off by the program for the first three years. Which means that $14,824 is per year is added to my loans in interest. This also translates to: $14,824 of what I pay towards my loans does not reduce the principal amount.
$14,824 of interest per year equates to roughly $1,235 per month of interest.
The student loan deferment due to COVID is now going to last 9 months.
Therefore, 9 months of $1,235 interest or $11,115 in interest is not being added to my debt. I am not wasting $11,115 of my hard-earned, post-tax dollars this year, which is the same as $15,878 of pre-tax dollars. It also means I can apply an extra $11,115 towards my principal amount!
I can see stars, I’m so happy.
Whose to say what will happen after this? All I know is that this is a big opportunity for us.
A big opportunity for a lot of graduates out there.
If you have student debt, you can definitely make the most use out of this time to pay it back quicker. That is, if you are on the path of standard repayment.
Then again, did you know that two-thirds of the borrowers were only paying the interest on their debt each month? This means that for two-thirds of graduates, their balances are not actually going down. For those under the loan forgiveness program, their balances are actually going up!
To make matters worse, it is unclear yet if the missed months will count as payments for those enrolled in income-driven repayment plans or the public service loan forgiveness plan. I have yet to find something regarding that written in stone. It’s all heresay. Meaning, this 8-month period may prolong the amount of time a person has to wait until their loans are forgiven. YIKES.
Lastly, prior to COVID, 1 in 7 borrowers were already defaulting on their student debt. What can we expect after COVID is all over? Many people are going to be left un-employed. How many more borrowers will default?
What if the economy takes such a down-turn that they pull the forgiveness programs altogether, leaving millions of young Americans swimming in trillions of dollars in student debt? Leaving two-thirds of borrowers with debt that has actually accrued interest. I would love to offer consoling words about how previous borrowers would be grandfathered in but I have never read that anywhere in the fine print. It just isn’t there.
My sister herself went through such a situation where the government program was pulled 6 months prior to her “forgiveness”, leaving her with $70k of student debt at a teacher’s salary after working at a low-income school for five years which should have qualified her for loan forgiveness.
I am not trying to scare anyone here, but we cannot turn a blind eye and hope for the best.
I have never felt more confident in my decision to be aggressive about my student debt. It has been a very lonely road, but I couldn’t be happier. I want others to know that this may be possible, too.
If you are paying back your student debt aggressively or want to pay it back as soon as possible without relying on the government to waive the debt, here are a few suggestions on what to do:
- Pay the minimum payment to your lender if you can, to prevent from being classified as having a deferment.
- Use the extra cash from your would-be extra payments to build an emergency fund. During COVID, you never know what can happen. Jobs are unstable, the economy is unstable, and the virus is still with us. You can always flip the emergency fund to a large sum payment later when this all ends. I would recommend storing such liquid assets in a high-yield savings account.
- Pay off other high-interest debt. Did you know that the average US household has $5,700 in credit card debt? And credit cards have high interest rates, averaging at 18.61%. Get rid of that stuff!
- Cut out as much spending as possible using frugal life hacks, my favorites of which can be found here.
- Budget out the rest of the year. We personally love using YNAB.
- Keep earning income. If you’ve lost your job, get back out there and earn where you can. Start a blog. Open a bakery. Walk some dogs. Ask to sit kids so that parents can go back to work. Offer online tutoring for those struggling with the distance-learning. Give yourself the skills worth sharing. Every little dollar counts right now. This is your gift. Consider the 0% interest rate the student loan version of FREE money.
- Bookmark December 31, 2020 as the day you make your move.
If you need help, reach out to me anytime. I am rooting for you!