Average Student Loan Debt by State in 2021

Student loan debt nationwide increased by 8.28% in 2020, the largest increase since 2013, according to the latest report from EducationData.org. That spike was most likely fueled by rising unemployment and 3.2 million new federal student loan borrowers.

Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category in the country behind only housing debt . Nationwide, nearly 40% of college attendees report some type of educational debt, and 65% graduate with student debt, the report showed.

A recent report from EducationData.org details the average student loan debt per borrower (based on all student loan debt, not just that owed by undergraduate borrowers) in each state. Overall, residents of Washington, D.C., have the nation’s highest federal student loan debt at more than $55,000 per borrower when looking at the total student loan debt owed by individuals in the state. Of every state, North Dakota has the lowest average federal student loan debt, with residents there owing an average of just $29,446.

Student Loan Debt in Each State

Read on for an overview of what student loan debt looks like across the country according to EducationData.org . This data is reflective of all borrowers, not just undergraduate students.

Alabama

Average borrower debt: $37,348
Total student loan debt: $23.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Alabama

Alaska

Average borrower debt: $34,431
Total student loan debt: $2.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Alaska

Arizona

Average borrower debt: $35,454
Total student loan debt: $30.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Arizona

Arkansas

Average borrower debt: $33,525
Total student loan debt: $12.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Arkansas

California

Average borrower debt: $36,937
Total student loan debt: $142.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in California

Colorado

Average borrower debt: $37,120
Total student loan debt: $28.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Colorado

Connecticut

Average borrower debt: $35,448
Total student loan debt: $17.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Connecticut

Delaware

Average borrower debt: $37,338
Total student loan debt: $4.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Delaware

District of Columbia

Average borrower debt: $55,077
Total student loan debt: $6.4 Billion

Florida

Average borrower debt: $38,481
Total student loan debt: $98.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Florida

Georgia

Average borrower debt: $41,843
Total student loan debt: $67.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Georgia

Hawaii

Average borrower debt: $36,575
Total student loan debt: $4.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Hawaii

Idaho

Average borrower debt: $33,100
Total student loan debt: $7.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Idaho

Illinois

Average borrower debt: $38,071
Total student loan debt: $61.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Illinois

Indiana

Average borrower debt: $33,106
Total student loan debt: $29.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Indiana

Iowa

Average borrower debt: $30,848
Total student loan debt: $13.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Iowa

Kansas

Average borrower debt: $33,130
Total student loan debt: $12.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Kansas

Kentucky

Average borrower debt: $33,023
Total student loan debt: $19.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Kentucky

Louisiana

Average borrower debt: $34,683
Total student loan debt: $22.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Louisiana

Maine

Average borrower debt: $33,352
Total student loan debt: $6.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Maine

Maryland

Average borrower debt: $43,219
Total student loan debt: $35.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Maryland

Massachusetts

Average borrower debt: $34,549
Total student loan debt: $30.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Massachusetts

Michigan

Average borrower debt: $36,295
Total student loan debt: $50.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Michigan

Minnesota

Average borrower debt: $33,822
Total student loan debt: $26.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Minnesota

Mississippi

Average borrower debt: $37,080
Total student loan debt: $16.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Mississippi

Missouri

Average borrower debt: $35,706
Total student loan debt: $29.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Missouri

Montana

Average borrower debt: $33,953
Total student loan debt: $4.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Montana

Nebraska

Average borrower debt: $32,138
Total student loan debt: $7.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Nebraska

Nevada

Average borrower debt: $33,863
Total student loan debt: $26.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Nevada

New Hampshire

Average borrower debt: $34,353
Total student loan debt: $6.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Hampshire

New Jersey

Average borrower debt: $35,730
Total student loan debt: $41.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Jersey

New Mexico

Average borrower debt: $34,237
Total student loan debt: $7.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Mexico

New York

Average borrower debt: $38,107
Total student loan debt: $91.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New York

North Carolina

Average borrower debt: $37,861
Total student loan debt: $48.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in North Carolina

North Dakota

Average borrower debt: $29,446
Total student loan debt: $2.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in North Dakota

Ohio

Average borrower debt: $34,923
Total student loan debt: $61.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Ohio

Oklahoma

Average borrower debt: $31,832
Total student loan debt: $15.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Oklahoma

Oregon

Average borrower debt: $37,251
Total student loan debt: $20.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Oregon

Pennsylvania

Average borrower debt: $35,804
Total student loan debt: $63.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Average borrower debt: $32,212
Total student loan debt: $4.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Rhode Island

South Carolina

Average borrower debt: $38,662
Total student loan debt: $27.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in South Carolina

South Dakota

Average borrower debt: $31,858
Total student loan debt: $3.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in South Dakota

Tennessee

Average borrower debt: $36,549
Total student loan debt: $30.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Tennessee

Texas

Average borrower debt: $33,123
Total student loan debt: $116.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Texas

Utah

Average borrower debt: $32,781
Total student loan debt: $9.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Utah

Vermont

Average borrower debt: $38,411
Total student loan debt: $2.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Vermont

Virginia

Average borrower debt: $39,472
Total student loan debt: $41.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Virginia

Washington

Average borrower debt: $35,521
Total student loan debt: $27.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Washington

West Virginia

Average borrower debt: $32,258
Total student loan debt: $7.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in West Virginia

Wisconsin

Average borrower debt: $32,272
Total student loan debt: $23.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Wisconsin

Wyoming

Average borrower debt: $30,246
Total student loan debt: $1.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Wyoming

The Takeaway

The average amount of debt held by borrowers varies from state to state. The five states with the highest average amount of student loan debt per borrower are; Washington D.C., Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina. The five states with the lowest average of student loans per borrower are; South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wyoming, and North Dakota. North Dakota is the only state where the average borrower owes less than $30,000.

For millions, student loans are a necessary part of paying for college. When federal aid and savings aren’t enough to pay for school, some borrowers turn to private student loans. While private lenders are not required to offer the same benefits or protections as federal student loans, they can be helpful for borrowers who have exhausted all other options and are looking to fill in gaps in funding. Student loans with SoFi have no hidden fees and borrowers are able to choose from four repayment plans.

Find out more about private student loans available from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/FangXiaNuo


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

5 Home Services You Should Not Pay For

Man holding up his hand to stop a home purchase
Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Homeownership certainly comes with a lot of unavoidable if sometimes unexpected expenses, from property taxes to insurance and repairs.

But there are many home-related costs we don’t necessarily need to pay for — and other things we’re not sure are worth it.

Following are some costs you might be on the fence about, and why we think you should avoid them.

1. Air duct cleaning

duct cleaning
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

Some companies advertise duct cleaning services to supposedly improve your home’s air quality.

Does it work? The Environmental Protection Agency is unconvinced.

It says, “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems,” and suggests only having ducts cleaned in a few specific situations, such as if mold is visible inside your heating and cooling system or if there are vermin.

2. Custom framing

Selection of custom picture frames
Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

Simply hanging artwork in your home shouldn’t be an expensive proposition, but it can be if you rely on custom framing jobs. In some cases, a frame can cost more than what it protects.

The reason custom framing gets so expensive, Vox explains, is the number of options available — a dizzying array of hundreds of frames and mats of all sizes, plus options for moldings and glazings.

For standard-sized images, a ready-made frame may suffice at a fraction of the cost. You can buy them new at a home goods store, or if you want a more “distressed” look and even greater savings, bring a tape measure to your local thrift store and size up some gently-used frames. So-called “floater frames” can provide style and flexibility for displaying art of unusual dimensions.

And then there are a growing number of specialty companies online, happy to provide custom-size frames at a lower cost than local frame shops. The New York Times’ Wirecutter recommends Framebridge, which has a flat fee, high-quality builds and the simplest ordering process among the tested companies.

3. Extended product warranties

Excited salesman
Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

It’s natural to want to get your money’s worth out of every purchase, and therefore to consider extending a warranty. But many experts suggest they’re usually just not worth it, including Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.

This is doubly true if you use a credit card that automatically extends warranties or have another way to get a warranty. For instance, if you’re a Costco member, you can get a free two-year warranty on items such as TVs, computers and major appliances that you purchase there.

4. Self-storage rentals

storage units
sunlover / Shutterstock.com

Buying more stuff than you need is expensive enough. But what’s even worse is when you run out of space for all that stuff in your home and start paying somebody else to hold on to it for you.

Consider self-storage a temporary solution, for situations like moving a household. Otherwise, you’re paying potentially thousands to hide many things you’re probably going to forget about because they’re not important enough to keep handy or remember in your day-to-day life. All that money wasted because you can’t bear the thought of decluttering.

If you really must maintain a unit, check out “10 Ways to Cut the Cost of Self-Storage.”

5. Junk hauling

Upset woman in a cluttered garage
northallertonman / Shutterstock.com

So you’ve decided to declutter: Great! But don’t pay someone to get rid of your stuff.

Instead, turn to free ways to rid yourself of things you no longer need.

Search for local charities that are willing to pick up your donations. Post listings on websites such as Facebook, Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car – 10 Simple Steps

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Do you recognize this scenario? You’re planning to rent a small car for a vacation or business trip. Yet somehow, when you walk away from the car rental counter, you’re holding the keys to a much bigger car with a much bigger price tag. 

If this has happened to you, it was no accident. You were a victim of upselling — one of the many tricks car rental companies use to squeeze more money out of you. They lure you, scare you, or badger you into driving away with a bigger car than you planned. 

To save money on car rentals, you need to beat the agencies at their own game. First, do some research to figure out exactly what car you need. Then, shop around and use discounts to make sure you pay the lowest possible rate for it. 

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car

Getting the best rate on your car rental is largely a matter of doing your homework. You have to know what kind of car you need, when to book it, and where to shop for the best prices. You also need to know how to avoid tricky upsells and hidden fees.

1. Know What You Need

If you’ve ever rented a car before, you know rental companies often try to upsell you. When you arrive to pick up your vehicle, they don’t hand over the keys right away. 

Instead, they suggest you upgrade to a larger model than the one you booked. Often, they say it will offer more comfort, more power, or even better gas mileage. 

That last statement is unlikely to be true. In general, bigger cars use more gas than smaller ones. If you let the rental clerk talk you into a bigger model, you’ll end up paying more for gas and the car itself.

As for the extra room and extra power, they probably don’t matter. If you’re driving by yourself or with just one or two other people, a compact car should have enough space. And you’re unlikely to need more power unless you’re planning to drive up steep mountain roads or in deep snow.

If there’s any doubt in your mind about how much car you need, do some research before you book. Look for reviews of the model you’re considering and see what owners say about its comfort, mileage, and power. 

Then, when the clerk starts trying to sell you on a bigger model, you can say with confidence that the one you booked is just fine for your needs.

2. Book Early, Especially During Peak Travel Times

Car rental companies have a limited number of cars in their fleets. During peak travel times, every vehicle is in demand as customers flock to travel destinations. And when demand outstrips supply, prices go up. That’s simple economics.

So if you’re traveling during a busy travel season, reserve your car as far in advance as possible. You’ll avoid paying a premium for booking during the busy season or, worse still, finding the vehicle you want is unavailable.

3. Take Advantage of Discounts

Never pay full price for a rental car without checking for discounts first. There are all kinds of programs that can offer you a better price on a rental, including:

  • Military Discounts. Many car rental companies, including Alamo and Budget, offer discounts for military service members and veterans. Some also have special deals for other government employees or first responders, such as firefighters and police. If you belong to any of these groups, always ask about discounts when booking a rental.
  • USAA Rates. If your spouse or parent is in the military, you could get a discount through USAA. This financial provider serves active military members, veterans, and their spouses and children. Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz have special USAA rates. 
  • Senior Discounts. Several rental car agencies work with AARP to provide discounts for older adults. AARP members can save up to 30% at Avis, Budget, and Payless. And all travelers over 50 can get lower prices from Hertz through its Fifty Plus program.
  • Corporate Codes. Many businesses have partnerships with car rental companies. Their employees get better rates, and the agencies benefit from the extra business. Check your corporate travel site to see if your company has such a program. 
  • University Codes. Universities also cut deals with rental car agencies. Both students and alumni can get lower daily rates and other perks, such as a free additional driver. Check the student benefits or alumni deals page for rental car discounts.
  • Frequent Flyer Programs. Some frequent flyer programs can get you a reduced rate on a car rental. For instance, United MileagePlus members enjoy discounts and earn bonus miles when they rent through Hertz.
  • AAA. Being a member of AAA gets you discounts on all kinds of services, including rental cars. Currently, members can save between 8% and 20% off the base rate with Thrifty, Dollar, or Hertz. Check your local AAA website for the latest deals.
  • Costco. This warehouse club offers discounts on a lot more than groceries. One of the many benefits of Costco membership is its discounts on car rentals from Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. Visit the Costco Travel site to access the latest exclusive deals.

4. Join a Loyalty Program

Many rental car agencies have loyalty programs that offer various discounts and perks. Most loyalty programs are free to join, and it takes only a few minutes to sign up.  

Joining one of these programs could get you benefits like:

  • Free upgrades
  • The ability to skip the line when you pick up your rental
  • A guarantee the car you sign up for will be available
  • An account that stores your rental preferences for future use
  • Rewards points you can cash in for free rentals or upgrades

And there’s nothing to stop you from signing up for multiple programs. You could join one for each rental agency you use. In fact, if you’ve already reached elite status with one company, you can usually carry over that status when you sign up for another agency’s program as well.

Some agencies, such as Avis and Hertz, also have special programs just for small-business owners. If you own a small business, these programs can give you a percentage off the base price every time you rent a car.

5. Compare Prices

Joining a loyalty program doesn’t mean you have to be loyal to one car rental company. It always makes sense to shop around and see if another company can offer a better price.

You could do that by calling several companies for quotes, but you don’t have to. There are several websites you can use to check rental prices across multiple agencies. 

One leading comparison site is AutoSlash. This free site factors in discounts from AAA and Costco and searches for online coupons to cut your rental price. It even notifies you if the rental rate drops after you book your car. That allows you to cancel it and rebook at the lower price.

However, AutoSlash isn’t the only site in the business. Other places to look for deals include CarRentals.com, Kayak, and Priceline.

6. Check Smaller Car Rental Companies

When you’re comparing prices, don’t limit yourself to the major rental car agencies. Small off-brand agencies such as Fox Rent A Car can offer significantly lower rates than the big companies.

These small agencies aren’t available everywhere, and they may not show up in results from sites like AutoSlash. But if there’s one in your area, it’s worth a call to see if they can beat the big companies’ prices. To find small local agencies, search the Internet for “car rental near me.”

7. Look for Coupon Codes

When you’re searching for rental car prices, do an extra search for coupon codes you can tack on at checkout. With the right code, you can save as much as 50% off the regular rental rate. 

On top of that, you can often combine these coupon codes with other discounts. For instance, they sometimes stack with savings from loyalty programs or frequent flyer programs.

If you shop through AutoSlash, it automatically seeks coupon codes for you. Other places to look for deals include Groupon and LivingSocial. Also, money-saving browser extensions like Capital One Shopping search for coupon codes and apply them every time you shop. 

8. Read the Fine Print

It’s not unusual to see online ads promising car rentals as low as $15 per day. These prices sound too good to be true — and they are. The price you pay is usually much higher due to taxes and fees excluded from the advertised rate. 

You can’t avoid all these extra fees. However, you can at least be aware of them to avoid any surprises. And you can always say no to extraneous car rental fees.

When comparing prices, look at the final price with all taxes and fees included. That way, you know you’re comparing apples to apples. 

9. Prepay

Most car rental companies offer two different daily rental rates: one for prepayment and a higher one for paying when you pick up the car (or simply renting on the spot). For instance, Budget charges rates up to 35% less when you pay ahead.

But despite the savings, prepaying isn’t always the smart move. If you prepay for your car and have to change your plans, you could get hit with a hefty cancellation fee. 

For instance, Alamo charges $50 for canceling a prepaid rental or $100 if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. Canceling a regular reservation is only $50 with less than 24 hours’ notice and free if you cancel earlier than that. 

To avoid these fees, don’t prepay for your rental unless your travel schedule is fixed.

10. Use a Rewards Card

Once you’ve decided which car to rent and where, there’s still one more way to save: by choosing the right card to pay with. Many travel rewards credit cards, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer special perks and discounts on car rentals. 

Depending on the card, you could pay a lower daily or weekly rate or earn extra rewards points. You could also get perks like free upgrades, free rental car insurance, a free additional driver, or a grace period on late returns.

Moreover, if you already have rewards points on one of these cards, you can sometimes get a bonus by cashing them in for travel deals, including car rentals. If your card offers a 50% bonus on travel, you could book a $30-per-day car rental with only $20 worth of rewards.


Final Word

There’s one tip that could potentially save you more than anything else. When planning your trip, think carefully about whether you need a rental car at all. 

In some cases, you can get by without a car. Instead, you can rely on a combination of rides from friends, public transportation, and ridesharing. 

That works particularly well if you only need the vehicle to get to and from the airport. In that case, paying by the ride is probably cheaper than renting a car that will spend most of the trip parked.

Another option is to take advantage of the sharing economy. It’s often possible to get a car through a peer-to-peer service like Turo for much less than a traditional rental. 

These services can offer access to vehicles rental agencies don’t have, such as sports cars or electric vehicles. And you don’t have to deal with any high-pressure sales tactics at the rental counter.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

Barclays jetBlue Plus Card – 75,000 Point Bonus

Update 11/22/21: Deal is now 75,000 points. Need an employee code but any five digit number will work. Hat tip to reader Max

The Offer

Direct link to offer

  • Barclays offering a sign up bonus of 75,000 JetBlue points after $1,000 in spend within the first 90 days of account opening on the JetBlue Plus card.

Card Details

  • Full Review Here
  • Card earns at the following rates:
    • 6x points per dollar spent on jetBlue purchases (previously 2x points)
    • 2x points per dollar spent on restaurants and groceries (previously 1x point)
    • 1x points per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Annual fee of $99 (not waived first year)
  • Free checked bag for the primary cardmember and up to three companions on the same reservation when you use your JetBlue Plus Card to purchase tickets on JetBlue-operated flights
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • Enjoy all Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases after your anniversary date
  • Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem to use toward your next redemption
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $100 statement credit after you purchase a Getaways vacation package with your card
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases including cocktails, food and movies

Our Verdict

Not as good as the 100,000 point bonus, but better than the 60,000 point bonus. Personally I’d probably wait to see if the 100,000 point will return. JetBlue award flight prices are linked to the cash price of a ticket, much like Southwest. If you have any questions about Barclays credit cards, read this post first.

Source: doctorofcredit.com

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird


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Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: Key Differences and Considerations

Self-employment has its perks but an employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t one of them. Opening a solo 401(k) or a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) allows the self-employed to build wealth for retirement while enjoying some tax advantages.

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k), in terms of annual contribution limits and tax treatment. A SEP IRA, meanwhile, follows the same tax rules as traditional IRAs. SEP IRAs, however, allow a higher annual contribution limit than a regular IRA.

So, which is better for you? The answer can depend largely on whether your business has employees or operates as a sole proprietorship and which plan yields more benefits, in terms of contribution limits and tax breaks.

Weighing the features of a solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA can make it easier to decide which one is more suited to your retirement savings needs.

Investing for Your Retirement When Self-Employed

An important part of planning for your retirement is understanding your long-term goals. Whether you choose to open a solo 401(k) or make SEP IRA contributions can depend on how much you need and want to save for retirement and what kind of tax advantages you hope to enjoy along the way.

Recommended: When Can I Retire? This Formula Will Help You Know

A solo 401(k) could allow you to save more for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis compared to a SEP IRA, but not everyone can contribute to one. It’s also important to consider whether you need to give some thought to retirement planning for employees.

If you’re hoping to mirror or replicate the traditional 401(k) plan experience, then you might lean toward a solo 401(k). Whether you can contribute to one of these plans depends on your business structure. Business owners with no employees or whose only employee is their spouse can use a solo 401(k).

Meanwhile, you can establish a SEP IRA for yourself as the owner of a business as well as your eligible employees, if you have any. It’s also helpful to think about what kind of investment options you might prefer. What you can invest in through a solo 401(k) plan may be different from what a SEP IRA offers, which can affect how you grow wealth for retirement.

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA Comparisons

Both solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs make it possible to save for retirement as a self-employed person or business owner when you don’t have access to an employer’s 401(k). You can set up either type of account if you operate as a sole proprietorship and have no employees. And both can offer a tax break if you’re able to deduct contributions each year.

In terms of differences, there are some things that set solo 401(k) plans apart from SEP IRAs. Under SEP IRA rules, for instance, neither employee nor catch-up contributions are allowed. There’s no Roth option with a SEP IRA, which you may have with a solo 401(k). Choosing a Roth solo 401(k) might appeal to you if you’d like to be able to make tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

You may also be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if the plan permits it. Solo 401(k) loans follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) loans. If you need to take money from a SEP IRA before age 59 ½, however, you may pay an early withdrawal penalty and owe income tax on the withdrawal.

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between a 401(k) vs. SEP IRA.

Solo 401(k) SEP IRA
Tax-Deductible Contributions Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Employer Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Employee Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Withdrawals Taxed in Retirement Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Roth Contributions Allowed Yes No
Catch-Up Contributions Allowed Yes No
Loans Allowed Yes No

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) plan is a traditional 401(k) that covers a business owner who has no employees or employs only their spouse. Simply, a Solo 401(k) allows you to save money for retirement from your self-employment or business income on a tax-advantaged basis.

These plans follow the same IRS rules and requirements as any other 401(k). There are specific solo 401(k) contribution limits to follow, along with rules regarding withdrawals and taxation. Regulations also govern when you can take a loan from a solo 401(k) plan.

A number of online brokerages now offer solo 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals, including those who freelance or perform gig work. You can open a retirement account online and start investing, no employer other than yourself needed.

If you use a solo 401(k) to save for retirement, you’ll also need to follow some reporting requirements. Generally, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year.

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits

Just like other 401(k) plans, solo 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. You can make contributions as both an employee and an employer. Here’s how annual solo 401(k) contribution limits work for elective deferrals:

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits by Age in 2021 (Elective Deferrals) Annual contribution in 2022
Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution in 2021 and 2022
Under 50 $19,500 N/a N/a
50 and Older $19,500 $6,500 $20,500

The limit on 401(k) contributions, including elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions, is $58,000 for 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. That doesn’t include an additional $6,500 allowed for catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older.

If you’re self-employed, the IRS requires you to make a special calculation to figure out the maximum amount of elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions you can make for yourself. This calculation reflects on your earned income, or means your net earnings from self-employment after deducting one-half of your self-employment tax and contributions for yourself.

The IRS offers a rate table you can use to calculate your contributions. You can set up automatic deferrals to a solo 401(k), or make contributions at any point throughout the year.

What Is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA or Simplified Employee Pension Plan is another option to consider if you’re looking for retirement plans for those self-employed. This tax-advantaged plan is available to any size business, including sole proprietorships with no employees, and its one of the easiest retirement plan to set up and maintain. So if you’re a freelancer or a gig worker, you might consider using a SEP IRA to plan for retirement.

SEP IRAs work much like traditional IRAs, with regard to the tax treatment of withdrawals. They do, however, allow you to contribute more money toward retirement each year above the standard traditional IRA contribution limit. That means you could enjoy a bigger tax break when it’s time to deduct contributions.

If you have employees, you can make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on their behalf. SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. If you’re interested in a SEP, you can set up an IRA for yourself or for yourself and your employees through an online brokerage.

SEP IRA Contributions

SEP IRA contributions use pre-tax dollars. Amounts contributed are tax-deductible in the year you make them. All contributions are made by the employer only, which is something to remember if you have employees. Unlike a traditional 401(k) that allows elective deferrals, your employees wouldn’t be able to add money to their SEP IRA through paycheck deductions.

Here’s how SEP IRA contributions work.

SEP IRA Contributions by Age

Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution
Under 50 Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 in 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a
50 and Older Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a

The IRS doesn’t allow catch-up contributions to a SEP IRA, a significant difference from solo 401(k) plans. So it’s possible you could potentially save more for retirement with a solo 401(k), depending on your age and earnings. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to follow the same IRS rules for figuring your annual contributions that apply to solo 401(k) plans.

You can make SEP IRA contributions at any time until your taxes are due, in mid-April of the following year.

The Takeaway

Saving for retirement is something that you can’t afford to put off. Whether you choose a solo 401(k), SEP IRA or another savings plan, it’s important to take the first step toward growing wealth.

If you’re ready to start saving for the future, one way to get started is by opening a brokerage account on the SoFi Invest investment platform. All members get complimentary access to a financial advisor, which can help you create a plan to meet your long-term goals.

Photo credit: iStock/1001Love


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Using Income Share Agreements to Pay for School

Many students end up taking out loans to finance the cost of college. As of the first quarter of 2021, Americans collectively held $1.57 trillion in student debt, up $29 billion from the previous quarter. And a significant share of borrowers were struggling with their debt burdens: Just under 6% of total student debt was 90 days or more past due or in default.

Students looking for alternatives to student loans can apply for grants and scholarships, take on work-study jobs or other part-time work, or find ways to save on expenses.

Recently, another alternative has appeared on the table for students at certain institutions: income share agreements. An income share agreement is a type of college financing in which repayment is a fixed percentage of the borrower’s future income over a specified period of time.

As this financing option grows in popularity, here are some key things to know about how these agreements operate and to help you decide whether they’re the right choice for you.

How Income Share Agreements Work

Unlike student loans, an income share agreement, also known as an income sharing agreement or ISA, doesn’t involve a contract with the government or a private lender. Rather, it’s a contract between the student and their college or university.

In exchange for receiving educational funds from the school, the student promises to pay a share of his or her future earnings to the institution for a fixed amount of time after graduation.

ISAs don’t typically charge interest, and the amount students pay usually fluctuates according to their income. Students don’t necessarily have to pay back the entire amount they borrow, as long as they make the agreed-upon payments over a set period. Though, they also may end up paying more than the amount they received.

Income share agreements only appeared on the scene in the last few years, but they are quickly expanding. Since 2016, ISA programs have launched at places like Purdue University in Indiana, Clarkson University in New York, and Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. Each school decides on its own terms and eligibility guidelines for the programs. The school itself or outside investors may provide funds for ISAs.

Purdue University was one of the first schools to create a modern ISA program. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who meet certain criteria, including full-time enrollment and satisfactory academic progress, are eligible to apply.

Students may have a six-month grace period after graduation to start making payments, similar to the six-month grace period for student loans, and the repayment term at Purdue is typically 10 years. For some schools, however, the repayment term ranges from two to 10 years.

The exact amount students can expect to pay depends on the amount they took out and their income. The university estimates that a junior who graduates in 2023 with a marketing major will have a starting salary of $51,000 and will see their income grow an average of 4.7% a year.

If that student borrowed $10,000 in ISA funds, he or she would be required to pay 3.39% of his or her income for a little over eight years. The total amount that student would pay back is $17,971. The repayment cap for the 2021-2022 school year is $23,100.

Again, every ISA is different and may have different requirements, so be sure to check with your college or university for all the details.

The Advantages of Income Share Agreements

ISAs aren’t for everyone, but they can be beneficial for some students. For example, students who don’t qualify for other forms of financial aid, such as undocumented immigrants, may have few other options for funding school.

For students who have already maxed out their federal loans, ISAs can be a more affordable option than Parent PLUS loans or private student loans, both of which sometimes come with relatively high interest rates and fees.

Compared to student loans, many ISAs also protect students by preventing monthly payments from becoming unaffordable. Since the amount paid is always tied to income, students should never end up owing more than a set percentage for a fixed period of time. However, a student’s field of study may impact this. Students who are high earners after college may end up paying more to repay an ISA than they would have under other financing options.

If a student has trouble finding a well-paying job, or finding one at all, payments typically shrink accordingly. For example, Purdue sets a minimum income amount below which students don’t pay anything.

In Purdue’s case, the student won’t owe anything else once the repayment period is over, compared to student loans that can multiply exponentially over time due to accrued interest.

Purdue and several other universities also set the amount and length of repayment based on a student’s major, meaning monthly payments can be more tailored to graduates’ fields and salaries than student loans are. For fortunate students who see their income rise beyond expectations, many schools ensure the student won’t pay beyond a certain cap.

Potential Pitfalls of Income Share Agreements

ISAs come with some risks and drawbacks, as well. Firstly, since the repayment amount is based on income, a student who earns a lot after graduation might end up paying more than they would have with some student loans. This is because if a student earns a high income after graduating, they’d pay more to the fund. Second, the terms of repayment can vary widely, and some programs require graduates to give up a huge chunk of their paychecks.

For example, Lambda School , an online program that trains students to be software engineers, requires alums who earn at least $50,000 to pay 17% of their income for two years (up to $30,000). This can be a burden for recent graduates, especially compared to other options like income-driven repayment, which determines the percentage of income going towards student loans based on discretionary income.

Currently, there is very little regulation of ISAs, so students should read ISA terms carefully to understand what they’re signing up for.

No matter what, income share agreements are still funding that needs to be repaid, often at a higher amount than the principal.

So you’re still paying more overall for your education compared to finding sources of income like scholarships, a part-time job, gifts from family, or reducing expenses through lifestyle changes or going to a less expensive school.

How Do Income Share Agreements Impact You?

Many schools’ ISA programs are designed to fill in gaps in funding when students do not receive enough from other sources, such as financial aid, federal or private student loans, scholarships or savings. Thus, it’s important to understand how an ISA will impact both your long-term finances and other methods to pay for college.

ISAs do not impact need-based aid like grants or scholarships. Students with loans, however, could have a more complicated repayment plan with multiple payments due each month.

With ISAs, there is less clarity as to how much you’ll end up repaying from up to 10 years of income. As your income changes, your payment will remain the same percentage unless it falls below the minimum income threshold ($1,666.67 at Purdue) or reaches a repayment cap.

Whereas students may pay more than the loan principal to reduce interest, ISAs often require reaching a repayment cap of roughly double the borrowed amount to be paid off early.

Depending on your future income and career path, an ISA could cut into potential savings and investments or serve as a safety net for a less stable occupation.

Who Should Consider An ISA?

As previously mentioned, income share agreements are an option for students who have maxed out on federal loans and scholarships. There are other circumstances when an ISA may or may not be worth considering.

Colleges may require a minimum GPA to be eligible for an ISA. For instance, Robert Morris University requires incoming students to have a 3.0 high school GPA and maintain a 2.75 GPA during their studies for continued funding eligibility. Taking stock of how an ISA aligns with your academic performance before accepting funding could reduce stress later on.

Since ISA programs structure repayment as a percentage of income, graduates who secure high-paying jobs can end up paying a significant sum compared to the borrowed amount. An ISA term could be more favorable to students planning to enter sectors with more gradual salary growth, such as civil service.

Repayment plans at income sharing agreement colleges are not uniform. Students at schools with lower payment caps and early repayment options may find ISAs more advantageous.

Considering Private Loans

Students should generally exhaust all their federal options for grants and loans before considering other types of debt. But for some students looking to fill gaps in their educational funding, private student loans may make more sense for their needs than ISAs.

Recommended: Examining the Different Types of Student Loans

In particular, students who expect to have high salaries after graduation may end up paying less based on interest for a private student loan than they would for an ISA. Some private loans can also allow you to reduce what you owe overall by repaying your debt ahead of schedule.

SoFi doesn’t charge any fees, including origination fees or late fees. Nor are there prepayment penalties for paying off your loan early. You can also qualify for a 0.25% reduction on your interest rate when you sign up for automated payments.

The Takeaway

As mentioned, an income share agreement is an alternate financing option for college. An ISA is generally used to fill in gaps in college funding. Generally, it’s an agreement between the borrower and the school that states the borrower will repay the funds based on their future salary for a set amount of time.

One alternative to an ISA could be private student loans. Keep in mind that private loans are generally only considered as an option after all other sources of federal aid, including federal student loans, have been exhausted.

If you’ve exhausted your federal loan options and need help paying for school, consider a SoFi private student loan.


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