When I first started paying back my student loans, I treated that debt like any other bill and only paid the minimum. It wasn’t until I went to graduate school and acquired additional debt that I realized the folly of my ways.
I didn’t have to pay the minimum on my loans — I could have paid more and lowered my debt load much faster.
Once you realize paying the minimum on your debt is holding you back and you decide to be debt free as soon as possible, it’s time to calculate your debt-free date. In other words, find out how many more months or years you’ll have to suffer this ball and chain before it’s gone for good.
Countdown to Living Debt-Free
Your debt-free date is the projected day you will finally be rid of your student loan debt. I say projected because your debt-free date could change, depending on a variety of circumstances, such as job, income, cost of living, and more.
If you’re like me and have a lot of student loan debt, it could take several years to pay it all off.
Why Knowing Your Debt-Free Date Is Important
Knowing your debt-free date can inspire a fire within you to commit to finally getting out of debt.
A few years ago, I said that my debt-free date was going to be January 1, 2017. At the time, I was not making a salary that would allow me to become debt-free in four short years. But I kept my intention, knowing that was what I wanted and that I would work hard to get it, even though my current circumstances dictated otherwise.
Now I’m looking at becoming debt-free by February 2016 if all goes as planned — nearly a year earlier than I thought. Why? Setting my debt-free date is what finally shifted my mindset into action. I was tired of being in debt and would do anything to finally be rid of this burden.
How to Calculate Your Debt-Free Date
1. First, take a look at your current income and expenses.
When expenses like rent, bills, food, and entertainment are covered, how much do you have left over each month? That “extra” money could be going to your debt.
It’s important to know your debt payoff style. You could go on a bare bones budget and allot every extra dollar to debt. I’ve been there, done that. For the most part, I think it’s a good way to get out of debt, but only if you have a small amount of debt.
Living this way is usually not sustainable for people who have close to six figure debt. After a while, I got sick of worrying about every penny and never having fun.
Now I’m on a moderate budget. For the most part, I have few expenses and follow the Spending Diet, which allows $100 in spending per month for non-essentials. In my situation, that money goes to happy hours, restaurants, and movies.
2. Find the “wiggle room” in your budget.
Regardless of your budget style, it’s important to know how much wiggle room you have in your budget. Sometimes the extra money may be there to pay off debt — and sometimes it’s not.
If you don’t have any extra room in your budget, you may want to consider making extra money to help support your bottom line. If you aren’t in a position to do this, consider finding ways to reduce your expenses.
Now that you know how much wiggle room you have in your budget, take your minimum monthly student loan payment and add the money you have left over each month.
For example, let’s say your minimum student loan payment is $250, but you have an additional $300 in your budget that could be used toward debt repayment.
Theoretically, you could put $550 towards your student loans. You can then calculate your debt-free date based on your new monthly payment.
3. Use an online calculator
You can use an online calculator to figure out your debt-free date. This one from TimeValue also allows you to calculate your debt-free date based on a few different strategies, including the snowball method (lowest balance first) or avalanche method (highest interest first).
If you have $30,000 in student loans at seven percent interest and your minimum payment is $250, but you apply $550 towards debt, your debt-free date would be in 5 and a half years using the avalanche, or “rollover” method.
You can also play around with their calculator to see the impact of lower or higher payments on your debt-free date.
Once you know your debt-free date, write it down on a sticky note and paste it to your planner, mirror, and other places you’ll regularly see it.
Commit to making it happen and let it inspire you! Calculating your debt-free date can help you get a better understanding of when exactly you’ll be done paying off your loans. Having an actual date in mind can prove to be inspiring and motivate you to keep at your debt repayment.
Photo credit: Kurt Bauschardt via Flickr Creative Commons