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Student Loans, PMI and Mortgage Down Payments

Student loans are a major challenge to saving for a down payment on a home. A smaller down payment often means living with a Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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Many student loan buyers face a difficult decision when they buy a home.

Mortgage lenders generally require a 20% down payment on the home to avoid Private Mortgage Insurance, known as PMI. For this reason, many home buyers opt to set aside 20% before making a purchase.

The dilemma for student loan borrowers is that each dollar that is used towards a down payment is a dollar that cannot be used to pay down student loans.

Is it better to pay down student loans and live with PMI?

The short answer is that it depends.

Some borrowers may be tempted to live with PMI so that they can pay off some of their student loans. The advantage of this route is that borrowers can essentially turn high-interest student loan debt into low-interest mortgage debt. The cost of this maneuver is the PMI payments. For those with interest rates above 7 or 8%, it could be tempting.

The problem with trading student debt for mortgage debt is that the decision isn’t one that can be made purely based on interest rates. Tax implications and personal preferences also need to be considered.

There isn’t a simple answer or equation to decide between paying down student debt and saving for a larger down payment on a home.

Tax Concerns

There is an interest rate deduction for both student loans and mortgages. However, these deductions are not created equal.

The noteworthy limitation on the mortgage deduction is that it can only be used on homes that cost less than $750,000 under the new tax law (houses bought before 2018 may have a higher limit).

The student loan interest deduction is limited to $2,500 and the benefit starts to phase out for borrowers with AGIs above $70,000 and completely eliminated for single borrowers with an AGI above $85,000. These numbers jump to $145,000 and $175,000, respectively for married filing jointly borrowers.

A final consideration is the fact that only taxpayers who itemize can take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction, but those who take the standard deduction can still claim student loan interest.

Danger of Default

Another concern to keep in mind is the danger of default on two different loan types.

If you don’t pay your mortgage, you will eventually lose your house.

Falling behind on your student loan payments can lead to wage garnishments and devastating credit consequences, but student loan defaults don’t usually result in evictions.

Door Number Three: Student Loan Refinancing

The PMI, student loan, and mortgage down payment considerations do not have just the two possible options.

Borrowers with high-interest student loan debt should also consider refinancing their student loans. By going this route, a larger down payment on a home is possible without committing to long-term high-interest student debt.

Like mortgages, refinancing student loans requires credit approval. For this reason, we usually suggest student loan refinancing be done long before the mortgage process starts, or once the loan is closed. If you are considering refinancing student loans while applying for a mortgage, be sure to consult with your mortgage lender to make sure that the student loan process does not cause issues with the mortgage.

Borrowers looking to refinance their student loans have a variety of options:

SoFiLendKeySplash Financial
Pros:SoFi is the biggest name in student loan refinancing for a simple reason – their rates are reliably among the best on the market.LendKey works with a large network of smaller credit unions and banks. As a result, many applicants get the best offer from LendKey.Splash has the best new customer bonus right now, and they have excellent rates and term opitons.
Cons:SoFi has grown into a large company offering mortgages, personal loans, and investment services. They no longer focus entirely on student loan refinancing.Going the LendKey route does require working with a local bank or credit union. For many, this is a plus, but it is an extra step.Splash is a newer lender and getting approval may be more difficult for some borrowers.
Up to $500

Bottom Line: The Details Matter

Options for paying down existing debt or making a down payment on a home can be confusing.

However, by considering the tax consequences, default risks, and interest rates, consumers can find the solution that best fits their needs.

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

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