What Is Capitalized Interest on Student Loans?

Anna HelhoskiNovember 5, 2018

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Capitalized interest on student loans increases the total amount you have to pay back. It’s unpaid interest that gets added to your student loan balance after periods when you don’t make payments — such as during deferment or forbearance.

This interest is something to avoid; otherwise, you’ll repay much more than you originally borrowed.

Say you borrow $5,000 each year you’re in school at an interest rate of 5% each year. Over four years of school and a six-month grace period, $2,937 in interest accrues. At repayment, that interest amount will capitalize — get added to your balance — and you’ll owe $22,937.

Going forward, you’ll pay interest on top of that capitalized interest — an extra $31 a month, in this case.

But you can avoid this by paying off the interest before it capitalizes. If you pay the $2,937 in interest before it’s added to your balance, you would owe $20,000. By avoiding capitalization, you would save $802 over the life of the loan, making it easier to pay off your student loans sooner.

What causes interest to capitalize on student loans?

There are several situations in which interest capitalizes.

For federal student loans, capitalization of unpaid interest occurs:

  • When the grace period ends on an unsubsidized loan.

  • After a period of forbearance.

  • After a period of deferment, for unsubsidized loans.

  • If you leave the Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE), Pay as You Earn (PAYE) or Income-Based-Repayment (IBR) plan.

  • If you don’t recertify your income annually for the REPAYE, PAYE and IBR plans.

  • If you no longer qualify to make payments based on your income under PAYE or IBR.

  • If you’re on the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, it capitalizes annually.

  • When you consolidate federal loans.

For private student loans, interest capitalization typically happens in the situations below, but check with your lender to confirm.

  • At the end of the grace period.

  • After a period of deferment.

  • After a period of forbearance.

How to prevent or reduce capitalized interest

Preventing interest from capitalizing can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

If you’re an undergraduate dependent student who borrowed the maximum amount of unsubsidized federal student loans each year from 2014 to 2018, you would owe $27,000, plus $3,276 in capitalized interest. If you paid off accrued interest before it capitalized, your monthly payment would be over $30 lower and you would save $754 over the life of the loan.

Use a student loan calculator to find out how much your student loan bill would be if you let interest capitalize.

Preventing interest from capitalizing can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

You can avoid capitalized interest by making interest payments monthly while your loans are in deferment or forbearance — or by avoiding deferment and forbearance altogether. If you have a private loan, opt for a repayment plan that starts with making interest-only payments in school.

If you choose not to make interest payments during school, you can still avoid interest capitalization by paying off the interest before it is added to your balance. You can do this monthly or in a lump sum, but it must happen before repayment begins. Contact your student loan lender or servicer to make payments.