Paying off student loans is easy with standard repayment or using other repayment plan options. But easy doesn’t mean better, and choosing to pay them with just minimum payments means you’ll pay more interest while dealing with payments for a longer period.
On top of that, interest rates on some student loans set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, paying off the debt faster has become all the more important. So for the ambitious who hate being in debt, a few hacks can speed up the repayment process and cut down on the time and total interest paid.
Whether you’re a recent grad or a student loan veteran who’s been making payments for years, here’s how pay you student loan debt off fast.
1. Avoid more debt
Whenever you’re targeting student loan balances or just paying off debt in general, taking on more debt makes little sense. But student loans can be a special case.
Recent grads might be more susceptible to lifestyle inflation for a few key reasons. They’re likely getting their first real job with a salary to go with it. Graduating itself is sometimes seen as a bridge into adulthood, with some grads feeling entitled to luxuries their parents enjoy.
Embracing either of these beliefs will slow down your student loan repayment.
Instead of spending your newly-earned paycheck, work to spend less. Start by identifying wants versus needs. By taking a close look at your spending, you might be surprised to find that you have far fewer needs than you realized.
Financing a new car that adds to your monthly debt payments typically isn’t necessary. Making purchases with credit cards that you can’t pay off is often due to overspending that could be avoided by using debit cards or cash instead.
Be ruthless about what you cut from your budget so you can use any excess to pay off student loan debt instead.
2. Pay based on your income, not on the bill
It’s easy to send in the payment amount indicated on student loan statements, but this is the wrong approach. Instead, I’d argue that a income-based approach makes much more sense.
Consider paying at least 10 percent of your income towards student loans. Many can afford to pay much more, so don’t limit yourself to this amount, either. For example, I paid half of my income towards student loans because I was desperate to get out of debt. While this isn’t a great long-term debt strategy, it didn’t have to be since I had them paid off within three months.
If you get a raise or are finding yourself feeling too comfortable with your money, increase the amount that goes towards debt.
Once you’ve settled on a number, take emotion and decision making out of the equation by setting up automatic payments. Have this amount transferred from your account as quickly as possible after your paycheck hits. It’s much easier to learn to live without this money and avoid the temptation of spending it if it’s gone before you have a chance to think about it.
3. Hold off on consolidation and repayment
Federal student loans come with a few repayment and consolidation options to ease the repayment process. But none of these options will help you pay off your loans faster.
If speed is the goal, avoid lengthening the repayment terms. These options, which can extend loan terms to 25 years, usually lower the required monthly payment, which means more time and more interest charges.
Don’t be fooled by debt consolidation, either. For federal student loans, the consolidated interested rate is a weighted average of your existing loans, meaning you’ll pay the same amount of interest. Consolidation is useful for simplifying repayment, so instead of paying multiple servicers, you only pay one bill. But this doesn’t save money.
Instead, stick with standard repayment first and consider adjusting only if you truly can’t afford to pay.
Keep in mind, however, that refinancing is different than consolidating student loans. With refinancing, you can potentially lower the interest rate, saving money and getting out of debt faster. The easiest way to see if refinancing makes sense is to use Credible. The site searches multiple lenders at one time to help you find the best rate and terms available.
4. Use savings to pay more
There are a few ways to save money with student loans, and these savings can be poured right back into your debt.
Student loan interest is generally tax deductible, so don’t forget to include this on your return. Take any savings that may come as a refund and apply all of it back to your student loan balance.
Loan servicers may offer a 1% discount after you’ve made all loan payments on time for a certain period, often 36 months. Some servicers offer a 0.25% interest rate deduction for setting up automatic payments, too. This won’t save too much money, but every dollar can count when you’re trying to pay as fast as possible.
5. Decide how badly you want it
While dedicating the money to paying student loans matters, your mentality towards debt plays a big role, too. If you want to pay off student loans faster, think about why you want to do it. Having a specific and motivating reason can be more effective.
Are you eager to save to invest in hopes of retiring early? Do you want to buy a new car but can’t til your loans are paid? Think of these goals when setting a target date to have you student loans paid off.
Visualize life without student loan payments, too. What will it feel like to have hundreds of dollars extra each month because you don’t have to make payments on student loan debt? Speaking from experience, it feels awesome!
6. Believe it’s possible
Getting out of debt can seem hopeless at times, but the truth is there are tons of inspiring success stories. If you’re feeling down about the pile of student loans you have to pay, learn and find motivation from others who have paid of their loans quickly.
A few inspiring stories:
Greg – $15,000 in 3 years
Greg paid off $15,000 of debt within 3 years. The most impressive part – he did it with only a $24,000 annual salary. He used both the savings he’d get from paying off loans early combined with his motivation of envisioning life after becoming debt-free. Despite living in Washington, D.C., he avoided dinners, drinks, and technology upgrades whenever he could.
Kristin – $12,000 in one year
Kristin committed to paying off loans fast rather than agonizing over payments for 5-10 years. She got the job done in one year by moving back in with her parents and setting strict budgets so she could pay the maximum possible towards her student loans.
Me – $8,000 in 18 months
I paid off $8,000 of debt within 18 months. After finishing grad school, I joined AmeriCorps VISTA program. While my pay was low, I earned $5,300 for my service paid directly towards my student loans. I paid off the last $2,700 within three months by creating a goal to pay it off by year’s end and sending about half of my monthly paycheck (about $1,100) automatically towards the balance until I was debt free.
No two stories are alike, but piecing together strategies of others can be key to your own success.
What strategies have you found for paying off debt faster?