How to Calculate Student Loan Debt

Calculators for credit cards can be of help.

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Veronica, a grad student in New York, recently wrote to ask me how debt calculators treat student loan debt. The calculators she used always seemed to ask about debt that is separate from mortgage debt, but since her student loans are as large as some mortgages ($113,000), she wondered why they got special treatment. Since she's getting worried about how and when she'll be paying back all that debt, she wanted a calculator that could help put it in perspective.

It's actually not that easy to find a calculator that is targeted to people focused on student loan debt. Most of them focus on credit cards and mortgages. But here is a little trick: When it comes to monthly payments and interest accumulation, student loan debt is exactly the same as any other kind of debt. So you can use any credit card debt calculator, which are very easy to find, to get the answers you want.

Veronica wanted to know how much student loan debt will weigh her down. "I know I'm not alone in having a heart attack when I look at my balance. In fact, my friends and I all joke about being able to eat that first steak in ten years," she wrote.

To figure out if her dire predictions were right, I entered her total debt into this credit card calculator and guessed at her interest rate (8 percent) and monthly payments ($800 per month). Using those parameters, it will take her 427 months, or 35 and a half years, to pay off the debt. (Let's hope she can squeeze a steak into her budget well before it's all paid off.) She can also experiment by entering the number of months she'd like it to take or by changing her monthly payments.

It's enough to make you think twice about taking out such big loans, even if it is to go back to school.