Many grads leave college with two things — a diploma and a big student loan bill. Here are some tips for getting rid of that loan albatross.
By Benjamin Feldman, Credit.com
So you have student loans and can’t wait to get them paid off? Join the club. Millions of people across the U.S. are in that position right now. Some are struggling, some are making progress and some are just getting by.
For those who are looking for ways to pay those student loans off faster, here are four solid tips that can get you debt-free quickly:
No. 1: Reduce interest rates if possible
Almost every student loan lender (including the Department of Education, which is the lender for all federal student loans) has some kind of interest rate discount for people who set up direct deposit. Usually the discount is about 0.25%. The lenders prefer direct deposit because it increases the likelihood that you’ll continue to make on-time payments. And while 0.25% may seem insignificant, it’s actually very significant: Over the course of 10 (or more) years it can knock off a big chunk of the interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan. In fact, if you have a loan amount of more than $20,000, that “insignificant” discount could save you hundreds of dollars. Which would help you get out of debt faster.
You should also check with your lender to see if they have any other interest rate deductions. Some lenders may be able to reduce your interest rate based on factors like having a high credit score or having a history of on-time payments. It’s always good to double check — you never know what you might find.
A final consideration is whether it’s worth doing a loan consolidation. The federal government (and some private lenders) offer consolidation loans for their borrowers with student loans. In some cases, you can also reduce your interest rate with one of these consolidation loans. What you need to pay close attention to, however, is the effect it will have on all your loans. For example, it won’t help you if one of your loans winds up with a lower interest rate (after consolidation) while another one ends up with a much higher interest rate.
No. 2: Make more frequent (or bigger) payments
This sounds obvious, but it still deserves your attention. Sure, the easiest way to pay off your student loans faster is to simply pay more each month. But how much more should you pay? And will your lender accept it — even if you pay early? The answer is, yes, the lender is supposed to always accept your payment. And as for how much extra you should pay each month, you should first decide what percentage of your monthly income you think you can afford to send to your student loans.
Most people start with somewhere around 5-10% of their income — although for others the amount of their student loan payments makes up a much greater percentage.
So you’ll need to figure out how much you can afford to pay and then make a plan for how to do it. One method that can help you pay off student loans faster is biweekly payments. Basically, with bi-weekly payments you make a half-month payment every two weeks. Since that means you end up paying 26 bi-monthly payments (the equivalent of 13 monthly payments) per year, you will chip away at your student loan balance much faster.
Just make sure you’re not overpaying one month, then missing your next payment. Any missed payments can hurt your credit score, costing you more money in the long run when you want to buy a home or get a credit card. Your payment history is one major component of your credit score. If you want to monitor your credit, you can get your Credit Report Card, which gives you a truly free credit score and also gives you a grade for each of the major components of your credit score so you know what to do to improve it.
No. 3: Earn more income to put toward loans
Of course, it’s hard to put additional money toward your student loans if you don’t have additional money in the first place. One way to gain extra income is to take up side jobs. There are an almost unlimited number of side jobs out there, and depending on your abilities and preferences you can no doubt find one that suits you. Perhaps you’d be able to tutor a local high school student, teach music lessons, or sell crafts you make.
Also keep in mind that if you have a skill such as writing, designing, etc., then you can always do freelance work. With freelancing, your weekly hours are pretty flexible and at the same time you can earn a significant amount of money.
No. 4: Budget better and save money
No matter what else you do, it’s extremely important that you become a master of budgeting. Your budget will be the one thing that guides you to paying off your student loans faster. Without a budget, you’d be hard pressed to know exactly where your money is going.
With a budget, however, you can plan exactly where your money goes each month. And with that kind of control, you can ensure you have enough left to pay your student loans every month. To accomplish this, it will help to save money in every aspect of your life. When you go to the grocery store, look closely at the prices of each item you buy. Ask yourself if there are any impulse purchases in your cart that you don’t really need. If so, put them back. Meanwhile, try to only buy reasonably priced items. Luxuries can wait until after your student loans are paid off.
And it should go without saying that you should try to limit your trips to restaurants (and movie theaters, concerts, etc.) while you’re paying off your student loans. These kinds of expenses are exactly the ones that will eat up your income for paying off debt and will prolong your exposure to indebtedness.
Hopefully these tips are helpful. With the right plan and a bit of determination, you will definitely get those student loans paid off faster than you might think.