What Are the Best Student Loan Calculators?
Only a few websites have compiled your different options for student loan calculators, and the research that went into those lists may be suspect. Here's a better option.
About the author: Kevin Mahoney, CFP® is a fee-only financial advisor in Washington, D.C. Kevin's work with his peers focuses on paying off student loans, buying a house, investing savings, and budgeting. Kevin is the founder & CEO of Illumint, a virtual financial planning firm specifically designed to help couples and young families with their financial decisions.
If you’re interested in refinancing or consolidating your student loans, you may find yourself searching for an online student loan calculator. Even if you just want to understand your different student loan repayment and loan forgiveness options, you may like to quickly run some numbers to better inform your thoughts.
A Google search for “What is the best student loan calculator?” may not offer much help, though. Only a few websites have compiled multiple options for you, and the quality of those comparisons is uncertain at best. The website Make Lemonade touts the “Top 4 Free Student Loan Calculators to Save Money” in an article at Forbes, but each option takes you to a calculator that Make Lemonade itself has created.
The website AdvisoryHQ offers the “Top 6 Best Student Loan Repayment Calculators,” a list which features calculators from a variety of different sources. In a nod to transparency, AdvisoryHQ posts its list methodology online, but it’s unclear whether anyone who participated in the rankings actually used the calculators or has experience working with student loans.
New Orleans-based financial advisor Ryan Frailich appears to have written the most rigorous, helpful review (disclosure: Ryan and I are both XY Planning Network members). He wrote the article for financial advisors, though, so the post may not have caught your attention and/or search query. Given his intended audience, not every calculator he discusses is accessible to an individual borrower, but many people still will find value in his summary and explanations. For example, he talks in detail about the “features to consider when selecting a student loan analysis tool”:
Ability to import data from the National Student Loan Database (NSLDS)
Ability to analyze student loans at the household level
Adaptable assumptions to model long-term student loan planning
Side-by-side comparison of repayment plans
Ability to input private student loans
Ability to filter out unavailable repayment plans
Ultimately, he grades on a variety of metrics eight different student loan calculators, three of which are available for consumers to use. I encourage you to read his full summary in order to determine whether any of these calculators might work for your financial circumstances, but here’s a brief overview for your convenience.
Student Loan Planner
Student Loan Planner’s Excel spreadsheet was created specifically for individual borrowers, so as Ryan notes:
“The Student Loan Planner calculator is very easy to use, and intuitive for anyone with a passing knowledge of using Excel. Although there is no NSLDS import function, it does allow a planner to type in all the relevant data points, and easily adjust the assumptions for future tax rates, family size, income, etc. It also provides a great table with side-by-side comparisons to see total payments, both in nominal dollars and NPV (Net Present Value) terms, any possible taxes due, year of forgiveness (if applicable), and monthly payment amounts.”
One downside to this tool, though, is that different loan balances and interest rates must be combined, which makes analyzing a couple’s loan situation more difficult.
The U.S. Department of Education created a federal student aid website, which -- in addition to loan forms and other information -- offers a repayment estimator. Based on Ryan’s experience, he believes the tool is most effective with straightforward financial circumstances, such as no partner or variable income. He writes:
“The StudentLoans.gov tool allows clients to log in under their account and do analysis with their own data pulling from the DOE’s database.” It also “gives information only on the programs the client is eligible for as well, thus eliminating the confusion of attempting to enroll in a repayment program that the loan may not be eligible for. It generates an easy to understand table comparing all your options, including nominal repayment cost, monthly payments, and timeline until the debt is gone.”
Individuals should note, however, that the repayment estimator is limited: the tool doesn’t enable you to make many different assumptions or model how household changes might impact your best strategy.
The VIN Foundation
Veterinarians on average have one of the highest student loan debt burdens of any profession, so the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) wisely developed a highly useful loan analysis tool for its readers. Even if you’re not a vet, you can take advantage of their student loan calculator, which enables you to input numerous variables about your financial situation. In describing your options, Ryan says:
“You can set future dates for marriage and kids and see how those impact the plan, including toggling between using the MFS and MFJ tax filing status. The software is able to include household level income and debts and provides a variety of tables and charts to show the impact of different repayment plans.”
In Ryan’s comprehensive student loan calculator review, The VIN Foundation student loan calculator emerges with the highest overall score. While the tool isn’t perfect -- you can’t automatically add data to the program or include private student loans -- most people need flexibility from a calculator to ensure that the output accurately reflects their specific situation.
Ultimately, individuals who want to better understand their options for moving forward may want to play with multiple student loan calculators to make sure at some minimum level that they’re not overlooking any critical aspect of their decision. This isn’t necessarily a fun or easy exercise (and likely will require some research on different student loan terms and repayment programs), but it’s well worth the savings that you may capture from lower overall interest payments.