Student loan debt can make you feel many unhappy feelings, especially if you have a lot of it. How do I know? My wife had over $80,000 of student loan debt when she graduated from college.
Student loan debt is a massive hurdle, but it is one you can overcome. My wife and I paid off her student loan debt in less than three years. While paying off $50,000 in student loan debt in three years won’t be possible for everyone, there are some things you can do to help pay off your debt sooner rather than later.
Some people may want to pay off their student loan debt as fast as possible. Others may want to find a way to afford the necessities after making their monthly student loan payments. This is especially true during the coronavirus pandemic when many people are just trying to find enough money to get by each month.
No matter which group you fall into, you need to take control and work to find the solution that fits your needs. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Examine your current situation
The first thing you need to do is take stock of your current situation. You don’t do this to make yourself feel bad or examine any mistakes that may have been made along the way.
Instead, you examine your current situation to find out what tools you have to work with. Consider where you currently are in these four areas.
Student loan debt
Start by figuring out exactly what student loan debt you have. You can do this by gathering all of your latest student loan statements, your credit report, and the initial loan documents from when you took out the loans. Here’s what you should be looking for on each student loan you have.
- Whether the student loan is federal or private.
- Interest rate.
- Whether the interest rate is fixed or variable.
- The original term of the loan.
- The number of payments remaining.
- The remaining balance owed.
- The monthly payment amount.
You can use this information to determine how much total debt you have remaining, what order you plan to pay your loans off in, and so much more.
Figuring out your student loan debt isn’t the only thing to consider. Your income is another critical factor in paying off your student loan debt. In particular, you should find the following information:
- How much money you make gross per year (before taxes and deductions from your paycheck).
- Your take-home pay on each paycheck.
- How many paychecks you get per year.
- Any other sources of regular income you have and how much it is each month.
- Your average monthly overall income.
If you work on an hourly basis, you should also know your hourly pay rate. This is especially helpful if you can pick up overtime hours at work.
Understanding where your money goes each month is key to paying off your student loan debt. This allows you to find out how much money you have leftover or how much more money you need to make each month.
The best way to learn your expenses is by tracking your spending. You can use apps, such as Personal Capital, or run all of your purchases through a single bank account or credit card. No matter how you decide to track your expenses, here’s the information you should monitor.
- How much you spend each month in total.
- How much you spend in major categories, such as dining out, groceries, utilities, etc.
- The amount of money you need each month to cover your absolute minimum expenses.
When you’re doing this exercise, it’s key not to feel ashamed or judge your spending. The only thing you need to do is gather the numbers. You can’t change the past. You can change the future.
Taking an objective look at your future financial outlook is the last piece of the puzzle. While you can’t predict the future, you hopefully have an idea of what to expect.
You may see that your company is going through rounds of layoffs due to recent events. If this is the case, you’re likely going to choose a very different strategy than someone whose company is getting ready to hand out huge bonuses.
Look at your future income and expenses and try your best to get an idea of what to expect with both. If you’re about to have your first child, your costs could increase drastically. If your car loan is about to be paid off, you may have some extra cash flow coming your way soon.
Once you’ve taken stock of your situation in these four areas, it’s time to start looking at your options.
Look at your options
Now that you understand where you’re at, you can start to imagine the possible ways to get rid of your $50,000 student loan debt. Your current student loan situation may be able to be changed in specific ways depending on your circumstances.
Sometimes you need to get your loans in a better place by taking advantage of federal student loan repayment programs or refinancing the debt. Other times you need to focus on your finances by increasing your income, lowering your expenses, or both. Here are some ideas about where to start.
Refinancing your student loan debt could help you accomplish many different goals. You can refinance to secure a lower interest rate to pay less interest. You can also refinance to a longer loan term to stretch the payments out and hopefully lower your monthly payments.
Whether refinancing is smart or not will depend on your particular circumstances and goals. If you have federal student loans, be very careful about refinancing. When you refinance a federal student loan, it becomes a private student loan.
Private student loans do not offer the same repayment options or benefits that federal student loans provide. For instance, you would not have gotten the payment and interest holiday federal student loans received during the coronavirus pandemic if you had a private student loan.
Even so, refinancing can make sense if you’re in an excellent financial position. Those dedicated to paying off their loans as fast as possible that have plenty of income to do so may save a decent amount of money by securing a lower interest rate.
I wish my wife and I knew about refinancing when we were paying off her student loan debt. It was a different time, though, and today’s options didn’t exist or weren’t as well popularized. Refinancing could have lowered her interest rates a decent amount, which would have helped us pay off her loans even faster than we already did.
If you’re considering refinancing, it doesn’t hurt to look into it to see how it could work out for you. You can decide not to move forward if it doesn’t benefit your situation. To start the investigation process, consider using these services.
Credible doesn’t actually refinance your student loans. Instead, they’re a marketplace for shopping for financial products, including student loan refinancing with rates starting at 3.94% APR (with AutoPay)* and 2.48% Var. APR (with AutoPay), See Terms*. Credible allows you to check what your refinanced interest rate would be with up to 10 student loan lenders without impacting your credit score in any way.
This is great because it can save you time from filling out multiple applications at each lender independently. It can also save you money by getting several rate quotes. Once you see the quotes, you can pick the best offer for you overall.
All you have to do is fill out a quick form that takes about two minutes. You give information about your financial situation and it isn’t shared with lenders. You then get a list of prequalified offers to choose from based on your credit profile, not an estimated score. Once you pick an offer you’re interested in, you provide details about your loans you want to refinance. Then, the lender gives you a final proposal in as little as one business day.
Fiona is another company that connects you with student loan lenders. Their process is slightly different from Credible’s, but it still helps you shop for the best deal while taking less time.
Fiona displays student loan lenders’ refinance options based on the inputs you give. These inputs include estimated credit rating, zip code, and the amount of the loan. Once you select these options, lenders will populate with the term lengths, APRs, and estimated monthly payments they may offer.
These are not final offers based on your situation but are instead examples. To get a detailed offer for your situation, you’ll have to continue the process with a particular lender. The service doesn’t impact your credit score but lets you get a detailed offer based on your specific circumstances.
Consider alternative payment arrangements
Refinancing your student loans isn’t your only option for optimizing them. If you have federal student loans, you may be able to take advantage of one of several repayment programs.
The graduated repayment plan starts with smaller monthly payments. About every two years, loan payments increase. This plan generally ensures your loans are paid off within ten years for most loans.
Extended repayment plans may be another option. If you have more than $30,000 in outstanding direct loans, you may qualify for a 25-year repayment plan. This can lower your monthly payment to a more affordable amount. You’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan, though.
Revised pay as you earn repayment plans may be another option for direct loan borrowers. This limits your payments to 10% of your discretionary income based on your income and family size. The outstanding balance at the end may be forgiven after 20 or 25 years of payments under this plan, depending on your situation.
The income-based repayment plan may also be worth considering. This limits payments to 10% to 15% of your monthly income based on income and family size. Any outstanding balance remaining after 20 or 25 years of payments on this plan, depending on your situation, may qualify for forgiveness.
StudentAid.gov has other options available for federal student loan debt, too. Check out the website for full details.
Increase your income
After you’ve figured out how to optimize your student loans, it’s time to optimize your finances. This can allow you to repay your $50,000 student loan debt faster if you wish.
Increasing your income is one of the best ways to make this happen. You can increase your income in many ways, but every option won’t work for every person.
The first place to look is your day job. See if you can find a way to make more money by getting a promotion, raise, or finding a new job. If you get paid hourly, try to pick up extra shifts to earn some overtime. These ideas can be scary, but they’re a reliable way to get a significant increase in your income if you can make them work for you.
Making more money at your day job isn’t always going to work out, though. In these cases, you may be better off finding a profitable side hustle. You could deliver take out food or groceries. You could start a small business or freelance write as I do.
Some jobs won’t allow you to work side hustles, though. In these cases, look for unique ways to earn extra income. Personally, I like taking advantage of credit card sign up bonuses to get an extra couple of thousand dollars per year. But make sure this is your last resort, as taking out multiple cards just to earn a bonus is not always a good idea.
Making more money has unlimited potential, but another aspect of your finances can provide a more immediate result. That’s cutting your expenses.
When you cut expenses, you get the full benefit of the extra money. You don’t have to pay more taxes like you do when you earn more income. For this reason, cutting expenses can be one of the quickest ways to pay off your student loan debt faster.
First, take a look at your current expenses for recurring items. Eliminate any expenses you don’t use or don’t use enough to make them worth the cost. This could include gym memberships you signed up for with good intentions but never used, or that meal kit service that gets thrown away a couple of times per week.
For the recurring expenses, try to find a way to get a better deal. The provider may be willing to give you a promotional rate. This frequently happens with cable providers. For services that don’t matter as much for what company you use, consider shopping for a better deal. This could save you hundreds of dollars per year on things like car insurance.
You can also work on cutting your other regular expenses. Try cutting back on luxury items to see if you miss them. You may find you don’t enjoy dining out as much as you’d enjoy paying off your student loan debt faster. Look to cut expenses that don’t align with what you really want to spend your money on. Many people find they simply spend money out of habit and don’t realize their spending no longer lines up with their goals and values.
Make sure you still leave some money in your budget for having fun and enjoying life. You don’t have to cut your budget to the bare bones. Instead, cut it to the level that allows you to accomplish your debt pay off goals while still having a lifestyle you’re comfortable with.
Make a plan
Now that you know where you’re at today, have optimized your student loan debt, and found ways to optimize your income and expenses, it’s time to make a plan.
Look at the new student loans that you’ve optimized. Figure out how you want to pay off the loans you have remaining. Do you wish to pay off the loan with the highest interest rate first to pay off the loans as fast as possible? Or do you want to pay off the lowest balance loan to get a quick win?
The right answer depends on what motivates you and your goals, not what a financial expert tells you to do. The more excited you are about your plan, the more likely you will put it into action.
Figure out how you want to pay off your loans and write it down. List the order you want to pay your loans off in. Keep track of how much money you want to pay toward each loan each month based on your newly optimized finances.
Put the information in a highly visible place so you’re reminded of this plan regularly. This way, it has a better chance of becoming a reality.
Now that you have an idea of how to take control of your student loan debt, it’s time to take action. First, take stock of your current situation. Then, examine your options to optimize your student loans.
Find ways to make more money and cut your expenses. Then, use that extra cash flow to put together a plan to repay your student loan debt on a schedule that’s realistic for your situation. And don’t worry, you don’t have to do all of these things today.
At a minimum, schedule time on your calendar for each task. This way, you’re committed to the process. Your future self will thank you when your student loan debt is finally paid off!