Did you graduate from college this past spring? Or, have you been in the workplace for years? Either way, one thing’s almost certain: you’re repaying student loans.
How do we know? Because nearly 70% of all college students take out loans to fund their education—and as we learned in Everything You Need to Know about Student Loan Debt, it takes an average of 21 years to pay them off! Even more if you have master’s or doctorate degrees.
Some have even argued that this growing student loan crisis is negatively affecting the overall economy in many ways, since graduates are postponing big life events, such as “marriage, childbearing and home purchases.” Not to mention starting businesses or otherwise becoming entrepreneurs.
Obviously, the easiest way is to avoid this is by not taking out any student loans in the first place. This often isn’t possible though, because college education keeps getting more expensive, and what we’re earning simply can’t keep up with the increase.
The reality is that you’re (perhaps deeply) in debt because of your student loans, and you’re looking to get rid of them as fast as possible. You need real world, actionable advice that you can put to use. Now.
So let’s talk shop and put you on the path to success! But first, remember that your attitude can make all the difference.
Tip #1: Attitude Is Important
Paying off debt isn’t easy. Period.
Whether we’re talking about student loans, credit card balances, car notes, or anything else, getting rid of debt takes a lot hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. There’s no way around it.
No more going out 2 or 3 nights a week. Forget that fantasy football league. Heck, you might even need to cut your cable service or (gasp!) take a second part-time job.
Whatever sacrifices you need to make in order to pay off your student debt faster will ultimately pay off in the end. In the meantime, it’s important that you fight the urge for instant gratification and maintain a positive mental attitude. Keep your eye on the prize.
Quickly reducing your student loan debt isn’t a quick fix process, but it can be a relatively short-term solution to a long-term problem. If it’s not approached with the right attitude though, you likely won’t get very far in reducing it.
How is this even possible? Where to begin?
Tip #2: Understand Your Debt
In order to understand which way you’re headed, you need to understand your goal. This means you’ll need to find out, given your current repayment habits, how long it will take you to pay off your loan. Get the exact date.
From there, create a 5-year financial plan. Then, reduce your spending (we’ll talk more about this next), and have money from your paychecks automatically deposited into a separate account. Make sure this account is only used for student loan repayment.
Pro tip: Student loan calculators can make this process much faster and easier. Just plug in a couple numbers and it’ll do all the math for you.
Tip #3: Pay More Each Month
Once your plan is on paper, what’s the fastest way to pay down your student loan? Pay more each month.
Don’t have the extra money to spend? At least make biweekly payments, which will reduce the amount of time that interest can accrue. You’ll also end up making one extra payment per year!
If you can’t afford to make more than the minimum payment, then it’s time to look at your budget and see where there’s some wiggle room. We talked about some suggestions above, but you can also reduce your energy consumption, buy groceries in bulk, invite friends to have dinner and drinks at your house, reduce bottled water usage, and more. There are tons of easy ways to save money!
As soon as you start saving, apply as much of this extra money as possible to your loan payments. Doing so will not only pay down the principal but will also reduce the amount of interest on your loan.
Ultimately, this means you’ll pay the loan off faster while saving thousands in interest.
Pro tip: If you haven’t consolidated your student loans, be sure to start applying this extra money to your higher interest loans first. Otherwise, you could be throwing out your hard work while paying unnecessary interest.
Let’s talk more about this, shall we?
Tip #4: Consolidate Your Student Loans
Consolidating (combining) your student loans can offer several advantages, but it’s not for everyone.
First, remember that there are basically 2 kinds of student loans: federal, which are offered by the government, and private, which are offered by independent lending institutions (e.g. banks, credit unions, etc.). Some federal loans cannot be consolidated, while some private student loans can come with restrictions that make consolidation difficult.
Because you learned as much about your loans as possible in the first tip, you should have a good handle on the situation. If you need help, be sure you consult with a financial professional before making any decisions.
The Advantages of Consolidating Student Loans
If you are able to consolidate your student loan debt, it can offer several big advantages:
- The simplicity of a single monthly payment (and just one due date!).
- Lower interest rates, although this might only be the case if you have good credit. Consolidation can also help you switch from a variable to a fixed-rate loan.
- Extending repayment. If you’re having difficulty making payments on time, you might be able to extend the term of your loan, resulting in lower payments.
The Disadvantages of Consolidation
It’s not all roses when it comes to consolidation though. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Even though you might have lower payments, extending the term of your consolidated loan means that you’ll be repaying longer. You’ll also pay a greater amount in interest.
- If you consolidated loans during a grace period, this will immediately end after consolidation. While this is ultimately good for helping you pay it off faster, it could sting a little at first.
- Finally, watch your interest rate. Why? Because if you have several low-interest student loans and consolidate them to a higher interest loan, you could end up paying more over the long run.
Pro tip: If you have a federal student loan and can’t consolidate, you may be able to apply for income-based repayment. This could allow you to make payments based on what you can afford, not on how much the bank stipulates you owe.
More on this Topic: The 8 Different Options You Have to Pay Off Your Student Loans
While this might help you avoid consolidation, it will definitely delay paying off your loans, and you’ll certainly pay more in interest.
Tip #5: Explore Loan Forgiveness Programs & Tax Deductions
Depending on your career, you might not need to pay more each month or consolidate your loans, due to a variety of programs that provide student loan forgiveness for teachers and public service employees.
There are also specialized repayment programs for government employees, nurses, military personnel (Army, Air Force, National Guard, and Navy), teachers, and public servants.
More on Loan Forgiveness: How to Discharge Your Student Loans via Bankruptcy, Public Service & Payment Plans
Even if you don’t qualify for a forgiveness program, the good news is that you can reduce your overall expenses by taking out a tax deduction. However, keep in mind that you can only deduct up to $2,500 in taxes related to your student loans.
Every little bit helps though, right?
Sure, making a conscious decision to pay down your student loan debt faster takes work. A lot of it. But you can do this! Just follow the 5 strategies above, and you’ll be well on your way.