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What is a Prepayment Penalty? What’s the Catch?

Money Management | SouthEast Bank | August 13, 2019

Imagine finally paying off your loan just to find out you owe the lender more money!  All because you’ve paid your debt off early. Instead of your lender rewarding you for paying the loan off earlier than your contract states, they charge you extra. Here’s what that is, how to avoid it, and what you can do.

What is a prepayment penalty?

A prepayment penalty is a fee charged to a borrower. If you pay off your loan earlier before the date planned in the contract the lender could charge you a prepayment penalty.

A prepayment penalty is charged once you’ve completed paying your debt, if it was paid it off early, or it could be a fee for overpaying the scheduled amount set per year. A prepayment penalty can be a fixed amount or based on what the remaining balance of your loan was set to be. For example, certain loans may allow you to pay off 20% extra each year before facing a fee.

What are prepayment penalties for?

When you borrow from an institution, they assume that it will take you a certain amount of time to repay the debt back, with interest. If you pay back your debt sooner, that institution may lose out on the interest that they collect. For this reason, loans like a mortgage might have a prepayment penalty to discourage people from refinancing or selling within the first few years.

You can think of a prepayment penalty as a way for the institution to ensure that it makes an adequate return amount for the credit they lent. Additionally, lenders charge prepayment penalties because if they place the loan in security and sell it, they need verification that the loan will be outstanding for a particular period of time. Having the security outstanding for a period of time will provide the buyer of the security a yield.

Student Loans
There are so many benefits to paying extra on your student loans each month. One of the main benefits – you’ll pay less interest over the life of the student loan. When it comes to student loans, you may be surprised to find out that there are no prepayment penalties. That’s right no prepayment penalties for both federal and private student loans. According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of August 2008: “It shall be unlawful for any private educational lender to impose a fee or penalty on a borrower for early repayment or prepayment of any private education loan.”

Before you begin making extra payments towards your student loans, you should contact your servicer. Verify that the additional payment is being applied to the principal balance of the loan and not to the interest. If the overpayment is directed to the principal you’ll be able to pay down the debt faster.

Mortgage Loans
Mortgages don’t always have prepayment penalties, but some do. If there is a prepayment fee on your mortgage you should be able to review the details in the mortgage contract. It’s vital when signing a contract that you pay attention to the fine print. If you don’t understand something or need further clarity, be sure to ask questions.

When dealing with mortgages, if you chose to refinance your loan there could be a prepayment penalty. Typically if you choose to refinance within the first three or five years of having the loan there may be a prepayment penalty fee that applies.  If you ever have any questions about prepayment fees you should contact your mortgage lender for clarity.

Auto Loans
When taking out an auto loan there are two types of interest that may be used in your contract, simple interest or pre-computed interest. Simple interest works similarly to a student loan, it is calculated based on the balance of the loan. Therefore, if you have an auto loan with simple interest, the sooner you can pay your loan off, the less interest you’ll pay.

The other type of interest is pre-computed interest. This interest is included in your agreement. It is a fixed amount calculated and added on at the beginning of the contract. Using a pre-computed interest rate is typically when you encounter prepayment penalties. Similar to mortgage loans it isn’t guaranteed that these loans have a prepayment penalty, but if so, it should be in the contract. Be sure to contact your lender or institution that services the loan to find out if there are any prepayment penalties before paying extra towards your debt.

Personal Loans
Personal loans can be used for a number of different reasons, from medical expenses to travel or even wedding expenses. When it comes to the prepayment penalty for personal loans, most companies will charge a percentage of the remaining balance. Though it’s likely your personal loan won’t have a prepayment penalty, you could still have one. Check with your lending institution or be sure to closely review your contract to see if there are any penalty fees for paying your debt down earlier.

Soft Penalty vs. Hard Penalty

You may have heard of two different types of prepayment penalties: soft and hard. A soft prepayment penalty would charge you a fee for refinancing, but not for other situations. A hard prepayment penalty would charge you for refinancing, prepayment, or selling (in the case of a mortgage – selling your house).

How can prepayment penalties affect you?

First, assuming you have multiple bills and debts that you pay each month, knowing whether any of them have a prepayment penalty can change how you pay. Imagine you have a student loan and a mortgage loan, you know the student loan doesn’t have any prepayment penalties, but the mortgage loan does. Let’s say that you’ve received some additional income and you want to put it towards one of the loans, but you aren’t sure which one. You’ll want to pay additional money toward the student loan debt because you won’t get penalized for paying it off early. Knowing a loan you’ve applied for has a prepayment penalty might motivate you to find a different borrower and give you the freedom to pay off that debt sooner without a fee.

Does this mean you should never pay off debts early? No way! There are plenty of loans and other types of debts that won’t have a prepayment penalty. The important thing is to know what you’re getting into. Read the fine print and ask questions during the application process. Also, for loans like a mortgage, there is typically a page you sign toward the end of the process that includes disclosures on things like whether there is a prepayment penalty, balloon payment, and so on. Always be aware of those disclosures before you take on new debt.
 

 

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