The road to debt freedom can be long, lonely and frustrating. But if you can summon the motivation, you can reach your destination faster by making extra payments (even small ones) on your student loans.
Of course, throwing extra money at your debt isn’t easy, and it’s crucial to find ways to encourage yourself along the way. If you want to be rid of your student loans ahead of schedule, here are 10 hacks for getting motivated — even when you feel like giving up:
1. Do the math
2. Think ahead to your future goals
3. Track your debt payoff journey
4. Create a realistic budget
5. Use the debt snowball method
6. Reward yourself now and then
7. Find ways to earn more money
8. Get a debt payoff partner
9. Share your wins on social media
10. Get inspired with blogs, books, and podcasts
Before you can conquer your student loans, you need to know exactly what you’re working with. Our collection of free student loan calculators can reveal estimated monthly payments, loan terms and total interest.
“Play with pay-off calculators,” advised Ben Watson, who (among other things) is the founder of personal finance and business coaching company Fiscal Fluency. “If you’re a numbers nerd at all, or even if you’re not, putting even a little bit extra towards your principal can shave off major interest and time to completion.”
Let’s say, for instance, you owe $20,000 at a 5% interest rate. If you make monthly payments of $212, you’d have this debt in your life for 10 years. But if you can pay $100 extra per month, you’d be out of debt three years and nine months sooner and save $2,145 in interest.
Using the same example, if you can manage to pay an extra $200 per month, you’d be debt-free five years and five months ahead of schedule, cutting your time in debt by more than half and saving $5,456 in interest, more than a quarter of your original loan.
By crunching the numbers, you can find an extra payment that works for your budget and could save you time and money on your student loans.
When you’re scrimping and saving, it’s easy to feel down about all the experiences you’re passing up. But making extra payments means you have to make some sacrifices now so you can have more freedom in the future.
Take time to reflect on your long-term goals. What will you be able to achieve when student loans are out of the picture?
“Writing down reasons why you need to get out of debt will also help you cross the finish line faster,” said Edith Muthoni, chief editor of the financial and investment news site LearnBonds. “Whenever you feel out of sorts and overwhelmed, you can retrieve the list and once again feel empowered.”
If you’re more of a visual person, try making a “vision board” for your debt-free future — this can be any kind of collage or pictorial representation of what you’re trying to achieve.
“Create a vision board with all your post-debt aspirations,” Muthoni said. “Put some pictures and graphics on your vision board and refer back whenever you feel overwhelmed.”
Maybe you plan to travel, buy a house or boost your savings when you’re finally out of student debt. Get clear on your “why” so you can reconnect with your long-term goals whenever you’re feeling discouraged about your loans.
As important as it is to set goals for paying off student loans, it’s equally as important to acknowledge all the progress you’ve made. Motivate yourself by tracking your debt repayment, and make sure to write down any extra payments you make.
Keep this record in plain sight, perhaps hanging it up on your fridge or next to your mirror. That way, you can see all the hard work you’ve already put into paying off your student loans.
“Keeping a calendar that tracks your student loan payoff goals creates awareness and focus,” said Joshua Hastings, founder of personal finance blog Money Life Wax. “Keeping a frame of mind that you’re accomplishing something, i.e. paying off student loans, will keep you hungry to achieve your goals.”
Hastings speaks from experience, as he and his wife, regularly make extra payments of $4,000 on their student loan debt. As he notes, tracking your repayment can make you feel empowered by seeing how much debt you’ve paid off so far, even if you still have a long way to go until balance zero.
Budgeting is an important part of student loan repayment, especially if you’re looking to pay extra on student loans. But a surefire way to make your budget fail is to set unrealistic goals.
If you’re spending $300 per week on groceries and shopping, and you tell yourself you can cut it down to $30, you’re probably going to fall short right away, and you could end up giving up on the idea that budgets can work.
So instead of slashing your budget too drastically, start with small, achievable changes. Identify areas where you can cut back, but don’t expect to transform your spending habits overnight.
By crafting a realistic budget that takes your lifestyle into account, you’ll be more likely to follow it and feel motivated by your success.
The debt snowball method is a great strategy for debt repayment, largely because it provides boosts of motivation. With the debt snowball, you tackle your debts starting from the one with the smallest balance and continuing to the one with the largest.
While keeping up with the minimum payments on all your loans, you target your smallest-balance loan with extra payments. When you close out that account completely, you’ll move on to the second-smallest loan.
“[The debt snowball] is one of the best methods, psychologically speaking,” said Michael Outar, owner of personal finance site Savebly.com. “This method builds momentum and keeps you focused on paying off debt by giving you the satisfaction of wiping out your loans one by one in the fastest way possible.”
And don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishment when you close out a loan and to use that good feeling to keep making progress on the next one, until eventually all your loan balances go down to zero.
You’re working hard to pay back your student loans, so make sure to celebrate your successes and reward yourself every once in a while.
“I’ve found one of the best tactics to motivate yourself to pay off debt faster is to create a timeline of your repayment plan, and schedule ‘rewards’ when you hit certain milestones,” said Yaz Purnell, founder of personal finance site The Wallet Moth.
“These don’t have to be financial rewards. It can be something as simple as promising yourself you’ll cook one of your favorite meals or go on a special hike with your partner when you hit a certain point in your repayment plan.”
Since you’re tracking your repayment progress, you can determine when you’ve hit a significant milestone or need a boost to get yourself back on track.
“These ‘treats’ create a feel-good mentality, giving you a positive outlook on your plan,” said Purnell. “Small rewards can really make all the difference, motivating you to keep going, even when you’d rather spend your money elsewhere.”
Cutting down your spending isn’t very fun, and it can only take you so far. Finding ways to boost your income will help you pay off debt even faster — and probably make you feel more motivated, too.
Maybe you can ask for a raise at work or go after a new job with a higher salary. Or perhaps you can start a side hustle or even set up passive income streams for extra cash.
“There is no hack out there that will help you pay off your loans faster if you don’t have the money to do so,” said Savebly.com’s Outar. His recommendation? “Get a side hustle and then use that money to pay off your loans. Check out Fiverr, TaskRabbit, Guru, etc. for jobs you can do on the side for some extra income.”
By increasing your cash flow, you can meet your goals without sacrificing too much in other areas. And you’ll probably feel more in control of your financial situation, too.
Dealing with a lot of student debt can feel isolating, but remember you’re not alone. In fact, nearly 45 million Americans are dealing with $1.56 trillion in student loans.
If you know anyone else managing student loans, try partnering up with them to reach your debt payoff goals.
“Find a student loan buddy, and make a joint spreadsheet,” suggested Chane Steiner, CEO of personal finance site Crediful. “Challenge each other to make payments of $100 per week at the beginning. Along with that challenge, agree to up the ante every month by $25 a week.”
Of course, it’s up to you and your student loan buddy how much extra you can pay each month. But partnering up can help you feel less alone and remain accountable to your goals.
“[By] adding in a partner or two for accountability, you’re much more likely to stay motivated for the long haul,” said Steiner.
Another way to stay accountable is to share your debt payoff journey on social media. If you can connect with online communities related to student loan repayment, you can find a whole group of debt payoff buddies to cheer you on.
Plus, sharing your story might help others who are in debt feel less alone.
Finally, educating yourself on debt repayment strategies and personal finance can keep you motivated as you pay off your student loans.
You can read about others’ “success stories” for inspiration or learn tips and tricks for balancing debt payoff and saving for retirement.
“Keep yourself informed by doing your research on all the ways this will benefit you: reading finance books, articles, podcasts and more,” suggested Chris Smith, founder of I Am Net Worthy, a financial resource for millennials. “It is important to identify your priorities in order to strive for a much better financial future.”
By immersing yourself in the world of personal finance, you can stay motivated along your own journey toward debt freedom.
Remember: Debt payoff is a marathon, not a sprint
Paying off debt is no easy feat, and it’s easy to lose momentum along the way. When you’re years into debt payoff, it’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But by reconnecting with your long-term goals, you can remember what inspired you to pay extra on student loans in the first place.
So don’t give up, and remember that debt won’t be in your life forever. Slowly but surely, you’re making your way toward a life free of student loans.