Day 10 – Focus On Paying off your Student Loans

One thing we can all agree on: Paying off student loan debt isn’t fun. It has held me back personally from a lot of things including starting my own business.

One of the worst feelings is tearing open your paycheck or seeing your direct deposit hit your bank account, only to remember that you need to use a huge chunk of that money to pay your student loan debt.

With student loan debt, it might seem like this feeling could last forever — but it doesn’t have to. If you want your debt to go away faster, you’re going to have to upgrade your student loan repayment strategy.

Fortunately, you have lots of great options for paying off student loans faster, including:

  • Making more than the minimum payment
  • Consolidating or refinancing your student loans
  • Making a lump-sum payment when you come into extra cash
  • Taking a job that makes you eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Using any raises you earn to increase your student loan payments
  • Cutting your budget and increasing your loan payments
  • Working a side gig and using the extra income to repay your loans

To learn more about these options for student loan repayment, and to get a few other tips, here’s my guide to paying off student loans faster with 15 strategies that will work for just about anyone.

1. Make more than the minimum payment

Effectiveness Level: Medium-High

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: Set up automatic payments with this extra amount added in. This takes any indecision out of the equation and makes it harder for you to change your mind, too. You can start by applying the debt snowball method.

2. Do the math and find your payoff date

Effectiveness Level: Low

Do you know exactly when you’ll be free of student loan debt? If you answered no, you’re not alone.

But figuring out your payoff date is always a good place to start when it comes to managing debt. Why? Because once you know this date, you can work on moving it closer.

The easiest way to figure this out: use the National Student Loan Data System to view all of your federal loans and to make a list of private loan lenders. Then, confirm payoff dates with your loan servicers. When I looked into mine my last payment was going to be in 2040 right before my 50th birthday if I had continue to make the minimum payments. That was a huge wake up call for me.

3. Consolidate and refinance

Effectiveness Level: High

Refinancing your loans is one of the best moves out there for paying off student loans faster. The goal of refinancing is to decrease interest rates, meaning more of your payments go toward paying down your student loans.

When you refinance multiple student loans, you’ll get one consolidated loan with one monthly payment. Alternatively, you could refinance just one student loan for lower rates. You’ll likely only want to refinance loans where you can actually decrease your interest rate.

This option was not for me as I liked having the federal government flexibility as a safety net. If you have an average interest rate of 7%+ on your student loans I would recommend this option.

4. Use a cash windfall

Effectiveness Level: Medium

Cash windfalls come in various forms. These can include lottery winnings, an inheritance, work bonus, raise a settlement from a lawsuit or insurance claim, and more.

When you suddenly get a chunk of money from these sources or others, you might be tempted to spend it. It’s so tempting that Bankrate reports an estimated 70 percent of those who get cash windfalls spend all of it within a few years.

So instead of spending it on stuff you won’t even remember, use it for paying off student loans faster.

Even if you don’t get an inheritance or something similar, many taxpayers get a cash windfall once a year in the form of a tax refund.

There are several tax refund strategies for student loan debt that work for any sort of financial windfall. The main takeaway: Put at least some of your tax refund (and/or cash windfalls) toward student loan repayment, even if you don’t want to devote 100 percent.

5. Take a job that offers forgiveness

Effectiveness Level: Medium-High

Certain jobs, like public service work or teaching, may offer forgiveness for part or all of your student loans. This is great because it’s basically free money. All you have to do is meet the requirements to get your student loans forgiven. A lot of jobs in the government sector and teaching professions offer these type of programs.

There is one potential downside: You need to meet all the requirements and complete the full term of work required to get any forgiveness.

Since these forgiveness programs are typically used in conjunction with income-based repayment plans, your payments will decrease but interest charges will accumulate. If you wind up ineligible for forgiveness for any reason, you’ll be stuck with greater interest charges.

In addition to these federal student loan forgiveness programs, some states also offer loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs). These LRAPs also usually come with a work requirement. If you qualify, you could get money toward paying off your federal (or in some cases, private) student loans.

6. Apply your raises

Effectiveness Level: High

Hopefully, you work at a job where yearly raises are part of the compensation. But what do you actually do when you get a raise? You could just get more stuff — a bigger TV, a better car, or more exotic vacations. But why not put a chunk of it toward student loan repayment?

Just take one-half of your raise amount and put it straight toward student loan payments. This means either upping your automatic student loan payments or transferring the money to a savings account. This is simple and easy to do and has worked for me.

7. Avoid repayment programs

Effectiveness Level: Varies

You might be focused on lowering your student loan payments; this makes a lot of sense if you’re struggling to repay your student loans. But if your goal is paying off student loans faster, you probably want to avoid income-driven loan repayment programs.

Why would you want to do this? Well, almost all of these federal student loan repayment programs are geared toward decreasing payments by lengthening the term of the loan. This means it’ll take longer to pay off student loans.

For example, Pay As You Earn (PAYE) stretches you federal student loan repayment term from 10 years to 20 years. We don’t have to tell you that’s a much slower repayment period.

Even Direct Loan Consolidation can prevent faster student loan repayment. Why? Because you’re blending all your student loans, which have different interest rates, into one loan. This means you can’t target the high-interest loans with extra payments after you consolidate.

8. Trim your budget

Effectiveness Level: Medium-High

If you want to find more money but can’t easily increase your income, decreasing your budget is an option. While it may sound extreme, I have trimmed my budget drastically.

For example, I have paid around $40,000 in two years towards my student loans by moving to a cheaper apartment, skipping happy hours or meals out, and earning more side income.

The key to success: You only have to do this in the short term. It’s not for the rest of your life, but rather a short period where you’re focused on paying off student loans faster. A few common strategies are:

The options here are really only limited to your creativity and motivation.

Even if you can only handle it for a month at a time, it can still benefit your student loan repayment. Maybe you have a “no spend month” where you don’t buy any new stuff all month and put the money toward student loans instead.

9. Earn extra money with a side gig

Effectiveness Level: Medium

Along with trimming your budget, you could try supplementing your income with a side gig.

Side gigs come in all shapes and sizes. You could offer a service online, such as tutoring, editing, or design. Maybe you could finally clean out your closets and sell your junk.

Whatever form your side gig takes, you can use it to earn extra money. Then, take those extra earnings and apply them directly to your student loan balance. Not only will your extra income help you pay off student loans faster, but you also might learn some new skills (and have fun) in the process. Can’t think of anything? Check out our 50 ideas for side hustles that anyone can start.

10. Be strategic about your debt

Effectiveness Level: Medium

The first step to repaying your loans faster is to add more money to your student loan payment. But how you apply that extra money could make a big difference, too.

For all student loans, it makes the most sense to pay off the highest interest loans first. This is called the “debt avalanche” method, where you pay just the minimum on all but the student loan with the highest rate.

You might be best off targeting private student loans first, too before focusing on federal student loan repayment. Repaying private student loans often means higher interest rates and less flexible repayment terms compared to federal student loans. Private loans can have variable interest rates as well, meaning your rate could rise over time. This is what I did first by paying off my private student loan through citizens bank which had an interest rate of 13%.

By targeting the loans with the highest interest rates first, you’ll save the most money on interest.

An alternative approach is called the “snowball method.” This involves paying off your loans with the lowest balances first. Although you won’t save as much on interest, you might get a psychological boost from closing out an account.

Choose whichever method will motivate you to keep going in your goal of paying off student loans faster.

11. Take interest rate reductions

Effectiveness Level: Low

While you can cut down on the cost of your student loans and get some big wins with the strategies above, smaller savings can add up, too. One of them is the interest deduction from signing up for automatic payments.

Many servicers offer a 0.25 percent interest rate deduction on federal student loans for enrolling in automatic payments. While this isn’t a ton of money, it’s not bad to get a few bucks back.

Besides the interest savings, automatic payments can be a good idea to make life easier. By setting up automatic payments, you don’t have to worry about late or missed payments when paying back student loans (which matters for your credit score). Plus, you can use automatic payments in conjunction with other strategies on this list, like making payments higher than the minimum.

12. Take full advantage of tax deductions and credits

Effectiveness Level: Medium

If you’re paying off student loans, you’re likely eligible for the student loan interest deduction on your federal taxes. You may deduct up to $2,500 on your taxes each year for the interest you pay on student loans.

While you must meet other requirements, generally a lot of student loan holders in their 20s will be eligible. That’s because this deduction can be taken even if you don’t itemize your taxes (which many young taxpayers don’t do).

Tax credits can be even more valuable than tax deductions. In general, a $2,500 tax credit will save you more money than a $2,500 deduction will.

You might be eligible for tax credits if you’re currently paying tuition, including while you’re in grad school. While there aren’t any tax credits related to simply paying student loans, it’s worth checking out if you’re currently in college or thinking about going back to school soon.

13. Realize student loans aren’t ‘good debt’ to keep around

Effectiveness Level: Low

You might hear chatter about “good debt” and “bad debt.” And while student loans are generally a good investment based on increased income potential in your lifetime, along with some deductions, it’s not good debt to keep around.

The “good debt versus bad debt” debate is really about how that debt helps you increase the value in something. In this case, it’s the value of a salary.

But while taking out student loans is a good idea, letting them sit around forever isn’t. Interest charges stack up the longer you wait to repay loans.

Of course, you can be strategic when figuring out how to pay student loans, but merely calling student loans “good debt” as an excuse to drag out repayment isn’t a good idea.

I can personally tell you they have held me back in starting a business earlier, owning property earlier, selling stocks early to cover payments and those stocks have now 2-3x in value. The list goes on and on. So I recommend you get rid of it as fast as possible.

14. Pay every two weeks

Effectiveness Level: Medium

Another popular extra payment strategy for student loans is to make a student loan payment every two weeks.

Now, you don’t need to pay double the amount of your monthly payment to make this work. Instead, here’s the common strategy:

  • Split your monthly payment in half.
  • Make a payment of that amount every two weeks.

By doing this, you’ll make a full extra payment over the year. The real strength of this strategy is that if you receive a paycheck bi-weekly, you shouldn’t feel the pain of paying the extra amount.

15. Visualize the future without student loans

Effectiveness Level: Low

While this isn’t exactly a repayment strategy, it can help you find motivation to get rid of your debt, especially if it’s causing a lot of stress in your life.

Here’s an easy way to start your visualization. Think of the one thing you hate most about having student loans. Maybe it’s that you can’t afford to go on a vacation, or maybe you have to eat rice and beans to scrape together enough money to pay your bills. Perhaps you drive a crappy car that breaks down all the time.

Now close your eyes and imagine what your life would be like if that No. 1 most hated thing were no longer a problem because you don’t have student loans. How would your life change for the better? Would you be happier? What would you do without having to worry about student loans?

Is this a life you want to have? With enough hard work, it can become reality. Now go get it!

“Never spend your money before you have earned it.”
– Thomas Jefferson –

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