By: Luke Dodson
Student loans are one of the most crippling financial issues facing young people today. Across the country, there are a whopping 44 million borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. But, you don’t need us to tell you about the heavy burden of student loans, because you’re probably paying them off yourself.
The average student loan debt in the United States for last year’s graduating class was $37,172 (see how you can save up to $22,359), an increase of six percent from the year before. That kind of debt will take years to pay off – sometimes even decades. Even if you’ve just been paying your debt for a few years, you understand the impact this kind of debt has on your day to day life, and your financial stability.
The good news is you’ve made a smart investment in your future. You got a degree with the intent to increase your earning potential over your lifetime. Even if you don’t see it now in your entry-level or mid-level job, it will pay off down the line as you grow as an employee. But, that’s not the only good news. While your student loan debt might be scary and controlling your life now, it doesn’t have to forever.
What you need is to get smart about paying off your loans. Here, we’ve compiled the best tips to help you pay off your student loans faster than before. With this advice, we hope to give you the tools and inspiration to make the best decision in tackling your student loans.
- Consolidate and refinance your loans
Instead of dealing with multiple loans with multiple interest rates, consider consolidation and refinancing to help pay down your debt quicker. Right now through So-Fi you can find fixed rates as low as 3.375% and variable rates as low as 2.345%! An Average borrower saves $22,359 when they refinance with SoFi! You can find out more information here. If you decide to refinance your loans, they’re first going to consolidate a bunch of your loans together. This strategy will help decrease the amount of interest you’re paying on your student debt – meaning more of your hard earned money goes right towards your debt.
- If you’re still in school, start paying off your debt now
If you’re reading this because you want to get ahead of the curve – welcome! We’re glad to have you here. It’s awesome that you’re already starting to look at how you can repay your debt before you graduate. But, what you probably don’t realize is you can start paying it down now.
We know school is expensive – from books to food and extracurriculars. But, if you work a part-time or seasonal job, consider taking part of that paycheck and putting it right towards your loans. What’s great about paying before graduation is that your federal loans haven’t even started charging you interest. But, it also makes sense to go ahead and start paying down your debt on loans that are already accumulating interest, too. If you want to pay down your student debt faster, starting while you’re in school – even if it’s just a little – is a great start.
- Pay more than the minimum each month
This is one of the most recommended tips out there, but only because it works. By paying up more than the minimum amount required, you’re going to pay down your debt faster. A common misconception, though, is that you need to pay a lot extra to make it work.
Every little bit counts, so put as much extra as you can each month. Some months you might be able to pay a few hundred extra and others you might just throw on an extra $25. Do what you can by pushing down on that debt with extra payments and you’ll be debt free quicker.
- If you’re about to graduate, make sure you pay attention during exit counseling
Exit counseling is required for all students who borrowed money from the federal government. It sounds a little scary, but it’s really a great resource that teaches you about your debt, how to pay it back and your rights as a borrower.
Some universities and colleges conduct exit counseling in person, others do it online. Either way, it’s a necessary step and a crucial resource to getting yourself off on the right foot. You can’t possibly start paying down your debt faster if you don’t understand the financial position you’re in.
- Stray away from repayment programs
If you’re trying to pay your student debt down faster, a repayment program isn’t going to work in your favor. Repayment programs are actually structured to lower your payments by being stretched out for a longer period of time. That means while you might like having a lower monthly bill, in the long run, it’s going to take you many more years to get rid of that debt. An example is the Pay As You Earn program, which can elongate your repayment structure from 10 years to a whopping 25.
If you’re reading this article in the first place, it’s probably because you don’t want to be paying your student loan debt while you’re middle aged. So, if one of your biggest goals is to get your debt down fast, avoid working with a repayment program that will only make this process a whole lot longer.
- Consolidate and refinance your loans
- Figure out your payoff date for goal setting
We admit, doing the math and figuring out just how long it’s going to take to pay off all those loans is a little intimidating. But, if you want to better understand your debt you need to have a clear view of how much you’re paying down, how much interest is accumulating, and how many years you’re going to have to keep paying up.
By educating yourself on your payoff date, you can set better goals for yourself. Maybe it will make you realize consolidation and refinancing are your best choice. Or, maybe it will make you realize you can pay it off quicker if you start paying more than your minimum. It’s a little bit of a scary step to take, but totally essential to moving forward with a clear head.
- Put your tax refund into your loans
Once a year you get a nice check from the government with your tax returns. But, instead of going on a shopping spree or buying a round for everyone at the bar, take that money and put it right towards your student loan debt.
The problem with a tax refund is people look at it like it’s ‘free money’. It’s not. This is money you worked for over the year, paid to the government, and are now getting back. So take your hard earned cash and put it towards something that is going to help your financial standing.
- Put your yearly raise or bonus right towards your loans
You’ve worked really hard and you have been rewarded with a nice bonus or a raise. Of course, you want to celebrate the accomplishment but think twice before spending that extra cash.
This is extra income you didn’t have before, and that’s great news because for the last year you have been living and managing your funds with your old income. So instead of investing in gadgets, looking for a bigger apartment or just start spending more, consider sticking to your old budget and putting your new income towards your loans.
If you’ve been given a lump-sum bonus, take it and pay down your debt right away. If you want to pay them down quicker, this extra income is going to really help you get there.
- Cut back on your monthly budget
You’ve probably heard this one before, but it works. There are simple things you can do to cut back every month that will really make a difference to your budget. For example, consider:
– Canceling cable, you watch Netflix anyways
– Giving up on your morning coffee and brewing it from home
– Limiting yourself to one outing where you pay for drinks/food to one a week
– Stop online shopping. Those pre-set-up shopping carts are dangerous
There are really endless possibilities. But in the end, it is about looking at the little things in your life that add up and deciding what’s necessary and what’s not. If you’re serious about paying off your student debt, and quick, letting go of these little luxuries is totally worth it in the long run.
- Put in extra time at work
It’s not lamorous, but putting in extra hours at work can really help you pay off your student debt faster. If you’re eligible for good overtime payment, take advantage of it and put that extra cash directly towards your student loans.
This is a great idea for anyone who finds that they’re cutting it close every month, as it really gives you some flexibility with the rest of the budget. Take the time to see how many shifts, or hours, you would have to pick up to make the load of student debt a little easier to carry each month. You never want to overwork yourself, but if you have the option to make some extra money for your future, we think it’s well worth it.
- Create a strategy
If you come into some extra money, get a bonus, or cut back on little luxuries and have some extra cash lying around – don’t just throw that money on top of your loans.
Take a look at what loans you have in place and tackle the debt with the highest interest first. If you have private student loans, those are the one’s you’ll also want to tackle first because they often have higher interest rates and less flexible repayment systems.
If you’re taking the extra steps to get your debt down, be smart about it. Take a little extra time and figure out the best strategy for you and your loans.
- Take the time to understand your debt
This is much more of a mental strategy, but you need to have a clear head if you’re going to really get your debt down faster. Read and study your statements, learn about how much interest you’re paying – even calculate how much interest you’re going to pay over the lifetime of your loan. This isn’t fun, but understanding your debt might just motivate you to get it paid quick.
This is important because student loan debt isn’t ‘good debt’. You’ve probably heard about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ debt and thought, “Well, it’s an investment in my future, so it’s good.”
That’s true, to an extent. You’ve made an awesome investment in your future earning potential. But when it comes to having that debt around, especially for a long period of time, it’s no good.
The thing about ‘good debt’ is that it weighs how much that debt is going increase the value of something over time. Your student loans increased your earning potential, but it’s not helping it go up yearly, either. Plus, you don’t want to be paying off that debt and continue paying interest, as you keep earning more. It’s better to pay it off quickly so you can allocate those funds to things like a mortgage and a retirement plan.
- Take advantage of automatic payments
If the money comes out automatically, you don’t have to worry about missing a payment and dealing with late fees and increased interest. Plus, sometimes when you enroll in automatic payments you can get your interest rate cut of 0.25%.
It’s not a ton, but every penny counts and it can sure accumulate over time. This is a small and simple solution to enquire about. So just do it!
- Claim your loan interest on your taxes
Paying interest on your loans in tough. But the government will let you deduct up to $2,500 every year for the interest you’ve paid on your debt. So, this year, claim it and see what kind of money you can get back. Then, take that extra cash and put it right back towards your loans.
Of course, a percentage of that cash you just got back will go towards interest again – but you’re still paying down part of your debt. And think about it this way, you can just claim it again next year.
Most people are eligible for the federal tax return, but it’s worth looking into before you claim it on your taxes.
- Pay every two weeks instead of once a month
It might sound like a weird strategy, but paying your student loans twice a month works. By splitting your monthly payment in half and paying it twice a month, over the course of a year you actually end up paying an entire extra payment without even realizing it.
This is a great strategy if you get paid bi-weekly, but you can also make it work if you’re paid monthly, too.
- Consider a job that offers loan forgiveness
Yes, it’s a real thing. There are jobs out there that will help you pay back your student loans just for being an employee. These jobs are usually in the public service sector, but it’s pretty much a win-win because while you help the community you also get help paying off that debt.
Most of the jobs that offer loan forgiveness are public or nonprofit jobs, and a lot of the programs are run by the federal government. But, teachers can take advantage of student loan forgiveness programs, too. In fact, there are incredible programs out there to help teachers.
But, this isn’t a decision to take lightheartedly. A lot of times you have to work at a position for years before you get full student loan forgiveness. So before you make any kind of big decision on this, make sure you do your research.
Now, imagine your life without student loans
You’ve read our list, taken action, and now you have your debt under control and some real insight into when you can call your student debt history. Imagine what your life will be without having to shell out that money every month. And with refinance rates so low now is time to save some of your hard earned money.
Not only will you probably be able to indulge in some (responsible) spending like a vacation or a few new pieces to your wardrobe, you can use that money for your future. You’ve been using that money to pay for something in your past for so long. Granted, it is kinda paying for your future in a way. But now, you can take that money and put it towards a savings, retirement and big purchases like buying a home someday.
In the end, the quicker you pay off your loans, the quicker you can move forward with a stable financial future.
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