If you graduated from college with a degree in one hand and a loan repayment book in the other, get ready for the second half of your education. Finding out how to get out from under this load of debt is just as important as that suitable-for-framing degree that arrived in the mail a few weeks after graduation. Paying off your student loan as quickly as you can opens up financial options that just aren’t there when the debt monkey is on your back. Shortening the amount of time you’re paying on loans helps you get on with saving, investing and managing your financial future. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Being out of debt gives you freedom to love as God intended and not be burdened with financial constraints. Here are seven steps that can move you toward financial freedom faster.
Know what you owe. This is no time to hide your head in the sand. Ignorance is not bliss; the truth really does set you free. And paying off student loans will call for you to know how much you owe, the interest rate, and any other unsecured loans you have and their interest rates. When you have this information in hand, start working on your debt reduction plan.
Pay off the highest interest rate loans first. If you have other unsecured loans, like credit cards, with a higher interest rate than your student loans, pay them off first. In some situations, interest on student loans is tax-deductible so you can get this savings while you’re paying off your higher interest debt. Once those debts are paid off, take that money and add it to the payment you’ve been making on your student loan. The tax deduction you get on student loans isn’t worth stretching out your payments any longer than you have to.
Downsize and economize. You have to spend less than you earn and throw that extra cash at your loan principal to make a real dent in a student loan. It’s that simple. Making the minimum payment each month can keep you in debt 10, 15 or 20 years or more – years that you could be saving for your children’s education, taking great vacations, or buying a home. Many lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio before approving you for other loans, like a mortgage. So you want to have a low ratio before you go looking to buy a house or other sizable investment. To make your income go farther, consider moving into a smaller apartment or getting a roommate. Get a part-time job and put those dollars on your principal. Use any bonuses, tax refunds, and birthday money you receive to pay down your loan. If anyone asks you what you want for Christmas, tell them a student loan payment.
Ask your employer for help. If you’re looking for job in a profession like finance, nursing, IT or one that requires a special degree, make this part of the salary negotiation. Think of it as a signing bonus or health benefits. It’s another way they can attract top talent – that’s you. If you can get a one-time lump sum payment to your principal, it can shave years off your debt. In return, you might be asked to stay with that company for a certain amount of time so make sure you’re open to that possibility.
Make your loan payment an automatic deductions. Allowing your lender to take your payment directly from your bank account each month can lower your interest rate by about .25 percent. On larger loans, this savings can be meaningful. If your lender doesn’t mention this option, be sure to ask.
Pay twice a month rather than once a month. Ask your lender if you can make split your monthly payment into two payments each month. You’re paying the same amount each month, just in two payments. When your bimonthly payment is applied to your loan immediately, you’ll be decreasing the principal amount faster, saving you significant dollars in interest. This is a good strategy, especially for private loans which often have higher interest rates than federal loans. As mentioned earlier, paying off high interest rate loans first is a good idea.
Work in certain public service professions. If you have certain federal loans, you might qualify to have some of your loan forgiven by working full time for qualifying employers. If you can teach in certain elementary and secondary schools, or offer public service for certain government agencies, you might be able to reduce your loan. Talk with your loan advisor to see how you might qualify for one of these programs.
Once your loan is paid off, celebrate like you did on graduation day! This is just as big an accomplishment as moving your tassel from the right side to the left. You’ve taught yourself a financial discipline that will serve you well throughout life. The sooner you get out of debt, the sooner your life – and your money – truly become yours.