17 Ways to Accelerate Your Student Loan Payoff in 2017
New Year’s resolutions come and go, but student loans? Not so much. When 2018 rolls around, wouldn’t it be nice to see you’ve made a significant dent in your student debt—or have even decimated it completely?
If you’re serious about paying off student loans in 2017, we’ve got 17 easy and effective ways to help you do it. Check out our list, and start committing to your financial resolutions today!
1. Get organized. If you have multiple student loans with multiple servicers, keeping track of them can be a nightmare. Instead of wrestling with statements every time you want to see the big picture, spend an afternoon transferring all of your loan information to a spreadsheet or online tool. When the details are all in one place, it’s easier to see your progress, and simpler to adjust your approach if necessary.
2. Set up automatic payments. If you haven’t already set up an ACH (automatic) transfer with your student loan servicer, get on it. Not only will it minimize the chances of missing a payment (and hurting your credit score), but also lenders typically offer a .25% interest rate discount for doing so.
3. Learn your loan lingo. Boring, right? But here’s the thing: If you don’t know how capitalized interest works or the difference between student loan consolidation and refinancing, it’s tough to make informed (and cost-saving) decisions about your loans. So take a little time to get educated—our student loan smarts series is a great place to start.
4. Do the math. Interest can seem like an abstract notion when you first take out student loans, but it can add up to thousands of (very real) dollars over the life of your loan. Take a minute to compute your projected interest cost using your current payment info. No algebra required—there are plenty of student loan calculators that will do the math for you. Take note of your total interest cost, and if you’re looking to reduce that number, skip to tip #7.
THE PRO MOVES
5. Tack on an extra $20. Better yet, make it $50, $100, or whatever amount you can spare. Prepaying (or paying more than the minimum) is one of the best ways to accelerate loan repayment, and it saves you money on interest, to boot. Just make sure your servicer is immediately putting that extra cash toward the loan principal instead of earmarking it for future payments.
6. Make bi-weekly payments. Making payments every other week instead of monthly adds up to an extra month’s worth of payments each year and can save you a significant amount of money on interest. The best part? You’ll pay off your loans faster!
7. Revisit your options. If the “do the math” exercise in tip #4 was a jarring experience, you’re probably looking for a way to reduce the amount of money you’re spending on interest. The good news is that you do have options—prepaying, changing repayment plans, and refinancing are three of them. Take some time to learn more about how these actions could help you save money and pay off loans faster.
8. Consider refinancing. The two best ways to save money on student debt are to prepay (which we’ve already covered) and/or refinance student loans at a lower interest rate. Refinancing is a good option to explore after you’ve left school, increased your income, and have a track record of financial responsibility. The lower your new rate is, the more you’ll save on interest.
9. Leverage your home equity.
If you’re a homeowner, you might be able to leverage the equity you’ve built up to pay off your student loans. A student loan payoff refinance through SoFi consolidates your student loans with your existing mortgage, and then refinances the total amount. If you qualify for a lower rate, you can save on mortgage interest and pay off student loans in one fell swoop.
THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
10. Factor in federal loans. There’s a common misconception that federal loans can’t be refinanced, but, in fact, a handful of lenders, including SoFi, do just that. So, when considering your options, don’t forget to include your federal student loans in your analysis. While there are things to consider before refinancing federal loans with a private lender, it can be an attractive, cost-saving option for many borrowers with high-interest rate, unsubsidized and PLUS loans.
11. Ask for forgiveness. One of the above-mentioned considerations is whether any of your federal loans might be eligible for student loan forgiveness, a benefit that won’t be available if you refinance those loans. The most common federal loan forgiveness programs are for borrowers in the military, those who work in public service or education, or those who utilize one of the government’s income-driven repayment plans, such Pay As You Earn (PAYE). If there’s a possibility you can wipe your loan slate clean this way, it’s worth looking into.
12. Keep forbearance to a minimum. Forbearance (temporarily suspending loan payments) can be a lifesaver when you absolutely need it. But be smart; think of it as a “break glass in case of emergency” option, rather than an “I want to go to Spain instead of paying my loan this month” opportunity. In most cases, interest continues to accrue while your loans are on hold. And that’ll cost you more in the long run—maybe even as much as a trip to Spain.
THE BIG PICTURE
13. Be fiscally responsible. Your track record of meeting your financial obligations is a big factor in determining your refinancing rate (and crucial to achieving other financial objectives), so avoid mistakes that can come back to haunt you later—for example, paying loans late or missing a payment.
14. Break down your goals. Rather than getting lost in the big picture, turn your overarching objective of paying off student loans into smaller, more manageable goals (e.g., paying an extra $200 each month). Make your goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound), and keep them front and center.
For example, to cut down on spending in order to better fund your student loan goal, write your desired payoff date on the back of your credit card, where you’re sure to see it every time you make a purchase.
15. Get on the same page as your partner. With one in five U.S. households currently on the hook for education debt, more and more couples are learning to tackle student loans together—without tanking the relationship. Create a 12-month plan jointly, and then celebrate your collective successes along the way.
16. Enlist help. Getting married or celebrating a big birthday this year? Why not ask family members and friends for student loan donations as gifts? Requesting money, especially for a good cause or a life event, is more acceptable today than it used to be. Also ask your company’s HR team if they’d consider offering student loan assistance as an employee benefit—it’s becoming more and more common amongst savvy employers.
17. Stay positive. As with any big financial goal, you’ve got to keep your head in the game when paying off student loans. It’s easy to get discouraged, but if you focus on your progress, celebrate small wins, and keep envisioning a great post-student loan life, a debt-free future can be yours.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a post we originally published in January 2015. We welcome new comments and questions below.