With a bevy of student loan options, those heading to college have a lot of factors to consider before they choose which lender to work with – a partnership that will likely last at least a decade. In addition, those who have already graduated may have a variety of student loan refinancing options to choose from.
Of all the variables that will impact this decision, perhaps few are as important as the loan term and the interest rate. When combined, these variables will determine how affordable a loan is and how much it will cost in the long-run.
This is particularly true when determining how different loan scenarios or loan products can impact your monthly payment as well as the total amount of interest you can expect to accrue over the life of a loan.
This student loan comparison calculator can make those complex calculations easy, helping you identify loan options that work best with your specific financial needs.
How to Use This Student Loan Comparison Calculator
To use our loan comparison calculator, simply enter your loan balance as well as the interest rates that accompany each optional term. Then, the calculator will populate your expected monthly payments, as well as the total interest paid, for each borrowing scenario.
If you already have a student loan, you may want to review our student loan refinance calculator or one of the other student loan calculator tools we have, including those that can help you determine loan payments under an income-based repayment (IBR) or how much student loan interest you can deduct on your taxes.
Variables That Determine the Cost of a Loan
How much a student loan costs depends on a variety of factors, including the total balance of the loan, the interest rate, and the loan term. Those variables work together to impact not only the total cost of the loan – the amount borrowed plus accrued interest – but your monthly payment amount.
When borrowing, the interest rate is often the first thing consumers consider. It will play a vital role in determining how affordable a loan is. The interest rate is a specific percentage of the loan that is paid to the lender, or the “cost” of the loan.
Federal student loans come with standardized, fixed interest rates that are set by the U.S. Department of Education and are typically applicable for all federal student loan borrowers. For example, as of December 2018, all borrowers that take out a Direct Subsidized Loan will be required to pay a fixed interest rate of 5.05% for the life of the loan. This rate will not change unless the loan is refinanced or consolidated.
Private student loans, including refinance loans, can have fixed interest rates or variable rates, which can fluctuate based on the market. Both fixed and variable student loan rates are set by the private lender, so they vary based on a variety of factors including the lender’s policies and your credit score (and/or that of a cosigner, if applicable).
While the interest rate does play a primary role in how much your loan will cost, the term of a loan, or how long it takes to repay the loan, is arguably the biggest indicator of how much your loan will cost. Because loans accrue interest, the longer you take to pay a loan, the more expensive the loan will be.
By using our student loan comparison calculator, it’s easy to see that, a $30,000 student loan with an interest rate of 5.05% will cost $34,009, with a $567 monthly payment and an interest total of $4,009 if you paid it within five years. That same loan, if taken out for a 20-year term will have a significantly lower monthly payment – only $176 – but the total cost of the loan will be $52,876 with an accrued interest of $22,876.
Origination fees also alter the total loan amount. An origination fee is essentially the fee charged by the lender for processing the loan. This is an upfront cost and that is typically taken out of the total, approved loan amount.
Federal student loans always come with an origination fee, though they often are simply referred to as a “loan fee.” They can range anywhere from 1.06% to 4.25% for loans disbursed on or after October 2017, though this fee fluctuates over time.
Private student loan lenders set their own rates and fees, and so origination fees for a student loan will vary based on the lender, with many lenders enticing borrowers by offering loans without origination fees.
So, depending on the total amount of your loan and your origination fee, the fee can take as little as a few hundred dollars or as high as several thousand dollars out of your available loan amount. This means you will need to account for your origination fee when determining how much you need to borrow.
If you need to borrow more to cover your expenses, after the deduction of the origination fee, then factor that in as you use the student loan calculator.
Determining the Student Loan That’s Right for You
As you consider different loan options and use the student loan calculator to review various borrowing scenarios, it’s important to consider your current and future finances.
Borrowers who can make the larger monthly payments that often accompany shorter terms should try to do so to reduce the total cost of the loan.
However, it’s equally important to make sure that you are securing an affordable monthly payment. Failure to make payments can result in financial troubles, some of which can have a significant impact on your personal credit score and ability to secure future loans of any kind, from car loans to mortgages.
If you’re uncertain about how much you will be able to pay, you may want to consider a longer-term loan, which will give you the comfort of lower payments and the opportunity to make larger payments when possible.
The Bottom Line
In the end, the student loan or refinance loan that’s best for you depends on your unique situation, including the total amount you need to borrow as well as the interest rates and terms available to you.
Understanding the options available and using a student loan calculator to review different borrowing scenarios can help you make an educated decision that takes into account your present and future financial health.
Author: Jennifer Lobb
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