If you are trying to decide the best time to apply an extra payment to your student debt, the answer is pretty simple:
We will show our work on this simple two word answer, and explain a couple mistakes to be avoided, but the short answer is that there is no time like the present to knock down student loan balances.
Why the Rush to Make Extra Student Loan Payments?
Student loan bills make it appear as though interest is added on a monthly basis.
In a certain sense this is accurate, student loan interest does get added to your principal balance on a monthly basis. However, interest accrues daily.
That means that the more debt you have, the more interest it generates each day. By making an extra payment, the daily interest that is accrued is reduced. Thus, the sooner the payment is made, the more it will save on interest.
Having said all that, the daily accumulation of debt isn’t so substantial that one day will make a huge difference. A $20,000 student loan with a 8% interest rate will generate about $4.38 in interest each day. A day or two of extra interest won’t make a huge difference, but the interest can quickly pile up.
When to Wait on an Extra Student Loan Payment
There are a few exceptions to the “pay now” rule of thumb.
Concerns about future payments – The first exception would be if making your extra payment now might jeopardize a future payment. If you have the money now, but you are not sure that you will be able to make the minimum payment over the next few months, it might be a better idea to hold on to your cash. However, some lenders will take the extra payment and count it towards the minimum for future months. If your lender engages in this practice, then you can consider going ahead with the extra payment… just be sure to call you lender to verify their policy.
Better opportunities elsewhere – Aggressive repayment is highly encouraged as it can save borrowers a bundle on interest. However, a singular focus on the student debt could be a mistake. If you have high interest credit card debt, it might be better to pay that off first. Similarly, if your employer matches retirement contributions, you could be better off in the long run if you set that money aside for retirement. Before making the extra payment, be sure to consider how your student debt fits in with your other financial goals.
You are about to refinance your debt at a lower interest rate – Refinancing student loans can change your calculations. If your loan with an 8% interest rate becomes a loan with a 3% interest rate the urgency to pay it off may drop. This goes back to our previous point. Lower interest rates could mean an opportunity to save for a home down payment, put money aside for retirement, or eliminate other debt. At present, student loan refinance companies offer rates starting at about 2.5%.
You might need the money for something else – This one should be pretty obvious, but it is worth highlighting. Don’t eliminate your emergency fund just to pay down your student debt. Once that money goes to the lender you cannot get it back under any circumstance. If the money could be necessary for something else, keep the cash on hand.
If you are considering making an extra payment and worried about the timing, odds are pretty good that doing it now will be the best course of action.
Student loan lenders are experts at extracting every penny they can out of borrowers. By making an extra payment you not only reduce your monthly spending on interest, but you take a huge step towards getting your loan paid off faster and paying less over the life of the loan.
When you do make your extra payment, just be sure to be smart about it.