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Students who graduated college in 2018 did so with an average of nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. That’s a startlingly large amount of money. But it’s nice to know that if you’re in that boat, you’re definitely not alone.
What you don’t want to do, though, is keep that debt around, as Dave Ramsey sometimes says, like a pet. Student loan debt can be a huge burden that can keep you from meeting your other financial goals, like moving to a new city, taking on a truly rewarding job, or buying a home.
Luckily, you don’t have to stick to the standard 10+ year repayment plan. With some planning and hustle, you could pay off $20,000 of student loans in a year. It’s been done, and you can add yourself to the ranks of those who did it. Here’s how.
1. Start with a budget
When it comes to most financial goals, the place to begin is really with your budget. There are many ways to budget and tools to get it done. But it’s important that your budget is actually realistic. With that in mind, take a few hours to go back over your last two months’ worth of expenses. Categorize your spending in a way that makes sense to you, and then figure out what you’ve spent in those categories in each of the last two to three months.
Then based on that data, set a reasonable budget moving forward. Be sure you add in your minimum debt payments, as well as essential spending for food, clothing, transportation, etc. This budget should account for all of your income for the month, and should result in $0 left over. The goal, ideally, is to spend less than you earn. If you do have left over money after you’ve accounted for all your basic spending, that can go straight towards your student loan on payday.
2. Find one and done ways to save
Now that you’ve looked at all of your spending, try to find two or three ways to cut down on your monthly recurring expenses immediately. This could mean cutting out cable or even your Netflix subscription. You might look at ditching other monthly subscriptions or get a new quote on your car insurance to lower that payment. These are one-and-done ways to save. Once you deal with the issue, whether it’s canceling a subscription or rejiggering your insurance, you save money month after month.
And all that money you save can go directly towards your student loans. So you’ve got to pay about $1,700 per month towards your loans to get $20,000 paid off in a year. If you can save even $150 per month by canceling subscriptions and lowering regular payments, you’re almost 10% of the way there without even trying.
3. Put a chunk towards the loans on payday
Now, look at your budget and your one-and-done savings. How much do you have leftover between these two things each month? Maybe there was an extra $400 in your budget, plus an extra $150 in your one-and-done savings. If this is the case, plan to put $500 directly towards your student loans–not including your monthly minimum payment–on payday.
Depending on when you get paid, you might split this payment into two $250 payments, one on each payday of the month. Do whichever works best. But consider this a set payment that’s written into your budget, just like all of your other bills.
Your payday payments may not look anything like this. But whatever your budget says you should have available, put it towards your loans. Even if that’s just $100 per paycheck, that’s still better than nothing!
4. Find extra spare change to put towards your loan throughout the month
Clearly, that $500 a month isn’t going to be enough to pay off $20,000 in loans over a year. So next, you’ll work to find ways to find spare change in your budget that can also go towards that loan. In your grandparent’s day, this was likely literal spare change. But if you’re anything like me, you don’t use cash much at all.
So instead, look for ways that you’re saving on budgeted items. Maybe you budgeted $25 per week for gas but only spend $21 this week. And you also came in $10 under on your grocery spending. So on Friday, send that $14 in spare money straight to your student loan. Getting it out of your bank account as soon as possible will ensure that you don’t spend it elsewhere.
Another option is to check out apps that turn your spare virtual change into debt payments for you. One such option is Qoins, which will round up your debit card transactions and send the spare change to your debts. It’s a low-lift way to throw a little bit of extra money at your loan.
5. Start a side gig that goes straight to your loan
Even with all these steps, you probably haven’t hit that $1,700 per month that you need to be putting towards your student loan. You can really start to make some progress, though, when you add in extra money from a side hustle. This could be driving for Uber, freelance writing or designing, or a regular part-time job you work on the weekends.
A few bucks an hour for a part-time job may not sound like much. But if you can put in just 15 extra hours a week at $10 per hour, that’s roughly $150 per week or $600 per month–almost half of what you need to meet your debt payoff goal. Plus, if you have certain skills, you could tackle a side hustle worth much more than $10 an hour. Need some ideas? Check out this list.
Bottom line, though, be sure that every penny you earn from your side hustle (after you take out taxes if you’re working as a contractor!) goes directly to your student loan debt.
6. Sell some stuff
Are you still not to the goal of putting $1,700 in total towards your debt? You might be able to quickly put a hole in the balance by selling some stuff. Check out what’s left of yours at your parent’s house, or consider downgrading your car or even your computer. Even a few hundred dollars here and there can help you get the snowball rolling so that you don’t have to throw quite as much money at your debt each month in order to reach your goal.
7. Keep track of your progress
Finally, be sure you keep track of your progress. With a tight time frame like a year you should be checking in on your goal each week. One option is to create a spreadsheet to track your student loan’s current balance on a weekly basis. Every week around the same time, check in on your current payoff amount. Write it on your spreadsheet so you can watch that balance fall.
This is a great way to stay motivated or to see patterns during months when you’re able to make more progress than others so that you can replicate your own success.
If you’ve still got some debt hanging around even after taking all these steps, consider doing a refinance or consolidation of any loans remaining. You can easily do this through Credible, which is an online student loan marketplace enabling you to get rate quotes from multiple lenders with a single application. It’s likely you’ll be able to find the best combination of a low interest and an affordable monthly payment.
Paying off $20,000 in student loans in just a year might sound impossible. But many people have done it. With hard work and planning, you can do it, too!