Paying off any amount in student loans is daunting — but cutting through $250,000 in student loan debt is downright overwhelming.
Unfortunately, debt of this magnitude isn’t that uncommon among graduate students. According to the American Dental Education Association, the average dental school graduate with loans in the Class of 2018 left school owing $285,184.
Medical graduates similarly leave with six figures in debt, with data from the Association of American Medical Colleges showing a median debt level of $200,000. If you combine that amount with undergraduate loans, it can easily tally $250K in student loan debt or more. So how can you manage such a huge amount of debt without losing your mind along the way?
Here are 11 smart strategies for dealing with your massive student loan debt and working your way to a zero balance.
How to pay off $250K in student loans
- Start by taking stock
- Learn about your repayment options
- Come up with your debt repayment plan of attack
- Design a budget and stick to it
- Automate savings for a debt payoff fund
- Search for ways to increase your income
- Resist the temptation of lifestyle inflation
- Pay more than the minimum each month
- Consider consolidating to simplify repayment
- Refinancing your student loans for lower rates
- Explore loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs
Before you can deal with your massive student loan debt, you first must make some order from the chaos. Get organized by tracking down your loans and writing them all down.
“You need to know exactly how much you owe and who you owe it to,” advised Christian Barnes, a financial coach for Do Better Financial. “Make a list of each loan, the interest rate, minimum payment and the lender.”
Record your payment due dates so you know when your student loan bills are due. By getting this bird’s-eye view of your loans, you’ll feel more empowered to do something about them.
Once you’ve taken inventory of your student loans, your next step is to explore your repayment options. If you’ve got federal student loans, you have access to income-driven plans, graduated repayment, extended repayment, consolidation and other options.
Income-driven plans end in loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, which could be worth the wait if you don’t have the means to pay off your debt sooner. At the same time, you’ll end up paying a lot of interest over the life of your loan.
What’s more, changing your repayment plan can trigger interest capitalization, meaning your interest gets added to your principal amount — so make sure you understand the pros and cons of any repayment plan before making a change.
With private student loans, you’re typically stuck with the plan you agreed to when you borrowed unless you refinance for new terms. Some private lenders also offer deferment if you run into financial hardship.
And if you can swing it, you can always make extra payments without penalty, regardless of your repayment plan.
“The debt snowball method is what I used and suggest to clients,” Barnes said. “Write your debts down smallest to largest, make minimum payments on everything, throw any extra money at the smallest debt until it’s gone, then rinse and repeat for each debt as needed. Seeing the debts drop as you go keeps you motivated for the long haul.”
While the debt snowball method can keep you motivated, you might prefer the debt avalanche method, which involves targeting loans with the highest interest rate first. The choice is yours, but when it comes to how to pay off $250K in student loans, taking a systematic approach can help you stay on track.
Designing a budget is a key step when paying off a large amount of debt. Take a look at your income and expenses, then set realistic savings and debt payoff goals.
Whether you use a budget-tracking app, an Excel spreadsheet or a piece of paper, tracking your spending will help you feel more in control of your money.
“Managed money goes farther,” Barnes said. “You get to tell your money what to do instead of wondering where it went.”
Saving money is challenging, which is why Yaz Purnell, student loan borrower and founder of personal finance site The Wallet Moth, recommends automatically setting aside a certain percentage of your income into a savings account specifically earmarked for debt payoff.
“Get a separate savings account from your day-to-day account and start sending a percentage of your income to that separate account the same day you get paid, every month,” Purnell said. “Depending on your circumstances, you could afford 10% of your income, just 1% for now or even 20% if you make real sacrifices on your spending elsewhere.”
Thanks to the automatic transfers on payday, you can’t spend the cash before you save it, and you’ll accrue a healthy debt fund to pay off your student loans.
Scrimping and saving will only take you so far if you’re working on a limited budget. Finding ways to increase your income will help put your financial goals within reach.
“Making regular payments is a great start, but if you don’t want this payoff plan to take 10 to 15 years, you’ll need to get creative,” Barnes said. “That could mean a second job or side hustle, selling stuff or choosing different living arrangements (staying with parents, renting a room, etc.).”
Whether you find a new job, ask for a raise at your current one, work a side hustle or start your own business, adding some supplemental income could help you chip away at your student loan balance even faster.
When you start making more money, it’s tempting to upgrade everything in your life. But if you increase your rent, car payments and other expenses, you’ll find yourself back at square one.
So even if you’re making a lot of money after earning your dental, law, medical or other degree, try to keep living like a student for a few more years. This sacrifice will be worth it if you can get out from under the shadow of six-figure student loan debt.
Although your repayment plan might span a certain time frame, you can pay off your loan faster. If you can swing it, pay more than you have to, whether on a monthly basis or once in a while.
These extra payments will speed up debt repayment and save you money on interest. For extra motivation, check out this student loan prepayment calculator to see how much you could save by throwing extra cash at your debt.
The average student holds 3.7 student loans, according to Experian, and you might have even more if you borrowed for both college and graduate school. If you’re juggling multiple federal student loans, consider consolidating to simplify repayment.
Through direct loan consolidation, you combine federal loans into one. Your interest rate will be the weighted average of your previous rates rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.
You’ll only have to track one bill for your federal loans each month, which could make your loan situation less confusing — just be careful about adding interest to your balance, since consolidation could be considered a capitalization event.
One of the best ways to save money on student loans is through refinancing. When you refinance, you could get a lower interest rate, which could save you thousands on such a big amount of debt.
Plus, you get the chance to choose new repayment terms, typically between five and 20 years. If you have strong credit and income (or can apply with a cosigner who does), you could be a strong candidate for student loan refinancing.
Just be cautious about refinancing federal student loans, since this move turns them private and cuts off access to federal repayment plans and forgiveness programs.
Student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs are also worth exploring, especially if you’re drawn to work in a nonprofit or high-need area. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgives federal loans after 10 years of working in a nonprofit or government agency (note, however, that the future of this program isn’t 100% guaranteed).
Private and state-run loan repayment assistance programs are also available for various professionals, with many of them offering significant awards after just two or three years of service. Unlike PSLF, many of these programs will help with private student loans as well as federal ones.
Finally, some employers offer student loan matching benefits, which could help you get rid of your debt faster. If you’re seeking a job, consider applying at companies that will help you pay off your debt.
Conquering $250K in student loan debt
Although $250,000 in student loan debt is an astronomical amount, paying it off isn’t impossible, especially if you’ve earned a valuable degree that will lead to a high-paying job or student loan forgiveness.
But you need to come up with a plan for conquering your debt, and you might have to keep your spending seriously low for several years while you prioritize debt payoff. Keeping a positive and proactive mindset will also help you achieve your goals.
“The most common debt payoff misconception is that people think getting out of debt is all about math, but it’s really about momentum,” Barnes said. “When you have a mountain of student loans, the most important thing you can do is find ways not to give up on the journey.”
So keep on keeping on, and remember there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. By exploring various strategies of debt repayment, refinancing and forgiveness, you can find the ones that work best for you.
Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2019!
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.59% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.27% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.89% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of August 15, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/15/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
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2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.37% effective July 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.27% – 6.89%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.27% – 7.75%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 6.65%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.24% – 6.67%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.37% – 7.95%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.46% – 9.24%6||Undergrad & Graduate|