Strategies for Paying Off Student Loans
Student loans are now the second highest consumer debt category, only behind mortgage debt. The average student graduates with $37,000 in student loan debt, the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history. Regardless of your student debt load, there’s one thing we can all agree on – paying off student loan debt isn’t fun.
With these high loan totals, it might seem like you’ll be paying off your student loan debt forever, but you don’t have to. Here are a few tips to paying off student loans faster with strategies that will work for just about anyone.
1. Figure out how much you owe. To figure out how much you owe, look at both the principal borrowed and the interest rate on each loan to prioritize the payoff order. You will want to pay off the balances with the highest interest rate first. Once you have the first loan paid off, apply that monthly payment to the next loan, and so on.
2. Make more than the minimum payment. This is one of the easiest ways to reduce your debt. Just take the payments you have and add extra money to the payment. You should already have payments set up, so anything extra goes straight toward your principal. One easy way to do this is to set up automatic payments with this extra amount added in. Even if you can only afford an extra $20 a month, it’s something.
3. Consolidate and refinance. Refinancing your loans is one of the best ways to pay off student loans faster. The goal of refinancing is to decrease interest rates, meaning more of your payments go toward paying down the principal of your student loans. When you refinance your student loans, you’ll get one consolidated loan with one monthly payment. You’ll want to make sure any loans you consolidate result in a lower interest rate. For example, if you have five loans at 5% and one loan at 2%, consolidate the first five and leave the 2% rate loan separate so you maintain the lower interest rate.
4. See if your job offers loan forgiveness. Some jobs, like public service work or teaching, may offer forgiveness for part or all of your student loans. You simply need to meet a set of requirements to qualify for forgiveness. There is one potential downside to this approach, which you should consider ahead of time: in many cases, you need to meet all the requirements and complete the full term of work required to receive any forgiveness. Since these programs are typically used in conjunction with income-based repayments, your monthly loan payments will decrease, but interest charges will accumulate. If you decide to leave the job early or become ineligible for forgiveness for any reason, you could end up with greater interest charges.
5. Apply your raises. Hopefully you work at a job where annual raises are part of your compensation. But what do you actually do with your added income when you earn a raise? Some people might just buy more stuff – a bigger TV, new clothes, a new car or a vacation. Even though you deserve these things, why not put some of the money toward student loans? Consider taking 50% of your raise amount and adding it straight toward student loan payments.
6. Take advantage of tax deductions and credits. If you’re paying off student loans, you may be eligible for the student loan interest deduction on your federal taxes. While you may be required to also meet other requirements, a lot of student loan holders are eligible for this deduction. In many cases, the deduction can be taken even if you don’t itemize your taxes (which many young taxpayers don’t do). Consult your tax advisor to see if you’re eligible.
Following the tips above will assist you in paying your student loans off faster. If you can only manage to make the minimum payments each month, make sure you are paying them on time to maintain your creditworthiness!