Student loan debt is a growing concern for many Americans. With tuition costs steadily rising and students taking on more debt to finance their education, managing student loans can be challenging. According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt exceeds $1.5 trillion in the United States. This massive debt burden makes it difficult for many people to achieve financial stability and meet other goals like buying a house, getting married, or having children.
The good news is that student loan debt can be manageable with some planning and discipline. Below, we provide eight tips to help you effectively manage student loans and pay them off as quickly and affordably as possible.
Understand your loans
The first step is to get a clear picture of your student loan situation—what types of loans you have, who the servicers are, interest rates, monthly payments, etc.
For federal loans, you can access your loan information at StudentAid.gov. For private loans, check with your servicer. Having all this information in one place makes it easier to manage your payments and determine the best payoff strategy and is also essential if you’re contemplating furthering your education.
For instance, if you’re aspiring to advance your career in the financial sector and considering a professional accounting degree, it can open doors to higher-paying positions, potentially making your overall debt management easier in the long run. Specifically, pursuing a masters in professional accounting online offers flexibility and convenience, allowing you to balance your studies with your current work and loan repayment obligations.
An online advanced degree program can be a practical step towards elevating your career and financial situation, making it a worthy consideration for your long-term financial planning.
Make payments on time
One of the worst things you can do is miss or delay student loan payments, which can lead to late fees, damage to your credit, and loss of eligibility for certain repayment plans. Set up autopay through your loan servicer to ensure on-time payments every month.
If money is tight, consider applying for an income-driven repayment plan, which caps payments at a percentage of your disposable income and extends the repayment term. Getting on an affordable payment plan is better than missing payments.
Pay extra when possible
Making payments above your monthly minimums can make a significant dent in your student debt. Consider putting it towards your highest-interest loans when you get a tax refund, bonus, gift, or other unexpected cash. Even small lump sum payments help by reducing your overall interest costs.
You can typically direct extra payments to a specific loan. Focus on paying off the most expensive debt first while continuing to make minimums on the others. Once the high-interest loan is paid off, roll that payment amount into the next highest-interest loan. This “debt avalanche” method is mathematically the fastest way to become debt-free.
Refinance for lower interest rates
Student loan refinancing can lower your interest rates and save you money if you have good credit (generally 670+). Rates on federal loans are fixed, but private loans can often be refinanced for better terms.
Crunch the numbers carefully when comparing refinancing offers. While the interest rate may be lower, you’ll lose federal protections like income-driven repayment and deferment options. Refinancing federal loans into a private loan makes sense primarily if you can get a substantially lower rate.
Get employer student loan contributions
More companies are now offering student loan repayment assistance as an employee benefit. If your employer provides this perk, take full advantage of it!
Make sure you understand how the benefit works—do they match your payments, pay a set amount each month, or make a one-time annual contribution? Any employer assistance will accelerate your debt payoff.
You may need to sign up for the program or submit documentation to receive contributions. Keep an eye out for eligibility requirements, too. The assistance may only apply to federal or private loans, and you often must be employed full-time for a certain period to qualify.
Dedicate windfalls to student loans
As mentioned above, putting unexpected cash infusions like bonuses, tax refunds, and gifts toward your student debt can make a big difference. Even an extra $500 applied to the principal knocks months off a repayment timeline.
Building emergency savings is also important, so strike the right balance. Aim to set aside three to six months’ worth of living expenses, then focus extra funds on the loans.
Also, look for opportunities to earn extra income that you can devote to debt repayment.
Claim student loan interest deductions
Don’t forget about tax benefits for student loan borrowers. You can deduct up to $2,500 in interest paid on federal and private student loans each year. This is an “above-the-line” deduction, meaning you can take it even if you don’t itemize.
To claim the deduction, the loans must have been used for qualified higher education expenses. You can’t deduct interest payments if your parents claim you as a dependent. Income limits apply, so check if you qualify before filing your tax return.
Explore student loan forgiveness programs
Several federal and state student loan forgiveness programs cancel all or part of your debt after meeting certain requirements. These include:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness – Forgives federal loans after 120 payments while working full-time for an eligible employer like a nonprofit or government agency. You must be on an income-driven repayment plan.
- Employer forgiveness programs – Check if your employer has a policy to help pay off student loans after several years of service.
Carefully review the criteria to take advantage of loan forgiveness.
Managing student loan debt can feel overwhelming, but implementing a few smart strategies makes it much more manageable. The keys are understanding your loans, making timely payments, paying extra when possible, lowering interest rates, dedicating windfalls to debt, claiming tax deductions, and exploring forgiveness programs.
While it takes discipline and effort, following these tips can pay off student loans faster. Then, you can move forward in life unburdened by student debt!