The Ultimate Guide to Paying Off Student Loans Faster

pay-off-student-loans-faster

One thing we can all agree on: paying off student loan debt isn’t fun.

One of the worst feelings is tearing open your paycheck or seeing your direct deposit hit your bank account and getting excited, only to remember that you need to use a huge chunk of that money to pay your student loan debt.

With student loan debt, it might seem like this feeling could last forever. But it doesn’t have to. But if you want them to go away faster, you’re going to have to upgrade your student loan repayment strategy.

Here’s our guide to paying off student loans faster with strategies that will work for just about anyone.

1. Make more than the minimum payment

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.

2. Do the math and find your payoff date

Effectiveness Level: Low

I don’t know the exact numbers on this, but I’m guessing a lot of you don’t even know the date you’ll be free of student loan debt. Do you know it?

That’s always a good place to start. Why? Because once you know this date, you can work on moving it closer.

The easiest way to figure this out: add your student loans to the Student Loan Hero dashboard. Your free account lets you add loans, adjust payments, and check new due dates.

3. Consolidate and refinance

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 towards paying down your student loans.

When you refinance your student loans, you’ll get one consolidated loan with one monthly payment. You’ll likely just want to include loans where you can actually decrease your interest rate.

For example, student loan refinancing rates below 3% are currently available.

For current rates, see our post on student loan refinancing rates.

4. Use a cash windfall

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 estimated 70% of those who get cash windfalls spend all of it within a few years.

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.

I’ve already outlined 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 debt, even if you don’t want to devote 100%.

5. Take a job that offers forgiveness

Effectiveness Level: Medium-High

Certain jobs, like public service work or teaching, may offer forgiveness for part or all of your student loans. This is great because it’s basically free money. 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-based repayments, 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.

6. Apply your raises

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? For some, you might just get more stuff— a bigger TV, a better car, or more exotic vacations. While I totally think you deserve this stuff, why not put a chunk of it toward student loans?

We covered this in our post on how to start investing, but the same strategy could be used with student loans. Just take 50% of your raise amount and add it straight toward student loan payments. This means either upping your automatic student loan increase or transferring the money to a savings account.

7. Avoid repayment programs

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 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 loan repayment term from 10 years to 25 years. I don’t have to tell you that that’s a much slower repayment period.

Even Direct Loan Consolidation can be a bad option that prevents 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 #4 here.

8. Trim your budget

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 budget drastically.

For example, Stephanie paid off $90,000 in debt in three years by moving to a cheaper apartment, skipping happy hours or meals out, and earning more side income.

The key to success: you only have to do this 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 options are:

  • Cancel cable TV
  • Don’t go out to restaurants
  • Give up alcohol
  • Work extra hours or take on side work

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.

9. Be strategic about your debt

Effectiveness Level: Medium

The first step is to add more money to your student loan repayment. 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,” meaning that 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. 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 too.

10. Take interest rate reductions

Effectiveness Level: Low

While you can cut down on the cost of your student loans and get some big wins with the strategies above, the 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 just to make life easier. By setting up automatic payments, you don’t have to worry about late or missed payments (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.

11. Take full advantage of tax deductions and credits

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 may 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 here.

12. Realize student loans aren’t “good debt” to keep around

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 vs. bad debt” 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 about repaying student loans, like in terms of using student loan forgiveness. But merely calling student loans “good debt” as an excuse to drag out repayment isn’t a good idea.

13. Pay every two weeks

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:

  1. Split your monthly payment in half.
  2. 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.

14. Visualize the future without student loans

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. Or 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 #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, it can become reality. Now go get it!

What’s your #1 strategy for paying off student loans faster?

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  • Max

    Awesome post, I’m not the biggest fan of refinancing. I used Airbnb & Craigslist to pay off my loans, wrote a short post about it on Medium: https://medium.com/@maxmackey/how-to-pay-off-loans-within-6-months-of-graduating-f119137fc267

    • Thanks for sharing, Max!

      • Max

        love the sites content & design as well. I had one of those moments where I thought “wow, can’t believe I haven’t heard of this before” when I found it 🙂

  • capacitated

    I have a couple old defaulted Guaranteed Student Loans, a poverty-level income, and a student loan garnishment. Whenever repayment or consolidation programs are mentioned, these loans are never specified as eligible. Does this mean these loans are really not eligible or have those loans been subsumed under some newer category?

    • Hi,

      Thanks for your question. Can you explain what you mean by “these loans are never specified as eligible”? Also, are there specific repayment programs you’re referring to?

      However, generally speaking and in most cases, if you have student loans in default with wage garnishment, you’ll likely need to get them out of that status before you’re eligible for most repayment programs.

      Here are some resources that might be helpful:

      https://studentloanhero.com/featured/student-loan-collections-what-it-means-and-how-to-get-out/

      http://studentloanhero.com/featured/wage-garnishment-student-loans-how-the-government-can-take-paycheck/

      Please let us know if you have any other questions.

      Best,

      Jeffrey
      Student Loan Hero

      • capacitated

        Whew…Thank you for your reply. I’m late responding because I’ve been busy consolidating my defaulted federal loans!

        Turns out the ‘old’ Guaranteed Student Loans are now considered Stafford subsidized loans, something of which I was previously unaware since I took out the loans long before the Senator was elected.

        My consolidation is now complete under IBR and I have made a first voluntary nominal payment with a required monthly payment of zero. I intend to continue making nominal monthly payments until my income and liquidity increase and I can afford larger payments.

        How might these nominal monthly payments affect my credit score in the context of not being required to make monthly payments? When monthly payments are not required, are credit scores indifferent between making no payments and making nominal monthly payments?

        • Hi,

          From what I understand, if your required payment amount is $0, it counts as if you made the payment no matter what you do.

          That said, I’m not sure there are any credit implications for making the nominal, voluntary payments other than reducing the total debt that you owe.

          Hope this helps! Let us know if there’s anything else we can do.

          Best,

          Jeffrey

  • Hi,

    Thanks for your question. I guess I’m a little uncertain which options you’re trying to compare here. Generally we always think paying extra to save on interest and getting loans paid off faster is worth it.

    Not sure if I’m missing something, but if so, let me know.

    Best,

    Jeffrey

  • Hi,

    That’s a great question as well as a tough one. This really depends on the interest rates of your loans, the expected rate of return on savings, and your risk tolerance.

    We generally recommend borrowers keep an emergency fund of some sort regardless of strategy. After that it really comes down to personal preference.

    Sorry I can’t provide a more precise answer, but I hope this helps a bit!

    If there’s anything else I can do, let me know.

    Best,

    Jeffrey

  • Hi Marie,

    That’s a good point. You’re right, it’s definitely possible. However, I’m not sure how many people actually do this, which is why I suggested avoiding going on PAYE. But if you’re able to pull it off, I say go for it!

    Cheers,

    Jeffrey

  • Glad we could help, Logan!

    Cheers,

    Jeffrey

  • nick

    if you have $10,000 in savings after college, I would keep enough money in savings for you to live a few months if you lost a job. And put the rest toward student loans. Unless you have a very good savings account, the interest on the student loans with increase the amount you owe much faster than the interest on your saving will grown your bank account

  • stokesfsu07

    I have a few questions as I just got married and we are trying to figure out how to begin to pay my husbands student loans. He currently has $80k in federal student loans and I thankfully do not have any. He is just starting in his career and makes $32.5k and I make just over $61k. We own a house, will soon have a car payment, and will be trying to start a family soon so we are trying to figure out what our best option is in terms of what loan payment option to choose and whether it is better for both the loan and tax purposes to file jointly or separately. Thanks for any help you can provide!

  • Statsqueen

    Regarding the $2,500 tax break:

    If you and a spouse make more than a certain amount (I think it’s around 130K) yearly, you can actually only deduct $200 regardless of how much you paid (even if you paid >$10,000 in interest).

    Thanks for penalizing those of us who worked really hard in school to get awesome jobs…

  • Ashley

    Hello,

    I am about to enter graduate school and my company is going to pay for it minus the taxes on anything above $5200. I have done the math and can afford to pay the taxes out of pocket since my undergraduate student loans will go on deferment. I do have the option to take out federal loans for my graduate degree and was wondering if it makes sense to take those out to pay off undergraduate private student loans. I have $17000 in private loans with interest rates of 11% and 8% which are above the federal rate I have for my undergraduate which is 6.8%. Logically to me it makes most sense to pay off those higher interest rates with lower interest rates. I am unable to refinance since its private loans.

    Thank you for any input!

    • Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for your question. As far as I know, that’s not an approved use of federal student loans. So technically, you’re not allowed to do this.

      However, from a purely mathematical standpoint that only considers interest rates, what you’re suggesting does make sense to me.

      Also, I’d recommend looking into tax credits/deductions for paying your tuition. It’s quite possible you’ll qualify for some, which should ease the tax situation a bit for you. See here: https://studentloanhero.com/featured/claim-student-loan-tax-credits/

      If there’s anything else I can do, let me know.

      Best,

      Jeffrey

“I started Student Loan Hero in 2012 because you shouldn't need a finance degree to understand your student loans. Since then, we've been lucky enough to help over 80,000 people better understand and eliminate over $1.7 billion dollars of student loan debt!“

andy_sig@2xAndy Josuweit · Co-Founder & CEO Student Loan Hero Conquered $107,000 in Student Loans