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How long will it take to pay off your MBA debt?

Recent estimates show an average MBA debt of

Recent estimates show an average MBA debt of $75,000 in student loans. Credit: Getty Images

MBAs are often lauded among the few graduate degrees to consistently pay off, with many Master of Business Administration graduates seeing starting salaries above $100,000.

Top business schools report job placement rates at 97% or higher 90 days after graduation for the class of 2021.

But the high earning potential comes with a price that is getting harder to nail down. In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average MBA graduate left school with $66,300 in student loans. Since then, business schools have been less forthcoming about their students' average debt load, but more recent estimates show an average MBA debt of $75,000.

Ultimately, your student loan repayment plan will determine how long until you are debt-free. Here are three scenarios and the pros and cons of each.

Standard repayment plan

The standard student loan term is 10 years. All federal student loans come with 10-year terms, and many private student loans also have this option. So if you make your required on-time payments each month, you’ll repay your MBA debt in a decade.

Pros: Sticking with the standard repayment plan allows you to know your exact monthly payment and the total interest cost. This can be a good option for those who value stability and predictability.

Cons: Depending on how much debt you have, and the interest rate, your payments may be too high. Tying up your budget and credit with student loan payments for 10 years could also derail your financial goals.

Extended repayment plan

You can make your repayment term longer through a federal government program, like income-driven repayment, or by refinancing. Extended federal payment plans are typically 20 years for undergraduate debt and 25 years for graduate school debt. Private lenders may give more flexibility in customizing a longer term.

Pros: By extending your repayment term, you can lower your monthly payments. If you have federal student loans, you can do this through an income-driven repayment plan. These plans will set your payments between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income and extend your term to 25 years for your graduate school debt. You could extend your repayment plan on private and federal loans through refinancing with a private lender, too, and with a private lender potentially lock in a lower interest rate.

Cons: Extending your payment term will likely increase your total repayment amount because you'll pay more interest. For example, if you refinance a $30,000 student loan with a 6% interest rate and 10-year repayment term to a loan with the same interest rate and a 15-year term, you’ll pay $80 less each month but $5,602 more overall.

Expedited repayment with refinancing

You can pay off your loans faster by refinancing for a shorter loan term like five or seven years. This option is available only when you refinance with a private lender, and isn’t available through the federal government.

Pros: You'll pay your loan off faster and save money on total loan costs. You can pay extra on your federal loan each month to pay it off faster, but there is no official federal program that lets you shorten your term. Refinancing your MBA debt through a private lender, however, may allow you to shorten your term and decrease your interest rate — saving even more. For example, if you refinance a 10-year, $30,000 loan with a 6% interest rate to a five-year term with 4% interest, you will save $6,817 in total loan costs.

Cons: Shortening your repayment term will likely cause monthly payments to increase. With the aforementioned refinance, you will save $6,817 overall, but your monthly payment will rise $219. If you don’t have wiggle room in your monthly budget, consider another plan.

Cecilia Clark writes for NerdWallet. Email: cclark@nerdwallet.com.

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