There’s no doubt about it.
Student loan debt sucks.
Sorry, let me rephrase.
And you know that feeling of realizing a massive chunk of your paycheck goes to debt? Not fun.
Here’s the thing:
Student loans can sometimes feel like a lifelong burden. But you don’t have to spend the rest of your life owing money. So here are 9 actionable tips for how to pay off student loans.
1 | Calculate Your Payoff Date
Do you know exactly when you’ll have your student loans paid off? If your answer is no, don’t worry – you’re not alone. But, now is the time to figure it out.
Knowledge is power. And you have to know your payoff date if you want to get your financial sh-t together. Once you know your date, you can set goals to move it closer.
Then, confirm your payoff dates with your loan servicers.
2 | Create Your Plan
You have your end date in sight. And you’re ready to start paying off your student loans in full.
Now you need to pick a debt payoff plan. There are 2 popular debt payoff methods:
1. The Debt Snowball and 2. The Debt Avalanche
You can read more about those in our debt payoff guide.
Use the debt snowball method.
Here’s how it works:
List all your debts from the smallest amount to largest amount.
Start paying AS MUCH as you possibly can towards the smallest debt. Make minimum payments on everything else. Once the smallest debt gets paid off, focus your energy on the next smallest debt.
Keep working your way up until you’re debt free.
3 | Lock in a Better Interest Rate
Let’s be honest.
Lenders make a ton off the interest they charge you.
So what do you do?
First, quit piling on more debt. Say goodbye to the credit cards.
Secondly, transfer the balance to a lower-rate card. If that’s not an option, then use a company like Credible to help you lower your rate.
Here’s what you need to know when it comes to learning how to pay off student loans:
Don’t just settle for a high-interest rate. Consider student loan refinancing.
What is student loan refinancing?
Student loan refinancing means Credible matches you with a loan that combines your student loans into a single loan with a better rate.
The best part?
You’ll get a lower monthly payment.
But fair warning:
Use that extra money to your advantage. Like paying off debt or saving money. It’s easy to waste money when you’ve got more of it.
If you need more info on Credible, you can read our Credible review here.
4 | Make Bi-Weekly Payments
Here’s one of the most creative ways to pay off student loans:
Make biweekly payments.
By splitting your payments in 2 each month, you’ll have an extra payment go towards your loans every year.
Why? Because the biweekly method equals out to 26 half payments – or 13 full payments made each year, compared to 12 full payments made on a monthly payment plan.
That one extra payment will reduce your repayment time and the interest you pay.
So here’s what you do:
Split your monthly bill in half and pay every other week.
For example, if you’re paying $400 per month, pay $200 every other week instead.
If you get paid biweekly, then this automatically works in your favor. But two things to remember:
1 ) Make sure your payments make it before your due date.
2 ) Then make sure your lender implements your payments correctly.
In other words, ensure that the extra payment is going towards your balance and NOT forwarded towards your next bill.
Double check by logging in and checking your account. Or call your student loan servicer directly.
So let’s see this plan in action. Let’s say the following numbers represent your current student loan debt:
Balance = $70,000
Interest Rate = 6.00%
For this example, I used the Calcxml Calculator to see how effective this method really is.
Here’s the graph:
The green bars represent the traditional payment method and the orange bars represent the biweekly method.
See how the orange bars go down more than the green? That’s exactly what we want.
This applies to any type of debt, not just how to pay off student loans.
5 | Think About The Extra Money
There are several months out of the year that have 5 weeks instead of 4.
Here are those months for 2019 and 2020:
- 2019: March, May, August, November
- 2020: January, May, July, October
If you stick to your budget, that will be a whole month’s worth of extra income you can apply to your budget.
To take it a step further, start thinking about other extra money.
Got a tax refund? Put it toward your debt.
Got a bonus or raise at work? Put it toward your debt.
Got birthday money? Put it toward your debt.
What better way to pay off debt with money that you weren’t planning on having anyway?
Here’s the thing:
Every dollar you spend is a trade-off. It can either help or hinder your progress towards your financial goal.
6 | Use Your Job to Your Advantage
Certain jobs, like federal employees or teachers, may offer forgiveness for your student loans.
Some employers have even started offering it as a part of their benefits package. It’s free money, so it’s worth considering as you search for a new job.
(Or find out if your current employer would consider offering this perk)
7 | Take Advantage of Tax Deductions & Credits
If you’re like a lot of people, student loans probably take a good part of your income.
The good news?
You can take advantage of deductions and credits when you file your taxes every year. There are 3 common types of school-related tax deductions:
- Student Loan Interest Tax Deduction
- A deduction for up to $4,000 per year for tuition and other fees
- The Lifetime Learning Credit
The first option lets you reduce your taxable income by up to $2,500 for interest paid on student loans in the year for which you’re filing.
It’s a great deduction to take advantage of when you’re learning how to pay off student loans.
But to qualify for this deduction, you must:
- Have paid interest on a loan in your name
- Have been enrolled at least half-time in a degree program when you took out the loan
- Be filing as a single taxpayer or as “married filing jointly”
- Have a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of less than $80,000 as a single taxpayer or $160,000 if you’re filing jointly
- Not have anybody else claiming you as a dependent on their tax return
The second option is for up to $4,000 per year for tuition and fees.
Unlike the student loan interest tax deduction, this can only be claimed for tax years in which you paid for educational expenses.
This will generally only be an option while you’re currently enrolled in school, or if you go back to school while repaying your student loans.
To qualify for this deduction, you must have paid qualified education costs (tuition and fees, for example) for yourself or an eligible student (your spouse or dependent you claim)
Finally, the Lifetime Learning Credit is another good choice.
This credit is worth up to $2,000 per year per student for tuition, textbooks, expenses, and supplies.
Students don’t need to be enrolled for a minimum number of hours to claim the credit, and there’s no limit on how many years the credit can be claimed.
As always, make sure to check to see if you meet the qualifications for each of these deductions.
8 | Be Cautious of Certain Repayment Plans
Government repayment programs (like income-based repayment) can be a huge blessing for those who are struggling to pay their loans and make ends meet.
These repayment programs can help you avoid default on federal loans, which is great.
But, if you’re trying to pay off your debt quickly and have the means to do so, repayment programs aren’t the best option for you.
And in some cases, they can work against you. That’s not what you want when you’re learning how to pay off student loans.
So what do repayment programs do?
Most of them lengthen your loan term and, as a result, lower your monthly payment.
For example, one repayment plan might move your loan term from 10 years to 20 years.
This usually means two things:
1. You’ll end up paying more in interest overall
2. It will take you longer to pay off your student loan debt
So if your goal is to get out from under debt as quickly as possible, then avoid extending your loan with repayment programs.
9 | Earn Extra Money
The smartest way to pay off student loans comes down to this:
Earn more and spend less.
The goal is to do both.
But you can’t always get a raise on the spot, so it makes sense to find other ways to bring in more money.
Bringing in more money doesn’t always mean driving for Uber or delivering pizzas (but you can); sometimes it just means selling unwanted stuff online or hosting a yard sale.
Check out our article:
How I make $5,500/mo from home.
You’ll be glad you did.