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Student loan borrowers are sacrificing their savings the most to pay off college debt, survey says

Student loan borrowers are putting saving for emergencies and retirement on the back burner.

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We often hear about younger generations (in particular, millennials and Generation Z), putting off significant financial milestones such as getting married, having children and buying a house because of their crushing student loan debt. But there's another financial decision that's being delayed by those dealing with student loans, and it's arguably easier to do than bear the cost of those milestones.

A recent Bankrate student loans survey revealed that adults are sacrificing their savings the most in order to pay off student loan debt. In fact, saving for emergencies and saving for retirement topped the list of financial decisions most often delayed as a result of student loans.

While it's certainly good news that student loan borrowers are making an effort to pay off their debt, it's important to not totally abandon your savings account, whether it's earmarked for a rainy day or your retirement years.

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How student loan borrowers can think about saving

When it comes to building an emergency fund or investing for retirement, years of not saving any money can really set you back in the long run, plus you'll be missing out on the compound interest that would accrue over time.

The goal is to start small: even saving just $25 consistently each month in a high-yield savings account such as the American Express® High Yield Savings Account will help your funds grow. Many experts recommend automating your savings so you can eliminate the decision to save altogether and won't even have to think twice about it. Through automation — whether it's a percentage from each paycheck or a recurring deposit from your checking to your savings — you become accustomed to living off of a budget that accounts for saving for your future.

When saving for your nonworking years, the earlier you start, the better, so don't wait until all your student loans are paid off. Even if retirement seems like a lifetime away, your biggest advantage is time. Start with depositing a percentage of your paycheck each pay period into an IRA or Roth IRA at a brokerage such as Charles Schwab or into a 401(k), if your employer offers one. While this can be a small percentage to start off with, we recommend contributing enough to meet any 401(k) employer match, if offered, as a company match is essentially free money into your nest egg.

Charles Schwab

  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. No account minimum for active investing through Schwab One® Brokerage Account. Automated investing through Schwab Intelligent Portfolios® requires a $5,000 minimum deposit

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    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. Schwab One® Brokerage Account has no account fees, $0 commission fees for stock and ETF trades, $0 transaction fees for over 4,000 mutual funds and a $0.65 fee per options contract

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    Robo-advisor: Schwab Intelligent Portfolios® and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium™ IRA: Charles Schwab Traditional, Roth, Rollover, Inherited and Custodial IRAs; plus, a Personal Choice Retirement Account® (PCRA) Brokerage and trading: Schwab One® Brokerage Account, Brokerage Account + Specialized Platforms and Support for Trading, Schwab Global Account™ and Schwab Organization Account

  • Investment options

    Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs and ETFs

  • Educational resources

    Extensive retirement planning tools

Terms apply.

Student loan borrowers are also delaying paying off other debt

The same Bankrate student loans survey found that, second to putting off saving, adults with student loan debt are also holding off on paying back other debt.

Before prioritizing student loan debt over other types of debt, borrowers should consider which type of debt is costing them more in the long term. For example, the interest rate you're paying on your outstanding credit card balance is likely much higher than the interest rate you're paying on your student loans. In this case, it makes more financial sense to accelerate the repayment of your credit card versus your student loans, as that will save you more money in interest charges.

If you have both student loan debt and credit card debt, get rid of your credit card debt first so you can then focus your attention entirely on paying down your student loans. A balance transfer credit card can come in handy in this scenario. The no-annual-fee Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card and Citi Simplicity® Card each offer one of the longest introductory periods for balance transfers: 0% intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer, plus 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening (after, a 17.99% - 28.74% variable APR on the Citi Diamond Preferred and a 18.99% - 29.74% variable APR on the Citi Simplicity; balances must be transferred within four months from account opening- there is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% or $5, whichever is greater for transfers completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).

With a balance transfer card, you can pay off credit card debt without accruing additional interest during the 0% APR intro period, which helps to really tackle your outstanding balance once and for all.

There's a way to lower the interest rate on your student loans, too. If you have private student loans right now, consider refinancing with a top lender to see if you can score a lower interest rate than the one you pay now. When you refinance, you also get the chance to shorten or extend your loan term. A lender like SoFi offers both variable and fixed rates (that automatically include a 0.25% autopay discount), the option to apply with a co-signer, payment protections, plus free career coaching and financial advice from planners. Note, that it's usually not advised to refinance your federal student loans as you can lose the protections that federal student loans offer, including being eligible for the current student loan payment pause.

SoFi Student Loan Refinancing

  • Cost

    No origination fees to refinance

  • Eligible loans

    Federal, private, graduate and undergraduate loans, Parent PLUS loans, medical and dental residency loans

  • Loan types

    Variable and fixed

  • Variable rates (APR)

    5.74% - 9.99% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)

  • Fixed rates (APR)

    4.99% - 9.99% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)

  • Loan terms

    5, 7, 10, 15, 20 years

  • Loan amounts

    From $5,000; over $10,000 for medical/dental residency loans

  • Minimum credit score


  • Minimum income


  • Allow for a co-signer


Terms apply.

Bottom line

While it's important to keep up with your student loan payments, you shouldn't do it at the expense of forgoing other key financial moves like saving for the future and paying off high-interest debt. Plus, with the federal student loan payment and interest freeze extended through the end of the summer, you can use this time to redirect these next few monthly student debt payments toward saving for emergencies or retirement, or reducing other debt.

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Interest rate and APY are subject to change at any time without notice before and after an American Express® High Yield Savings Account is opened.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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