3 Tips to Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster
Recently, I was in a conversation with a bright, young attorney about our college loans. At one point she laughingly shared with me, “Kristina, I’ve worked out a plan to make the smallest payments possible on my student loans!!”
As we continued to talk, she maintained a carefree vibe for a few minutes, but it wasn’t long before her smile faded and she revealed the true burden she felt.
Just below her confident exterior lay a lot of angst over the amount of loans she had assumed in college. Not only were they taking a toll on her budget, but paying them off seemed a nearly impossible task. In her mind, a lifetime of small payments was the only thing she could realistically celebrate; the dream of someday being debt-free was too remote.
I asked if we could run the numbers. Once we did, it became evident that financial freedom was not just possible for this woman, but it could happen far sooner than she’d imagined. With a solid strategy and some effort, she could save thousands in interest and pay off her student loans in much less time.
Maybe you’re in a similar situation: proud of your education and career path, motivated to achieve things and make a difference, but feeling heavy from the weight of loans. Don’t be disheartened; paying them off is completely doable! Here are three tips you can use to more quickly get your student-loan balance to zero:
- Lay out your plan. Start with a big-picture view to developing a plan that will help move you from where you are now to “paid in full.” First, figure out what your payoff date is at your current rate of payment. Then, play with the math and explore how much sooner you could eliminate your loan by increasing your payment each month. You want to find an increment and end date that feel like a stretch but are still feasible to you. Set the new goal firmly in your plan so you’ll have something to work toward—and look forward to. Tools like the loan prepayment calculator on StudentLoanHero.com can make it easy.
- Pay more than the minimum. Almost everybody knows that paying more than the minimum will get you to the finish line faster. The problem is, not everyone does it. It’s important to not just be aware of the need to pay more than the minimum, but to have a strategy for how you’ll actually do it. So brainstorm ways to create additional income for that higher payment, as well as how you’ll avoid the temptation to spend that money on something else. Set a goal for how much extra you want to be able to pay, and then refuse to treat it like “extra.” Instead, view it as your new minimum, and resolve to do what it takes to hit that figure each month.
There are a variety of approaches you can use to find the additional income. First, evaluate where you can reduce spending within your current budget. Are there lifestyle changes you can make, indulgences you can cut back on, while paying down your loans? Even foregoing that four-dollar coffee twice a week can add up quickly. Once you’ve tightened your budget, think through ways to bring in more cash. For example, you could sign up for overtime at work, start a freelance business, sell items on OfferUp, or drive for Uber in your spare time.
If you’re feeling unsure about your approach, search Google for “student loan payoff success stories,” or read our own blogger’s story of how she and her husband paid off $25k in student loans in under a year. Find what works for you, then work your plan. Making those extra contributions can help knock down your loan balance in record time.
- Take advantage of what you can.Before diving headfirst into repayment, explore any and all options that may help reduce your debt burden. For instance:
- See if you’re eligible for a loan-forgiveness program. This could reduce the length of your loan and result in tremendous savings. If you’re unsure whether you qualify, speak with someone in your employer’s human resources department or your student-loan servicer.
- Based on your adjusted gross income, you may be eligible to deduct a portion of your student-loan interest on your taxes. Visit IRS.gov to learn more about if you qualify.
- Look into loan consolidation or refinancing. Note – these ARE different things! Learn the difference in this blog post: Refinancing Your Student Loans: A Quick and Easy How-To Guide.Getting a better rate could save you thousands in interest.
- Even something that may seem inconsequential, like a small interest-rate deduction for setting up auto-payments, can add up significantly over time.
Bottom line: If there is a way to cut down your costs with minimal effort, it’s worth exploring!
I’m sure you’ve already thought through what it will feel like to be free of student loan debt. Keep that vision firmly in your mind as you press towards your goal. With hard work and perseverance, financial freedom is within your reach!