Back on September 12th, I posted an article titled Can You Invest Student Loan Refunds?. This has become one of my most popular articles, and I wanted to write a follow-up post to give another perspective that arose out of your comments.
I did my best to make a convincing argument against taking your student loans and investing them. I still believe that this is simply a moral barrier that should not be crossed, but it is also a Federal law.
The main question that was raised in the comments, and which is quite valid, is how will the government ever track these student loan refunds if they are invested?
Government Black Hole?
Moral high ground aside, I think it is very interesting to see exactly how someone can take the student loan refund that they receive and invest it for a profit (or a potential loss). The fact that this is possible brings to light a large need in our government for more student loan oversight and tighter restrictions on who, and how much, students can borrow. If it were publicized that investing student loans is a great way to make money (which ok, I am doing here on this blog, but please forgive that for a moment) then I could forsee this practice becoming much more common.
Many commenters asked the question in the original article of how the government enforces their rule that student loan refund can only be used for “educational expenses”. From all of my work in higher education, the only answer I could come up with is that unfortunately, they do not. I see their reasoning behind this. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to track the refunds of millions of student loans across the country? You would need to hire hundreds of auditors to work full-time on enforcing this rule.
So as it stands, the government really does not have an adequate way of enforcing their rule that you cannot invest student loan refunds.
The Gray Area…
As with many federal regulations, there is a large gray area that is left open to interpretation. If you receive a student loan refund, and you want to do something proactive with that money, what are your options?
Strictly investing that money in the stock market is out. That would mean that you are using the funds to directly incur a profit (or a loss). What about investing the student loan refunds in a Roth IRA? This is still based on the whims of the stock market, but arguably more safe
What about stuffing your student loan refund into a high yield savings account? You are incurring no risk, and it is also gaining a small amount of income as time passes.
I would say that this decision is left up to you.
There are positives and negatives to every financial decision that you make regarding your student loan refunds. If you invest in a ROTH IRA, then you have to pay a penalty if you withdraw the funds to pay off your student loan before you reach retirement age.
If you invest your loan refund in the stock market, then you run the risk of losing all of that money, and having no funds to repay your student loan.
Parking your student loan refund in a high yield savings account seems like a very safe option, but the yield is so small these days, is it really worth it?
All questions that you will need to think through.
I know there are some strong arguments on both sides of this topic, and I know you all would love to share them. So please let me have it in the comments.