Student loan debt is the absolute worst. Yes, it is really important to get an education. But the vast majority of students that are taking out loans have no idea how much that debt is going to weigh them down. Education is important, but so is getting this debt off your back!
If you want to pay off student loans early (which I’m assuming you do), there are a lot of things you can do…some of which you may not have thought of. I feel lucky that my husband and I were able to get rid of what we had before I decided to stay at home with my son, because basically I wouldn’t have been able to if we hadn’t. And I want that for you!
So here’s what you need to do to get rid of that debt FAST:
PAY OFF THE SMALLEST LOAN FIRST
Conventional wisdom may make you think that you should focus on the student loans with the highest interest rate. In a perfect world and on paper, this may make sense. But we’re humans, we’re impressionable, and we need motivation. We also need resources to make this all happen.
So instead of focusing on the loan with the highest interest rate, focus on the smallest loan you have. This is the one to pay off first. Then, once that’s gone, every penny that was going towards that payment every month should just be shifted to the next smallest loan. There are three big reasons you need to do this:
- You need to experience a win as soon as possible. Paying down debt is slow and hard and frustrating. You will feel AMAZING when you can kiss an entire loan goodbye. It will motivate you so much that you will all of a sudden feel the urge to budget a little more towards your other loans. Because paying off debt is addicting. (And this is how you’re going to feed that addiction.)
- When you knock off one of your student loans, you open up a sizeable sum of money each month that can be put directly towards the principal of the next loan you’re focusing on. This means your loans will decrease exponentially.
- By opening up that sum of money you’re also increasing your flexibility and security. You need to keep that money flowing towards your loans, but in the event of a disaster or life-changing event, you at least have that much less that you are obligated to pay each month.
AUTOMATE EXTRA PRINCIPAL PAYMENTS
I hope that the first thing you did when you started to make loan payments was to set up an automatic payment. If not, do that right now. Automation is the key to paying down debt, building wealth, and a slew of other life-changing habits.
Related post: 24 Different Ways to Automate Your Life
Now what you need to do is add an addition automatic payment that is going directly towards the principal balance (make sure it is going towards the principal and not just paying next month’s payment early).
The only way you will ever pay off your loans early is if you chip away at the principal on top of what you already owe each month. By making that payment automatic you will be able to take it off your mind and focus on other things. You need to set it and forget it. Even just $25 will make a huge difference. You have to start somewhere. The hardest part is always the first step.
USE 50-100% OF ANY LUMP SUMS
Bonus time? Birthday money? Inheritance? At least half (and ideally, all) of any lump sum you receive should go directly to your student loans. When you do this, they will start dropping dramatically. It’s also really important to get into the habit of not using this type of money to cover living expenses. Because once your student loans are gone, you’re going to need this money to pay off your mortgage, save for retirement, save for your kids’ college, and the list goes on and on.
FIND OTHER SOURCES OF STUDENT LOAN PAYMENT
You’ve set up automatic payments and you’re putting what you can towards the principal. So what’s next? Time to find other, creative ways to get help pay down your loans! Not all of these work for everyone and there’s sure to be other ways if you think outside the box, but here are a few suggestions that work for a lot of people:
Take Up a Money-Making Hobby
It’s likely that you’re already working your butt off at a day job and possibly even a night job, so I’m not going to tell you to get yet another job. What I will tell you is to find a hobby that you love that can also make some extra money for you. All of this money should go right towards your loans. There are tons of great money-making hobbies, so don’t feel limited by this list, but here are some popular options:
- Start a blog. Obviously I’m biased here, but blogging can be an amazing hobby and if you do it right, it will make you some good money. You can blog about travel, fashion, sports, parenting…literally anything and everything. → How to Start a Money-Making Blog
- Become a freelance writer. If you enjoy writing, this is a great way to make extra money on the side. Freelance writing is especially great if you really don’t have much time because you can spend 1 hour a week on it or 10 – it’s really up to you. → How to Get Your First Freelance Writing Job
- Teach yoga classes. Or cross-fit or zumba or boxing or karate. If you have a talent for these types of activities, try your hand at teaching them.
- Sell your photography. If you love taking pictures, and especially if you’ve got hundreds sitting on your phone or computer unused, then you’re sitting on a gold mine of opportunity. → How to Sell Your Photography Online
- Become a mystery shopper. Did you know you could get paid to try the new delivery place in town? Or to purchase specific items at the mall? Even if you’re not a shopper, this is a worthy hobby to take up! → How to Make Money as a Mystery Shopper
Add It to Your Wedding Registry
Guess what – nice china is out, paying off debt is in. We’re in an age of minimalism, so don’t be afraid to make a wedding registry that is actually going to help you start a happy life together. Use an online registry (I used MyRegistry.com) that will give you the ability to set up cash gifts for specific purposes (like your student loans!). You can also add gifts from any store on the planet to these registries, so you don’t have to give up asking for the blender you’ve been dreaming of. But you’d be surprised how many of your guests will think it’s brilliant that you have a cute way for them to actually help start your lives together. Because you know what? They most likely have never used their own china and will wish they had done what you’re doing. We did this for my son’s baby shower (to start his college fund) and it helped us soooo much! And a lot of our guests got really into it.
See if You Are Eligible for Student Loan Forgiveness
Thankfully, the government has caught on to the outrageous amount of debt that most students leave school with, so there have been a few different attempts to alleviate that debt for students that choose specific fields to work in. The most well-known program is for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which will “forgive” (aka you don’t have to pay it anymore) your loans after 10 years of payment and working in the public sector. This can be a lifesaver for people that have chosen career paths that are notoriously low-paying. Different forgiveness programs are always working their way through the government, so keep your eye out for programs that may apply to you.
Pick the Right Credit Card
Credit cards are a fickle thing. In the hands of the wrong person, they can create complete financial ruin. In the hands of a financially responsible person, however, they can be an awesome tool to get free money for a slew of different things – in this case, your student loans. But before you consider this, you MUST make sure that you fall into the category of people that will pay off the balance completely every single month – no exceptions! If you don’t do this, then it doesn’t make sense. Now, if you know you can do that, find yourself a card that will contribute a certain percentage of whatever you spend towards your student loans.
Now that my husband and I have paid off our student loans, we’ve switched our card to contribute towards our mortgage principal and it is a HUGE help. It’s not going to wipe them out in a year, but little payments here and there really add up!
Ask Your Employer…or Pick One that Will Help You Out
Since soooo many people are entering the workforce with student loans, lots of companies (often the larger ones) are starting to offer Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) as a way to entice and retain new employees. These programs are especially great for people with private loans, which usually aren’t eligible for most other loan forgiveness programs. If your company already offers this, then you need to be taking advantage of it. And if you’re in the job market, add this to your list of benefits to ask about. This type of assistance could translate to a lot of money in your pocket!
MAKE BETTER USE OF YOUR OWN MONEY
Now’s the fun part. This is when you get to make money appear out of thin air (kind of…). Like when you find $20 in last year’s winter jacket or a huge hand full of coins in the couch. This is when you sit down, look at everything you’re spending and figure out how to funnel more money to your student loans by cutting costs somewhere else. It’s a brilliant plan because you’re already spending this money, so you won’t feel a thing – you’re just changing the direction of payment.
There are tons of ways to do this, but here are some of the most popular and obvious things you can do:
- Cut your cable. You don’t need this! You can watch every single thing on your laptop or with services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu at a fraction of the cost. (Even HBO has a streaming service for $15/month that doesn’t require you to have cable).
- Stop eating out. I know this sounds like a bummer, but it will save you a ton of money and you can easily turn it into something fun. Learn to cook, try out new recipes, and start binge-watching all the great Netflix shows you’ll now have access to.
- Take a good look at your car insurance plan. Once you’ve driven a few years without any accidents a wonderful thing will happen – most car insurance carriers will lower your premium. But there’s usually a catch – you have to ask them for this or at minimum log onto your account and see if you qualify. It will take two seconds and can save a lot of money! Another trick is to find out if you can get a discount for making annual or semi-annual payments online. Most carriers will also do this and it will make your life easier anyways, so why not?
INCREASE YOUR AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS
Ok, you’ve done everything you can and you’ve automated all your payments, so now you just sit back and enjoy your life as best you can. That is, until you get a raise or a higher paying job. Then, your first stop needs to be your student loan account to increase your principal’s automatic payment. You don’t have to put your entire raise towards the payments, but you absolutely have to put a portion towards the payments. This is why it’s ok to start with something as low as $25 – because the idea is that it will continue to grow as your income does. Now that you have a raise, you can double it to $50…and then next time it will become $100 and so on and so forth.
Good luck with getting these loans off your back! The quicker you do it, the happier you’ll be. It will open up so many new opportunities for you. I PROMISE you won’t regret it!
If you’re looking for more suggestions and ideas for paying off debt, check out my Pinterest board dedicated entirely to paying off debt:
Follow Nikki @ MBAsahm’s board Paying Off Debt on Pinterest.