Student loan payments typically become due six months after graduation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start paying them off while you’re still in school. In fact, that’s exactly how I paid off $90,000 in student loans within two years of graduating from my MBA program.
Paying off your student loans early comes with significant financial benefits, too. Read on to find out how easy it is to make student loan payments while you’re still enrolled.
Build a budget for your student loan payments
Student budgets are notoriously frugal, but students with income have a leg up when it comes to finances. If you can set aside money each month to start paying your student loans, you will graduate in much better shape than most of your peers.
If you do not have a budget, there is no better time than the present to start. Check out budgeting apps to find out where your money is going. You might be able to save a few bucks each month to make room for loan payments. Some apps are free, like Mint, or subscription-based, like You Need a Budget.
Earn more to make student loan payments
What if your budget is too tight to make student loan payments even after trimming unneeded expenses? You may do well earning a little bit more on the side, either through a part-time job or side hustle.
Going to college is expensive and deserves your full attention. It is a job in itself. However, many students find they do better managing their time and money with a job while in school. Consider a paid internship or another part-time job that leaves you time for your studies.
Even if you can’t commit to a part-time job, you can work as a tutor, researcher, or find other jobs on campus that don’t eat at your free time.
Pick a student loan you want to pay down first
Take a hard look at your student loans to see which are accruing interest while you’re in school. Then, find the loan with the highest interest rate and focus on paying it down first. Even if all you can afford is $10 to $20 a month, it’s better than nothing.
When I was working on my MBA, I had two large subsidized loans that were not accruing interest and two bigger unsubsidized loans that were accruing interest.
My unsubsidized loans accrued interest each month according to their balance and interest rate. Since I didn’t want my loan balances going up during school, I set up automatic monthly payments to cover the interest, plus $5 for good measure.
In school, I had a full-time job and lived on a shoestring budget. This helped me get the income I needed to put extra money towards my loans each payday. I focused all extra payments on the smaller of my two unsubsidized loans so the balance would fall during school.
Most students don’t have full-time jobs during school, so don’t feel bad if you can’t pay as much as I did. Try to cover at least the interest accruing each month. You’ll thank yourself later.
Set up online payments for your loans
When I was in school, I had automatic payments for two loans and was making an additional payment each payday. I used my student loan servicer’s website to get all that set up.
If you’ve never gone to your student loan servicer’s website, grab your most recent student loan statement to figure out who your loan servicer is.
A servicer is a company that manages your loans, the place you ultimately send your monthly payments to. Common student loan servicers include Great Lakes, Nelnet, and a handful of others.
Log into the servicer website so you can see your loan details. You’ll learn how much interest you’ve been accruing each month and how to set up automatic payments and make one-time payments.
If you have the cash cushion to make automatic payments, then do so. It will make student loan payments easier to manage. If your income is less reliable, you can make payments manually. Make a calendar reminder on your phone so you remember to make on-time payments each month.
Develop healthy habits in school
I once had a band teacher in middle school who told us, “How you practice is how you will perform.”
If you start making regular student loan payments while you’re still enrolled, things will feel a lot easier after graduation. Think of this time as practice in managing debt.
Whether you are getting started with a few bucks per month or a few hundred, you are getting ahead on your loan payments and building healthy habits.
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