But before you freak out and start to regret spending all that money on your degree, take a second to breathe and remember this: There are things you can do to help pay it down faster (besides figuring out how to make more money, of course!)
1. Know the entire story
Chances are, when you were in college, those loans didn’t quite seem real yet. You may not have understood all the ins and outs of your individual loan.
So take the time to figure out exactly how much you owe from each lender, what your interest rate is, and when that interest will go up. At that point, you can make a plan if you didn’t have a solid one pre-graduation.
You should also find out if there are any options you haven’t explored. You may be able to temporarily defer your payments, lower payments, consolidate your loans, or go on an income-based payment plan. Work with your lender to come up with a personalized plan that makes your loans manageable and helps you pay them down.
2. Enroll in automatic payments to avoid late fees
While you’re figuring out the best, personalized ways of paying off your student loans, automatic payments can help you get organized. Some lenders, such as Sallie Mae, will even lower your interest rate when you sign up for automatic payment. Lowering your interest rate by 0.25 percent may not seem like a huge amount, but it will add up. Another plus: Having your payments automatically deducted from your checking account eliminates the chance of missing a payment. Once you miss a payment, you’ll start tacking on late fees and damage your credit score … which is the last thing you need.
3. Create a Upromise account
If your loans are through Sallie Mae, you can enroll in the free program Upromise.
After creating an account and linking it to your loans, you register your debit cards, credit cards, and reward or loyalty cards from grocery stores, retail chains, and dining programs. When you make a qualifying purchase with one of those cards, a percentage will go toward your loans. You can also score a percentage for your loans by shopping online through your specific Upromise shopping link. To make your earnings grow faster, you can share your online shopping link with your friends or family, and ask them to register their cards to earn you more as well.
4. Consider loan forgiveness if you qualify
Depending on your career field, you may be able to qualify for certain student loan forgiveness programs in which the government will pay a portion of your loans for you. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers who are willing to work in low-income areas or rural areas in need of these professionals may be eligible.
Also, regardless of your field, you can join one of various volunteer organizations for repayment. These include Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or Volunteers in Service to America. These programs require you to sign a contract before beginning. Be sure to thoroughly know all of the stipulations of the agreement, including how long you will have to work there and how much of your loans will be taken care of.
How do you deal with your student loan debt? Do you have any creative ideas we missed?