Student loans can eat up a big portion of your paycheck before it even has the chance to hit your bank account. If you want your debt to go away ASAP, you’re going to have to upgrade your student loan repayment strategy. And this starts with learning how to pay off student loans fast.
Fortunately, you have lots of great options for paying off student loans faster, including:
- Make more than the minimum payment
- Do the math and find your payoff date
- Consolidate and refinance
- Use a cash windfall
- Take a job that offers forgiveness
- Apply your raises
- Avoid repayment programs
- Trim your budget
- Earn extra money with a side gig
- Be strategic about your debt
- Take interest rate deductions
- Take full advantage of tax deductions and credit
- Realize student loans aren’t “good debt” to keep around
- Pay every two weeks
- Visualize the future without student loans
How to pay off student loans fast
To learn more about these options for student loan repayment, and to get a few bonus tips, here’s our guide to paying off student loans fast with strategies that could work for just about anyone.
Effectiveness level: Medium-High
This is one of the easiest ways to reduce your debt. Just take the payments you have and add extra money to the payment. You should already have payments set up, so anything extra goes straight toward your principal.
One easy way to do this: Set up automatic payments with this extra amount added in. This takes any indecision out of the equation and makes it harder for you to change your mind, too.
Even if you can only afford an extra $20 a month, it’s something. Start there, then gradually work on increasing your extra payments.
Effectiveness level: Low
Do you know exactly when you’ll be free of student loan debt? If you answered no, you’re not alone.
But figuring out your payoff date is always a good place to start when it comes to managing debt. Why? Because once you know this date, you can work on moving it closer.
The easiest way to figure this out: Use the National Student Loan Data System to view all of your federal loans and AnnualCreditReport.com to make a list of private loan lenders. Then, confirm payoff dates with your loan servicers.
Effectiveness level: High
Refinancing your loans is one of the best moves out there for paying off student loans faster. The goal of refinancing is to decrease interest rates, meaning more of your payments go toward paying down your student loans.
When you refinance multiple student loans, you’ll get one consolidated loan with one monthly payment. Alternatively, you could refinance just one student loan for lower rates. You’ll likely only want to refinance loans where you can actually decrease your interest rate.
For example, student loan refinancing rates below 3.00% are currently available. For current rates, see our post on student loan refinancing rates.
Effectiveness level: Medium
Cash windfalls come in various forms. These can include lottery winnings, an inheritance, a settlement from a lawsuit or insurance claim and more.
When you suddenly get a chunk of money from these sources or others, you might be tempted to spend it. It’s so tempting that Bankrate reports an increase in lottery winners’ likelihood to declare bankruptcy within three to five years of receiving the cash windfall.
So instead of spending it on stuff you won’t even remember, use it for paying off student loans faster.
Even if you don’t get an inheritance or something similar, many taxpayers get a cash windfall once a year in the form of a tax refund.
There are several tax refund strategies for student loan debt that work for any sort of financial windfall. The main takeaway: Put at least some of your tax refund (and/or cash windfalls) toward student loan repayment, even if you don’t want to devote 100%.
Effectiveness level: Medium-High
Certain jobs, like public service work or teaching, may offer forgiveness for part or all of your student loans. All you have to do is meet the requirements to get your student loans forgiven. See our guides to Public Service Loan Forgiveness and teacher student loan forgiveness for more details.
There is one potential downside: You need to meet all the requirements and complete the full term of work required to get any forgiveness.
Since these forgiveness programs are typically used in conjunction with income-driven repayment plans, your payments will decrease but interest charges will accumulate. If you wind up ineligible for forgiveness for any reason, you’ll be stuck with greater interest charges.
In addition to these federal student loan forgiveness programs, some states also offer loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs). These LRAPs also usually come with a work requirement. If you qualify, you could get money toward paying off your federal (or in some cases, private) student loans.
Effectiveness level: High
Hopefully, you work at a job where yearly raises are part of the compensation. But what do you actually do when you get a raise? You could just get more stuff — a bigger TV, a better car or more exotic vacations. But why not put a chunk of it toward student loan repayment?
We covered this in our post about how to start investing, but the same strategy could be used with student loans. Just put half of your raise amount straight toward student loan payments. This means either upping your automatic student loan payments or transferring the money to a savings account.
Effectiveness level: Varies
You might be focused on lowering your student loan payments; this makes a lot of sense if you’re struggling to repay your student loans. But if your goal is paying off student loans faster, you probably want to avoid income-driven loan repayment programs.
Why would you want to do this? Well, almost all of these federal student loan repayment programs are geared toward decreasing payments by lengthening the term of the loan. This means it’ll take longer to pay off student loans.
For example, Pay As You Earn (PAYE) stretches your federal student loan repayment term from 10 years to 20 years. We don’t have to tell you that’s a much slower repayment period.
Even direct loan consolidation can prevent faster student loan repayment. Why? Because you’re blending all your student loans, which have different interest rates, into one loan. This means you can’t target the high-interest loans with extra payments after you consolidate. For more detail on this, see student loan myth No. 4.
Effectiveness level: Medium-High
If you want to find more money but can’t easily increase your income, decreasing your budget is an option. While it may sound extreme, some have trimmed their budgets drastically by moving to a cheaper apartment, skipping happy hours or meals out, earning more side income and other strategies.
The key to success: You only have to do this in the short term. It’s not for the rest of your life, but rather a short period where you’re focused on paying off student loans faster. A few common strategies are:
- Cancel cable TV
- Don’t go out to restaurants
- Give up alcohol
The options here are really only limited to your creativity and motivation.
Even if you can only handle it for a month at a time, it can still benefit your student loan repayment. Maybe you have a “no-spend month” where you don’t buy any new stuff all month and put the money toward student loans instead.
Effectiveness level: Medium
Along with trimming your budget, you could try supplementing your income with a side gig.
Side gigs come in all shapes and sizes. You could offer a service online, such as tutoring, editing or design. Maybe you could finally clean out your closets and sell your used clothes. Or, as this TV producer did, you could start your own cookie-baking business.
Whatever form your side gig takes, you can use it to earn extra money. Then, take those extra earnings and apply them directly to your student loan balance. Not only will your extra income help you pay off student loans faster, but you also might learn some new skills (and have fun) in the process.
Effectiveness level: Medium
The first step to repaying your loans faster is to add more money to your student loan payment. But how you apply that extra money could make a big difference, too.
For all student loans, it makes the most sense to pay off the highest interest loans first. This is called the “debt avalanche” method, where you pay just the minimum on all but the student loan with the highest rate.
You might be best off targeting private student loans first, too, before focusing on federal student loan repayment. Repaying private student loans often means higher interest rates and less-flexible repayment terms compared to federal student loans. Private loans can have variable interest rates as well, meaning your rate could rise over time.
By targeting the loans with the highest interest rates first, you’ll save the most money on interest.
An alternative approach is called the “snowball method.” This involves paying off your loans with the lowest balances first. Although you won’t save as much on interest, you might get a psychological boost from closing out an account.
Choose whichever method will motivate you to keep working toward your goal of paying off student loans faster.
Effectiveness level: Low
While you can cut down on the cost of your student loans and get some big wins with the strategies above, smaller savings can add up, too. One of them is the interest deduction from signing up for automatic payments.
Many servicers offer a 0.25% interest rate deduction on federal student loans for enrolling in automatic payments. While this isn’t a ton of money, it’s not bad to get a few bucks back.
Besides the interest savings, automatic payments can be a good idea to make life easier. By setting up automatic payments, you don’t have to worry about late or missed payments when paying back student loans (which matters for your credit score). Plus, you can use automatic payments in conjunction with other strategies on this list, like making payments higher than the minimum.
Effectiveness level: Medium
If you’re paying off student loans, you’re likely eligible for the student loan interest deduction on your federal taxes. You may deduct up to $2,500 on your taxes each year for the interest you pay on student loans.
While you must meet other requirements, generally a lot of student loan holders in their 20s will be eligible. That’s because this deduction can be taken even if you don’t itemize your taxes (which many young taxpayers don’t do).
Tax credits can be even more valuable than tax deductions. In general, a $2,500 tax credit will save you more money than a $2,500 deduction will.
You might be eligible for tax credits if you’re currently paying tuition, including while you’re in grad school. While there aren’t any tax credits related to simply paying student loans, it’s worth checking out if you’re currently in college or thinking about going back to school soon. See our post on student loan tax credits for more information.
Effectiveness level: Low
You might hear chatter about “good debt” and “bad debt.” And while student loans are generally a good investment based on increased income potential in your lifetime, along with some deductions, it’s not good debt to keep around.
The good-debt-versus-bad-debt debate is really about how that debt helps you increase the value in something. In this case, it’s the value of a salary.
But while taking out student loans is a good idea, letting them sit around forever isn’t. Interest charges stack up the longer you wait to repay loans.
Of course, you can be strategic when figuring out how to pay student loans, but merely calling student loans “good debt” as an excuse to drag out repayment isn’t a good idea.
Effectiveness level: Medium
Another popular extra-payment strategy for student loans is to make a student loan payment every two weeks.
Now, you don’t need to pay double the amount of your monthly payment to make this work. Instead, here’s the common strategy:
- Split your monthly payment in half.
- Make a payment of that amount every two weeks.
By doing this, you’ll make a full extra payment over the year. The real strength of this strategy is that if you receive a paycheck bi-weekly, you shouldn’t feel the pain of paying the extra amount.
Effectiveness level: Low
While this isn’t exactly a repayment strategy, it can help you find motivation to get rid of your debt, especially if it’s causing a lot of stress in your life.
Here’s an easy way to start your visualization. Think of the one thing you hate most about having student loans. Maybe it’s that you can’t afford to go on a vacation, or maybe you have to eat rice and beans to scrape together enough money to pay your bills. Perhaps you drive a crappy car that breaks down all the time.
Now close your eyes and imagine what your life would be like if that No. 1 most hated thing were no longer a problem because you don’t have student loans. How would your life change for the better? Would you be happier? What would you do without having to worry about student loans?
Is this a life you want to have? With enough hard work, getting rid of your student debt can become reality. Now go get it!
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2021!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|1.89% – 6.15%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.99% – 5.64%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.85%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.90% – 5.25%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.25% – 6.64%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.89% – 5.90%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.39% – 6.01%||Undergrad |
|2.15% – 4.42%7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.00% – 5.63%8||Undergrad & Graduate|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews! |
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount
The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.
To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of May 1, 2021.
2 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 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% 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 October 26, 2020, 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 10/26/2020. 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 [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. 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 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
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.
Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of 5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.
As of 04/07/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
6 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
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.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.89%-4.78% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.15%-4.42% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
8 Important Disclosures for Nelnet.
Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score.
Interest rate reduction of .25% for automatically withdrawn payments from any designated bank account (“auto debit discount”). Auto debit discount applies when full payments (including both principal and interest) are automatically drafted from a bank account. The auto debit discount will continue to apply during periods of approved forbearance or deferment if the auto debit discount was in effect at the time of receiving the forbearance or deferment. Auto debit discount will remain on the account unless (1) the automatic deduction of payments is canceled or (2) there are three consecutive automatic deductions returned for insufficient funds at any time during the term of the loan.
Request for the cosigner to be released can be made by the borrower after 24 consecutive, on-time payments (not later than 15 days after the due date) of principal and interest have been made. Borrowers in deferment or forbearance must make 24 consecutive, on-time payments after re-entering repayment to qualify for the release. The borrower must be current on their payments at the time of the cosigner release request and show the ability to assume full responsibility of the loan(s) by meeting certain credit criteria on their own at the time of the request, including, but not limited to, being a U.S. citizen or having permanent residency in the United States, being the age of majority in their permanent state of residency, providing sufficient proof of income, and having no student loans in default.
Hardship forbearance allows you to temporarily suspend payments on your loan(s) while you are experiencing financial hardship. It is offered in increments of two or three months, with a maximum of 12 months available, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. If your loan(s) are in good standing at the time of your request, you will be eligible for forbearance in increments of two monthly payments. If, at the time of your initial request, your loan(s) are considered past-due, you will be eligible for forbearance in increments of three monthly payments. Future increments of forbearance, up to a life-time maximum of 12 months, may be requested upon the completion of making a certain number of principal and interest payments. During the two- or three-month forbearance period, you will not be required to make payments; however, any unpaid interest will continue to accrue and will be capitalized (added) onto your principal balance at the end of the forbearance period. You may continue making payments in any amount without penalty during the forbearance period. Your loan repayment term will be extended by the number of months in the forbearance period.
Refinance Loan Eligibility: You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security number, and be the legal age to enter into binding contracts in your permanent state/territory of residency, or be at least 17 years of age and apply with a cosigner who is at least the age of majority in their state/territory. Non-residents can apply with an eligible cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security number. The student loans you refinance must be in their grace or repayment period, and you can no longer be enrolled in school on a half-time or more basis. You must have at least $5,000 in student loans to refinance. You, or your eligible cosigner, must have an annual income of at least $36,000. Approval subject to credit review. Other credit criteria may apply.
Refinance Loan Limits:
Loan Refinancing Risks: Federal student loans include benefits that may not be offered with private student loans. Carefully review any potential benefits that may be lost by refinancing federal and private education loans, such as the loss of any remaining grace periods. To learn more about what to take into consideration when refinancing federal student loans with private education loans, click here
Selecting ‘Get Started’ results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score.
Fixed interest rates range from 2.99% APR (with auto debit discount) to 6.25% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. The fixed interest rate will remain the same for the life of the loan.
Variable interest rates range from 2.00% APR (with auto debit discount) to 5.63% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. Variable rates may increase after consummation. The variable interest rate is equal to the One-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (“One-Month LIBOR”) plus a margin. The One-Month LIBOR in effect for each monthly period (from the first day of the month through and including the last day of the same month) will be the highest One-Month LIBOR published in The Wall Street Journal “Money Rates” table on the twenty-fifth (25th) day (or if such day is not a business day, the next business day thereafter) of the month immediately preceding such calendar month. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for a variable interest rate loan will change monthly on the first day of each month if the One-Month LIBOR index changes. This may result in higher monthly payments. The current One-Month LIBOR index is 0.15% as of 5/4/2021.
The lowest interest rate for each loan type requires automatically withdrawn (“auto debit”) payments, a five-year repayment term, and the borrower making immediate principal and interest payments. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rate. The interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) may be higher depending upon (1) the credit history of the borrower and, if applicable, the cosigner, (2) the repayment option and loan term selected, (3) the loan type selected, and (4) the highest level of education attained. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate qualified for within the stated range.
*Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score. **Your actual savings may vary based on interest rates, outstanding balances, remaining repayment terms, and other factors.