I remember when I graduated from college, excited to finally move on to the next chapter of my life. I had so many plans for what the next decade would look like.
And then I got the bill with the student loans I had racked up for the past four years. It’s a punch to the gut feeling that just about everyone I know has experienced themselves.
That feeling only multiplied when my husband and I got married, and we had a combined six figures in student loans.
When you graduate, you’re so excited to start really living your life, and then you realize that the next decade(s) is going to be spent paying off that degree. As daunting as paying off those loans sounds, there are definitely ways to lighten the load a bit.
In this post, I’m sharing seven strategies you can use to pay off your student loans faster.
There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.
Get yourself on a budget
I just can’t emphasize the importance of having a budget for your money. If you don’t know where your money is going – and, more importantly, control where your money is going – then you’re going to have a hard time consistently making progress toward any financial goals.
Budgeting doesn’t sound fun, but I promise it’s life-changing once you incorporate it into your life. I rounded up a few budgeting resources to help you get started:
- Creating a Monthly Budget: A Step by Step Guide
- How to Budget With an Irregular Income
- How to Use a Zero-Based Budget to Reach Your Goals
Avoid low repayment plans
I know the idea of getting on an income-based repayment plan sounds really appealing, especially when you’re just getting started with your career. If your lender wants to lower your student loan payment, why the heck not let them, right?
And while these payment plans can be helpful for getting back on your feet or helping you out when you’re going through a financial rough patch or have a low income, they aren’t going to get those loans paid off any faster. At the end of the day, the more money you put toward your student loans, the faster you’ll get them paid off.
A standard repayment plan is designed to have your loans fully repaid in ten years. And those income-based plans? They can take up twice as long before you become debt-free.
I do understand that in some situations, these income-based repayment plans are unavoidable. I’ve been a low-income worker straight out of college, and the income-based plan was all I could afford. But increasing those payments when you can will ensure you aren’t stuck in student loan debt for years longer than is necessary.
Pay more than the minimum payment
The only way you’re going to get your student loans paid off faster is if you make more than the minimum payment every month. This is where that budget comes in!
If you don’t think you have the money to pay more than the minimum payment, go through your budget. Is there a category where you could be spending less? Could you instead put that money toward extra payments on your student loans?
I do want to preface this by saying that if you have other debt, such as credit card, auto loans, or personal loans, you should likely prioritize those over your student loans. Federal student loans have notoriously low interest rates compared to other debts, meaning you’ll have money in the long run if you tackle other debts first.
Not sure where to start? Read my guide on the debt snowball vs. debt avalanche and how to decide which is right for you.
Start a side hustle
If you’re working a full-time job for someone else, you’re probably working with a finite amount of money each month. And outside of getting a raise, there aren’t many ways to increase your income at work.
What you can do, however, is start a side hustle. And more and more people are doing just that.
Starting a side hustle was one of the best moves I made to speed up my debt-free journey. First, it allowed me to increase my income and have extra money to put toward my student loans every month.
But the long-term impact was even more incredible. I was able to take use my small personal finance blog as a launchpad for a freelance writing business that allowed me to eventually quit my full-time government job and take my business full-time, more than tripling my income. Since then, I’ve been able to pay off even more debt and save for major financial goals.
And remember, increasing your income doesn’t have to mean starting a business.
When we were saving for our RV, my husband worked as a bartender a couple of nights per week, and plenty of people make extra money in the gig economy working as delivery drivers, dog walkers, and more. The options really are endless, and that extra income can literally be life-changing.
Use cash windfalls for extra payments
I know how tempting it can be to get a big tax refund or a bonus at work and dream about all of the ways you could spend that money. I know a vacation comes to mind for me! But really, using those windfalls to make extra payments on your student loans will go a long way toward getting them paid off.
Common windfalls include tax refunds, work bonuses, and gifts. Additionally, workers who are paid every two weeks will have two months per year, where they’ll get three paychecks instead of two, which is a large lump sum you can put toward your student loans.
You could seriously pay your loans off years earlier by using those windfalls as extra loan payments. I know it’s not the fun choice now, but you’ll have a lot of extra money down the road to have fun with!
Consider refinancing your loans
Depending on when you borrowed your student loans and who you borrowed them from, you may be stuck with a high-interest rate. Refinancing your student loans can be a great way to lower that rate.
There are plenty of companies out there these days that are helping graduates to significantly lower their student loan interest rates to get those loans paid off faster and for less money.
When my husband and I decided to get serious about paying off our student loans, we decided to refinance his private student loans. I checked his loan terms to learn he was paying about 14% in interest on that loan! Refinancing that loan will save us thousands over the course of the loan.
Are you considering refinancing your student loans? Visit Credible to see interest rates available from several student loan refinancing companies in one place.
Note: I would be very cautious about refinancing federal student loans. Those loans come with special perks not available to private loans, including the two-year forbearance and 0% interest rate available for federal loans during the pandemic.
You’re not the only one who’s a little freaked out about paying off their student loans. I’m right there with you! I’m just happy there are strategies that we can use to pay them off faster.
Every time I think about what I’ll use that money for when my loans are paid off, I’m even more motivated to use every tactic I can to get them paid off faster!
For more information on paying off debt, read about how my husband and I are planning to pay off six figures of debt together.