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Almost seven in 10 college graduates have federal student loan debt, and they borrow an average of $30,800, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Paying off this type of debt can be hard work, especially when you’re just starting out in your career.
Fortunately, there are ways to pay off your student loans faster and save money.
Understand all your debts, then make a plan
Make a list of all of your student loans, including the current balance, interest rate, expected repayment date, and repayment amount for each. Having this information available will help you make more informed financial decisions on the best course of action.
You can find the information you need about federal student loans by logging into your account at StudentAid.gov. You will need to check your most recent statement or log in to your online account for private student loans.
Consider consolidation or refinancing
Decide to consolidate or refinance your student loans can be complicated, especially because these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But they don’t mean the same thing. Consolidation means combining several federal student loans into one direct federal consolidation loan.
Benefits of Student Loan Consolidation
- Spreading payments over a longer period may reduce your monthly payment amount
- You can switch from a variable rate loan to a fixed rate loan
Disadvantages of Consolidating Student Loans
- Ala longer payment period can mean more interest paid over the life of the loan
- You may lose borrower benefits associated with outstanding loans, such as interest rate discounts, principal discounts, or certain cancellation benefits.
Refinance your student loans involves getting a new private student loan with new terms and using that loan to pay off one or more existing federal or private student loan balances.
Benefits of Student Loan Refinancing
- Simplify multiple loans into one monthly payment
- May qualify for a lower interest rate with the new loan
Disadvantages of Student Loan Refinancing
- If you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you lose access to federal income-oriented or income-sensitive, deferral, or forbearance repayment plans
- To lose federal loan forgiveness option for borrowers working in certain government, military, education, healthcare, and nonprofit jobs
With Credible, you can compare student loan refinance rates without affecting your credit score.
Stick to a budget
If you’re struggling to cover living expenses, student loan repayments, and some occasional entertainment, you might benefit from budgeting with the 50/30/20 rule. Here’s how it works:
- 50% of your budget is devoted to the needs: Mandatory expenses such as housing, utilities, insurance, groceries, transportation, and minimum student loan payments
- 30% of your budget is devoted to the needs: Fun things such as hobbies, restaurants and other entertainment
- 20% of your budget is dedicated to savings: Long-term goals like an emergency fund, retirement savings, additional principal repayments on student loans, and investments
If this is your first time budgeting, go through your last few months of bank or credit card statements and categorize your transactions into these three categories. The process could open your eyes to some changes you could make to pay off your student loans faster.
Pay more than the minimum each month
Paying a little extra each month on your loan principal can reduce the interest you pay and help you get out of debt faster. The key is to make sure these payments are applied to the principal rather than applying your additional payment to accrued interest. Otherwise, you won’t see much progress on your debt.
Unfortunately, student loan servicers don’t always make it easy to prepay your loans. To make sure your additional payments are applied to your principal balance, check your loan officer’s website to see if they offer you the option of making additional payments on the principal only. If you don’t see this option on the website, call your lender and ask how to make principal-only payments.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends putting your request to make additional payments in writing and even has a letter model you can send to your repairer.
Deciding Between the Snowball and Debt Avalanche Methods
How the Debt Avalanche Method Works
- Focus on paying off your debt with the highest interest rate, allocating any extra payments you can afford to that loan while paying the minimum on your other debts.
- Then move on to the loan with the next highest rate, adding 100% of the payment you were making on the first loan to the second loan.
How the Debt Snowball Method Works
- Target the loan with the lowest balance first, allocating any additional principal payments to that loan until it is paid off in full.
- Move to the next lowest balance.
Although you can pay less interest with the debt avalanche method, the debt snowball method is popular because earning a loan in full quickly can help keep you motivated.
Set up automatic payments for an interest rate reduction
Federal Student Loan lenders and some private lenders offer a small reduction in the interest rate if you sign up for automatic payments. With automatic payment, your lender automatically writes payments from your account rather than requiring you to manually make payments each month.
It’s a good way to make sure you’re never late making a payment, and the reduction in the interest rate – usually 0.25 percentage points – can mean hundreds of dollars in savings on the term of your loan.
You can easily compare prequalified student loan refinance rates through Credible.
Get a temporary stampede
When you’re just starting out in your career, it can be difficult to find extra money to spend on your student loans. Luckily, the gig economy offers plenty of opportunities to earn some extra cash, including:
- Drive for a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft
- Walk dogs or pets for busy neighbors with Rover or Wag
- Find babysitting jobs on Care.com
- Deliver groceries or take-out orders during your downtime via Instacart, DoorDash or GrubHub
- Rent your car when you’re not using it through Turo or Getaround
You can also consider selling unused items or returning items found at thrift stores and garage sales on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Poshmark.
Use any increase in income to pay debt
What did you do with the extra money the last time you got a raise or bonus? If you’re like most people, you’ve used it to improve your lifestyle. Spending more when you earn more is called lifestyle drift, and it can prevent you from paying off your student loans quickly.
The next time you get a raise, bonus, tax refund, or other unexpected financial windfall, don’t spend every penny. Take half (or more) and make an additional principal payment on your student loan debt.
Stay on the Standard Refund Plan
Most federal student loans are eligible for the standard repayment plan, which has fixed payments that guarantee you’ll pay off your loans within 10 years (or 30 years for consolidation loans).
Of course, the standard repayment plan isn’t the only option for paying off your student loans. Corn alternative repayment plans such as a gradual repayment plan (which increases payments every two years), an extended payment plan (which gives you 25 years to repay), and an income-driven repayment plan can all extend the time it will take to fully repay your student loans. And the longer you pay off your student loans, the more likely you are to pay higher interest charges.
Take advantage of tax breaks
Don’t forget to deduct the interest paid on your student loan on your federal income tax return. the student loan interest tax deduction allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest as a top deduction, meaning you don’t have to itemize deductions to qualify for this one.
This deduction gradually disappears if your income is between $70,000 and $85,000 ($140,000 and $170,000 if you are married and filing a joint return).
Learn about employer student loan repayment programs
Some employers offer help for employees with student debt, and the number of employers offering such help may increase with recent legislation. The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act allows employers to pay up to $5,250 per employee for student loans. As non-taxable benefits, these payments are deductible business expenses for the employer, but are not taxable income for employees.
This benefit is available until December 31, 2025.
Ask your employer’s human resources or benefits department if they currently offer this benefit. This can significantly hurt your student loan repayment efforts without increasing your taxable income.
Paying off student debt can seem like an impossible goal when you’re just starting out. But there are plenty of steps you can take to see progress quickly. And that progress will keep you motivated to keep going. Even small steps can lead to big progress over several years, so try some of the tips above to pay off your student loans faster.
Comparative purchases for student loan refinance rates is easy when you use Credible.