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Don’t Get Buried by Student Loan Debt: 5 Tips for Shaving Years Off Your Payments
More than 70% of American students graduate from college with debt - and, on average, most will have to pay back more than $37,000. That number starts to go up when you take graduate school into consideration, too.
Even if you land a job immediately after donning your cap and gown, paying back debt can be difficult, says Rohit Chopra, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.
“In spite of a booming stock market and falling unemployment, there is obviously a significant block of the labor force that is really struggling,” Chopra told Time. “New college graduates and new entrants to the workforce are facing a double whammy of flat or declining wages and higher debt.”
The stark financial realities for young students have helped contribute to a shocking rise in loan defaults. According to Time, more than 8 million students defaulted on their loans in 2016 alone - and the numbers are predicted to climb higher in 2017.
Don’t let default happen to you. With a little bit of planning and a dependable income stream, you can shave years off your student loan payments. Here’s how.
1. Budget Like a Pro
No ifs, ands, or buts about it: student loan debt will eat into your take-home pay, so you’ll need a foolproof budget - especially if you plan to pay your debt off ahead of schedule.
This means cutting back on extras, like cable bills, expensive car payments, and even making compromises around housing, says Jeffrey Trull, the content director for StudentLoanHero.com.
“It’s not for the rest of your life,” Trull writes, “but rather a short period where you’re focused on paying off student loans faster.”
This is exactly the strategy Matthew Burr took to pay back more than $65,000 in student loan debt.
"I own a TV that's 15 years old," Burr told Business Insider. "I don't have an XBox or Playstation, BluRay DVDs, or VIP cable. I don't have the $200 a month cell phone plan.
“I didn't go without by any means, but I set my goal and knew I needed to make the sacrifice for a few years,” he added.
Need to learn how to scrimp, in order to accelerate your student loan payments? Check out Forbes for more budgeting ideas.
2. Earn Extra Income
When you’re trying to get ahead in your student loan payments, one job may not cut it.
Whether you take on some contract work as a freelancer, get a side gig, or apply for a part-time job, earning more can help you free yourself of debt that much more quickly.
In 2014, Indiana Wesleyan grad Jordan Arnold managed to pay back more than $23,000 in student debt - in just ten months. But he needed a second job to make his debt-free life a reality.
“About four months into my new job, I picked up a second job, delivering for Pizza Hut, to help pay off my debt,” Arnold told Time.
“I would start work at the insurance agency at 8:30 a.m., change in the bathroom at 4:50 p.m., get to Pizza Hut by 5, deliver pizzas until about 9:30, get home around 10, then shower, eat, and go to bed.”
Arnold says it was “exhausting” - but ultimately “worth it.”
Not quite able to balance a second job or contract work? Don’t forget about any extra money comes your way in the form of tax credits, refunds, raises, or gifts, either.
“When you suddenly get a chunk of money from these sources or others, you might be tempted to spend it,” writes Trull at StudentLoanHero.com.
“It’s so tempting that Bankrate reports an estimated 70% 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,” he adds.
Come tax time, you can also apply for student loan interest deduction - which allows you to claim up to $2,500 of your total payments on federal student loan interest.
“When you claim the student loan interest deduction, you lower how much income the government can tax,” explains financial reporter Tom Anderson at Forbes. “In this case, you would lower your income by up to $2,500 if you used the deduction.”
Ultimately, that means more money in your pocket - and potentially a much higher refund check.
3. Maximize Your Minimum Payment
When student loan servicers give borrowers a payment schedule, the term for repayment can stretch out over ten - or even 25 - years.
Investigate how to speed up the process by increasing your minimum payment, suggests Allan Katz, president of Comprehensive Wealth Management Group.
“If you can afford it, treat the loan like a mortgage and simply make larger payments to cut the principal more quickly,” Katz told Bankrate.com.
Whether you increase a single payment, or up your payments to twice a month, make sure your payments are applied to the principal - not the interest.
According to the Washington Post, extra payments are often misapplied by servicing agencies. They can also be applied to your next month’s payment, which won’t actually help you get ahead.
“Servicers want to help borrowers to successfully repay their student loan debt, and to help those who make additional payments to pay off their debt sooner and decrease their overall cost,” Michele Streeter, who works for the trade group Education Finance Council, told the Post. “If a borrower is experiencing any difficulties, they should contact their servicer directly to resolve these issues.”
4. Explore Refinancing Options
If you were saddled with high-interest personal loans, it may be worth refinancing or consolidating your payments, says Zach Friedman, founder of personal finance site Make Lemonade.
“Student loan refinancing often is the single best strategy to lower your student loan interest rate and monthly payment,” Friedman writes at Forbes.
With available rates as low as 3%, you can slash your interest payments and focus on paying off the private loans that would otherwise be weighing you down.
In 2016, University of Denver graduate Michael Golfman decided to consolidate his $70,000 student debt with Citizen’s Bank, which offered more competitive rates than regular student loan servicers.
"Over the long haul, I'm probably saving about $4,000 to $5,000, and monthly I'm saving about $75," Golfman told U.S. News and World Report. "I freed up a little money, and that justified me getting a car."
If your interest payments are higher than 7%, refinancing might be the right option for you - and will help you meet your financial goals more quickly.
Just make sure you have a steady job and aren’t in need of the loan forgiveness protections offered by student loan lenders.
5. Apply for Loan Forgiveness
Working as a public school teacher or in the nonprofit sector? You may be eligible for student loan forgiveness after ten years.
The federal plan “might be a good option if you plan on a career in public service, since you’ll have to still be working in public service at the end of the 10 years to qualify for the debt forgiveness,” explains Terence Loose at GoBankingRates.com.
Since public servants of all stripes often receive lower salaries, public service loan forgiveness is a balancing act. These industries need your education and skills - but can’t often pay what you - or your education - is worth.
Because the federal program is strict and subject to change, make sure you follow the details carefully and file your paperwork on time. Make every one of your 120 payments count!
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