But if you’re in a similar position and simply accepted the loan payment plan you were given, you could end up spending more time — and money — than necessary to repay it.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Even if you stick with the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, there are a ton of ways to shorten your repayment timeline and get out of debt faster.
Want your loans gone well before you hit the 10-year mark? Try one of these tips.
- Make extra monthly payments each month
Plenty of borrowers struggle just to meet the minimum payments on their student loans. But if you can afford it, try throwing some extra money towards your loans each month. You can make a bigger dent than you might realize — even as little as $100 extra student loan payments can have a huge impact
It’s easy to see what kind of impact you could make using a student loan calculator. Let’s say you owe $20,000 on a loan with 7% APR. On the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, you would need to pay around $232 per month. But if you bumped your monthly payment up to $332, you would become debt-free in 75 months (instead of 120), and save $3,153 in interest in the process.
- Snowball your student loans
If you have more than one student loan, the way you apply your extra payments matters. By focusing your efforts on certain loans first, you can save even more time and/or money.
To apply the “debt snowball” method to your student loans, for instance, start by listing all of your loans from the smallest to largest balance. Then, every month, pay as much as you can towards the smallest balance while paying only the minimum payment on your other loans.
Your smallest balances will quickly disappear, allowing you to “snowball” those extra payments into your larger loans. The key here is making more than the minimum payment on your smallest loans each month, and of course, paying as much money towards your loans as you can.
- Try the debt avalanche
The “debt avalanche” method works similarly to the debt snowball, although you’ll prioritize your debts by interest rate instead of size. By focusing on the student loans with the highest interest rate first, you’ll save more money on interest and potentially get out of debt faster.
Once again, the biggest “win” you’ll find here is paying as much extra cash as you can towards the principal of your highest interest rate loan. And once you pay off your most expensive loans, you can avalanche those monthly payments towards your other loans until they’re gone.
- Consider student loan refinancing
If your interest rates are fairly high, consolidating student loans by refinancing might be a good way to cut down interest costs and make it easier to pay off your debt.
Remember that a $20,000 loan at 7% APR? If you refinanced to 5%, your monthly payment would drop from $232 to $212. Now let’s say you went ahead and paid $332 per month as you would in the example above. In that case, you would become debt-free in just 70 months instead of 120!
If you choose this route, however, you should remember you lose out on special government protections and student loan forgiveness programs when you refinance federal loans with a private lender. Only consider refinancing if you have a steady income, are able to afford payments, and aren’t going for any federal loan forgiveness programs.
- Start a side hustle
Can’t seem to get ahead on your loans? If that’s the case, you likely have as much of an income problem as a debt problem. To take your loan repayment plan into the stratosphere, you should focus on earning more money. And if you can’t boost your earnings at your current job, a “side hustle” might just do the trick.
Watch or walk dogs. Babysit your neighbor’s children. Run errands with a site like TaskRabbit.com. Become a virtual assistant. Take any knowledge and skill you have and turn it into a profitable side job, and you’ll have more money to pay towards your loans every month.
- Put a windfall to work
Most of us run into some type of windfall at least once per year. Perhaps it’s your tax refund, a bonus at work, or holiday gifts in the form of cash.
Wherever your windfall comes from, you should divert it directly towards your student loan bills…and fast. Not only will you pay down your loan’s principal this way, but you’ll save on interest and speed up your repayment timeline, too.
And heck, this is still a good strategy if you can only part with 50 percent of your Christmas bonus. As always, any extra payment you can make towards your loans will go a long way.
If you dislike the idea of carrying student debt for 10 years or longer, it’s up to you to find ways to shorten your repayment timeline. Whether that includes making extra payments every month, sacrificing your end-of-year-bonus, or refinancing your loans is up to you.
No matter which strategy you use to pay down debt faster, your future self will thank you.
Photo: Flickr: DonkeyHotey