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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 $35,000 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?

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2017!
LenderRates (APR)Eligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
2.61% - 6.74%Undergrad & GraduateVisit SoFi
3.64% - 7.20%Undergrad & GraduateVisit Laurel Road
2.61% - 6.74%Undergrad & GraduateVisit CommonBond
2.52% - 7.26%Undergrad & GraduateVisit LendKey
2.54% - 8.39%Undergrad & GraduateVisit Citizens
2.61% - 6.49%Undergrad & GraduateVisit Earnest
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2017!
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

TOP PICKS SoFi logo Laurel Road logo CommonBond logo LendKey logo Citizens Bank logo Earnest logo
Rates (APR)
When refinancing, you receive a new interest rate on your student loans. In general, the lower the interest rate, the less you will pay over time. You can choose between a fixed rate, which stays the same for the duration of repayment, or a variable rate that can change month to month. Learn more
2.61% - 6.74% 3.64% - 7.20% 2.61% - 6.74% 2.52% - 7.26% 2.54% - 8.39% 2.61% - 6.49%
Eligible Degrees
Our partners refinance student loans from both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Undergrad
& Graduate
Undergrad
& Graduate
Undergrad
& Graduate
Undergrad
& Graduate
Undergrad
& Graduate
Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi Visit Laurel Road Visit CommonBond Visit LendKey Visit Citizens Visit Earnest

Our Top 6 Picks for Student Loan Refinancing

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans More Info
2.61% - 6.74% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit SoFi
3.64% - 7.20% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit Laurel Road
2.61% - 6.74% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit CommonBond
2.52% - 7.26% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit LendKey
2.54% - 8.39% Variable & Fixed 5, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit Citizens
2.61% - 6.49% Variable & Fixed 5 to 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit Earnest
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2017!
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

TOP PICKS SoFi logo Laurel Road logo CommonBond logo LendKey logo Citizens Bank logo Earnest logo
Variable Rates
Variable-rate student loans have interest rates that can change during the repayment period. Interest rates may increase or decrease at any time and typically do so based on changes to LIBOR. Often, the introductory rate on a variable-rate loan is lower than that of a fixed rate loan, though it has the potential to increase later. Learn more
2.61 %- 6.54 % 3.64 %- 6.29 % 2.61 %- 6.54 % 2.52 %- 6.06 % 2.54 %- 8.39 % 2.61 %- 6.28 %
Fixed Rates
A fixed-rate student loan guarantees a single interest rate that does not change over the lifetime of the loan. Fixed-rate loans often have higher rates than the introductory rates on variable loans. However, borrowers have peace of mind knowing their monthly payments will always be the same amount. Learn more
3.35 %- 6.74 % 4.20 %- 7.20 % 3.35 %- 6.74 % 3.25 %- 7.26 % 4.74 %- 8.24 % 3.35 %- 6.49 %
Terms
"Term" refers to the length of the loan, typically in years. In general, the shorter the term, the lower the interest rate and the higher the monthly payments. Longer terms will typically result in lower monthly payments but at a higher interest rate. Borrowers may select any term offered by a lender regardless of the current loan term. Learn more
5, 7, 10, 15, 20 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 5, 10, 15, 20 5 to 20
Soft Credit Check
A "soft" credit check allows a lender to check the applicant's credit and provide the applicant with an estimated interest rate without affecting their credit score. This is unlike a "hard" credit check, which may impact an applicant's credit.
Visit SoFi Visit Laurel Road Visit CommonBond Visit LendKey Visit Citizens Visit Earnest

Our Top 6 Picks for Student Loan Refinancing

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans More Info
2.61% - 6.74% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit SoFi
3.64% - 7.20% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit Laurel Road
2.61% - 6.74% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit CommonBond
2.52% - 7.26% Variable & Fixed 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit LendKey
2.54% - 8.39% Variable & Fixed 5, 10, 15, 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit Citizens
2.61% - 6.49% Variable & Fixed 5 to 20 Undergrad & Graduate Private & Federal Visit Earnest
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Published in Federal Student Loan Repayment, Federal Student Loans, Income Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Pay Off Student Loans, Private Student Loan Consolidation, Private Student Loan Refinancing, Private Student Loans, Student Loan Repayment