It’s no secret that the cost of college education goes up every year. According to U.S. News, the average cost of tuition and fees for in-state residents at public colleges in 2017 was $9,528. If you’re not a state resident, the average cost last year was $21,632. And that’s before room and board.
It should really be no surprise, then, that the average student who graduated in 2016 had $37,172 worth of student loan debt.
It can seem like quite a big problem to tackle, but you can dig in. To help, we went out and got some tips from the experts.
Budgeting Is Everything
Of course, one of the most effective ways to pay down your student loan debt is to put as much as you can toward them whenever you can. There are a few more nuances to it that we’ll get into below, but in order to establish how much you can afford to pay, you need to know how much you have.
Start by identifying your monthly income and expenses. Certain things are a given – food, clothing and shelter. What you don’t need, however, is to eat out five days a week, stock your closet with outfits straight from the runway and own a McMansion.
Mark Kantrowitz is publisher and vice president of research at Saving for College. He says it’s helpful to really take a hard look at your budget and eliminate whole categories of spending. Cut anything you don’t absolutely need out of the budget and leave only the most important expenses. This will help you put everything extra you have toward your student loans.
J.R. Duren is a personal finance expert with HighYa.com. He has a budgeting trick your tax person can help you with.
“One great way to pay off your student loans faster is to calibrate your paycheck deductions so that you don’t owe any money in the upcoming tax season and you don’t get any money back,” Duren said. “This means that you’re getting just the right amount of money from your paycheck every two weeks.”
By handling your money this way, you’re able to figure out how much extra you have to put toward your student loans. But for those who like the cushion in their paycheck tax deductions, Jon Dulin of Money Smart Guides suggests using tax refunds, birthday money and other windfalls toward debt.
“I didn’t put everything toward my debt,” he said. “I typically put 90% toward debt and
kept the other 10% to blow so I could enjoy life now.”
Finally, take advantage of everything you can do to earn a little extra income through side hustles.
Interested in Interest
It’s key to be aware of not only the interest rates on your loans but also of how the interest works. Let’s run through some basics real quick.
There are public and private student loans. Within the public student loan category, there are two types: subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
With a subsidized loan, the federal government covers the interest payments on the loan for as long as you’re in school so that extra interest doesn’t accrue. After you leave school or drop below being enrolled in a certain amount of credit hours, you have a six-month grace period before you must begin making payments – or re-enter school.
With unsubsidized loans, the interest accrues as soon as the loan money is disbursed. To avoid having this amount added to your principal when the entire loan comes due, you can make interest-only payments while you’re still in school.
Duren also points out that the interest on your loans compounds daily. Because of this, making a payment on your loans every two weeks as opposed to every month could save you interest over time. Check with your servicer to see if this is something they allow and how the payments are applied.
If you want to make extra payments toward your principal balance, which saves you interest charges over time, you must explicitly give instructions to your loan servicer. Otherwise, they may assume that you are paying ahead for the next month.
Dulin said that his student loan servicer gave him a slight discount for setting up auto pay because they knew they could count on the money on a regular basis.
Assess Your Resources and Consolidate
If you’ve been out of college for a year or two, it could be a good time to take stock of your financial resources and see if you can consolidate your loans.
If you have built up a good credit history, you’ll have a better chance at going to lenders and refinancing into a lower interest rate. The other thing you can take a look at is consolidating all of your loans at a lower rate.
If you’re a homeowner, you know that mortgage rates are always going to be some of the lowest rates available, particularly if you compare them to the higher end of some of the private student loans out there. You may want to look at doing a cash-out debt consolidation using the equity in your home.
There are also some methods you can use to work toward paying off your loans faster. Let’s look at the avalanche and the snowball payment methods. In both, you make at least the minimum payment across all of your loans.
With the avalanche payment method, you first attack the debt that is costing you the most money. Jacob Lunduski of Credit Card Insider walks us through it.
“Put as much money as you can, monthly, after budgeting, toward the loan with the highest interest rate,” he said. “Do that every month until that debt is paid off. After, move on to the account with the next highest interest rate.”
In this way, you first get rid of the loans that are the biggest draws from a financial standpoint.
Some people prefer a different method of seeing their progress. Let’s touch on the snowball method.
Instead of putting extra money toward your debt with the highest interest, you put that extra money toward your debt that has the smallest remaining balance.
“This allows you to cut out some of the low-hanging-fruit loans and then focus on paying the ones with a higher balance,” Lunduski said.
The advantage of this method is that it gives you the psychological satisfaction of seeing your loans disappear one by one until you’re done.
The key is consistency, but all of these tips should help you pay off your student loans faster so you can move on with your other goals.
If you’re a college student, check out our Quicken Loans Scholarship Essay Contest!
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