Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 27.
If you're one of the 44 million Americans owing a total of $1.3 trillion in student loans, you may be zealous about trying to get it paid off early. But that may be a mistake. Sometimes it can be smarter to pay minimums on student loans and put your disposable income elsewhere.
When it comes to retiring debt early, student loans are a lot like mortgage loans, says Joseph Roseman, managing director of Charlotte-based retirement planning firm O'Dell, Winkfield, Roseman and Shipp. "I will show people how to accelerate and pay off their credit card debt every time somebody asks me to," Roseman says. "But when somebody asks about paying off student loans or mortgage debt early it needs to be a much deeper conversation."
In a conversation about a student loan payment, monthly cash flow will be a central topic. The average payment in 2015 for 20- to 30-year-old borrowers was a hefty $351, according to the Federal Reserve of Cleveland. Many borrowers find it too much. About 11% of student loan borrowers are more than 90 days past due, making student debt by far the most likely to be in default of the major categories including mortgages, home equity loans, car loans and credit cards.
While it's rarely a good idea to ignore a debt completely, there are good reasons for not trying to pay off a student loan early. One is that it could be smarter to retire a debt with a higher interest rate, such as a credit card. Credit cards generally carry interest rates of 15% or higher, while many student loans are 5% to 7%. Paying the credit card off first will usually save you money.