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  • Writer's pictureRob Winkler

Being Crushed by Student Loans? Here's What To Do

Are your student loans weighing you down, making you feel like you're constantly under a dark cloud of debt? The journey to paying off student loans can seem daunting, but remember, no one is coming to save you. It's time to take the reins and save yourself from this financial burden. In this comprehensive guide, we'll show you the exact steps to pay off your student loans swiftly, shedding the weight of debt and stress along the way.

Key Takeaways

  • The fastest way to pay off your student loans is by increasing your monthly payment.

  • Reducing your spending and boosting your income are essential strategies to pay more than the minimum required.

  • Refinancing your student loans is an option to consider, but it's not suitable for everyone.

  • Income-driven repayment plans may not be your best choice.

How to Pay Off Your Student Loans Fast

  1. Pay More than the Minimum Payment: If you want to expedite the process of paying off your student loans, it's crucial to pay more than the minimum monthly amount. Sticking to the standard repayment plan will keep you trapped in debt. Smaller payments not only extend your repayment period but can also lead to your balance growing due to accrued interest. To effectively increase your monthly payment, consider the debt snowball method. It prioritizes paying off smaller loans first while maintaining minimum payments on other debts. Most who adopt this method find themselves debt-free within 18 to 24 months. To visualize the impact of making extra payments, let's consider an example. Suppose you have an average student loan debt of $38,000, an interest rate of 5.8%, and a 10-year loan term, resulting in a standard monthly payment of approximately $418. By the end of 10 years, you'll have paid around $50,048, including $12,048 in interest. However, by paying just 20% more than your minimum payment each month (about $84 extra), you can increase your monthly payment to $502. This approach enables you to pay off the entire loan in about eight years, saving $2,712 in interest and regaining over two years of your life. It's important to note that when you pay more than your minimum monthly payment, your loan servicer might allocate the extra amount to the following month's payment. While this pushes back your due date, it doesn't actually expedite your loan repayment. To ensure you pay off your loan faster, instruct your loan servicer to apply the additional amount directly to your current loan balance.

  2. Get on a Budget: Budgeting is the linchpin of financial success. If you're not already using a budget, now is the time to create one and commit to it. A zero-based monthly budget allows you to track every dollar you spend, revealing where your money is going and where you can make cuts. For instance, those frequent food delivery orders can add up significantly. When you adhere to a budget, you'll discover "extra" money you didn't realize you had, providing additional funds to channel toward your student loans each month. For a more efficient budgeting process, consider using the EveryDollar app, which allows you to allocate a dedicated line item for each student loan you're working to pay off. This visual representation of your progress as you tackle your student loan debt can be highly motivating.

  3. Cut Back Your Spending: Paying off student loans often necessitates some short-term sacrifices. Evaluate your lifestyle and identify areas where you can cut back on spending. This may involve canceling your cable package, discontinuing subscription boxes, brewing your coffee at home instead of indulging in $7 oat milk lattes, and preparing your own meals or leftovers instead of frequenting expensive lunch spots. Be open to creative ways to save money and consider these cutbacks as investments in your long-term financial freedom.

  4. Increase Your Income: If your income is a major barrier to paying off your student loans, it's time to explore opportunities to boost your earnings. Part-time jobs or side hustles, particularly during evenings or weekends, can rapidly augment your income. In addition to traditional part-time roles, numerous side hustle options are available. For example, you could explore selling baked goods, providing dog training services, or offering music lessons. While these side hustles may require effort, they need not be permanent solutions. However, it's crucial to understand that while side hustles can provide a helpful income boost, increasing your primary income is the most effective strategy to accelerate your progress. To achieve this, consider requesting a raise, working overtime, or seeking a better-paying job. Dispelling the "I don't have time" excuse is important. If you can find time for leisure activities like socializing with friends, scrolling through social media, or watching Netflix, you also have time to earn more money. The sooner you eliminate your student loan debt, the sooner you can move forward with your life.

  5. Refinance Your Loans (if it makes sense): Loan refinancing is an option worth considering, but it's not suitable for everyone. The process involves taking your student loans, typically private or a combination of federal and private, and converting them into a new loan with a different interest rate and modified repayment terms. It's important to note that refinancing can only be done through a private lender. The primary goal of refinancing is to secure a more favorable interest rate and repayment terms. However, before you rush into refinancing, it's vital to understand that this option may not be the right choice for every borrower. Refinancing is a prudent choice only if the following conditions are met:

    • The refinancing process is entirely cost-free.

    • You can secure a lower interest rate than your current loans offer.

    • You can maintain a fixed interest rate or swap a variable rate for a fixed rate.

    • The new loan does not extend your repayment period.

    • No cosigner is required.

    • You haven't recently declared bankruptcy.

    • Refinancing motivates you to pay off your student loans faster.

It's essential to do your due diligence and thoroughly examine the terms and conditions associated with any refinancing offer. Failing to read the fine print could lead to a situation where you end up in a more disadvantageous financial position than before.

  1. Avoid Income-Driven Repayment Plans (IDRs): Despite the potential allure of income-driven repayment plans (IDRs), such as the recently introduced SAVE plan by the Biden administration, these plans might not be your best choice. IDRs offer low monthly payments with the promise of loan forgiveness in the future. However, it's crucial to understand that opting for an IDR can keep you tied to a low-income job and significantly slow your progress in paying off your loans. While lower monthly payments may seem appealing, waiting for the possibility of forgiveness over 20 years is not a viable strategy. The forgiveness offered through these programs often hinges on complex criteria and can be influenced by political changes, leaving you in limbo for years. In the pursuit of paying off your student loans quickly, IDRs can impede your financial progress. The most effective strategy remains paying as much as you can each month to accelerate debt reduction.

  2. Don't Bank on Student Loan Forgiveness: Many may have told you that taking out student loans was inconsequential because you could rely on loan forgiveness programs. However, the reality of student loan forgiveness is far from the dream it's often portrayed to be. Existing forgiveness programs are laden with stringent requirements, demanding a decade of public service employment with specific monthly payment thresholds. Even after fulfilling all these conditions, there is no guarantee of loan forgiveness. Some individuals spend 20 to 25 years following these programs, only to face denial. As an illustration, consider the approval rate for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which stands at approximately 2%. Relying on a 2% chance may not be a prudent choice. Instead, focus on obtaining a well-paying job that aligns with your interests, allowing you to pay off your student loans swiftly and avoid the uncertainty of forgiveness programs. It's crucial to understand that politicians often make grand promises that may not materialize in reality. Regardless of the political landscape, the responsibility for managing your finances and debts remains yours.

  3. Make Paying Off Your Student Loans a Priority: The goal is not to cast blame for taking out student loans—many have been in the same position. However, the objective is for you to experience the empowerment of being debt-free. Prolonging student loan payments for five, ten, or even twenty years is unnecessary. When you're no longer obligated to make monthly payments to MOHELA or any other loan servicer, you gain the freedom to allocate your money toward achieving your goals and building the life you desire. Ultimately, the only magic formula is you and the level of effort you're willing to exert. The journey may be challenging, but the destination is undoubtedly worth it. You are worth it. Keep up the fight to rid yourself of student loan debt, and soon, you'll bid farewell to the burden of student loans.

Paying off your student loans quickly is an achievable goal that demands dedication and discipline. The reward of financial freedom and the ability to shape the life you desire makes the effort worthwhile. Seize control of your financial future, follow these steps, and begin your journey towards a life free from the shackles of student loan debt. Your financial peace and freedom are within reach; all it takes is your commitment to becoming debt-free.

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