If advice for paying off student loans were as simple as “Just keep paying those monthly payments,” over 43 million borrowers would have no concerns about wiping away more than $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.
But of course, many do stress about it and wonder how they can pay off their college loans. It’s best to first figure out exactly what you owe and what your interest rates are. From there, you can come up with a game plan to get your student loan debt under control.
Tips to Pay off College Loans
1. Set a Budget
Rather than feeling helpless, it’s better to remember that the path to paying off college loans is, at its core, about making a budget and sticking with it.
It’s best to resist the urge to momentarily feel better through retail therapy. If you do happen to slip up with spending or are caught unprepared for a bill, though, realize that living within your means is a challenge for many adults and learning from your mistakes is better than fixating on them.
The important thing is to create a budget you can actually follow. Give yourself enough flexibility that you’ll be able to stick to your goals and spend your money on what you really want to spend it on.
Recommended: Budgeting and Spending App to Get Your Finances Under Control
2. Pay More than the Minimum
There’s more to paying off college loans than paying the lowest amount required every month. A big reason to pay more than the minimum each month is that student loan repayment is structured around amortization, which is where a portion of your fixed monthly payment goes to the costs associated with interest and another portion goes to reducing your loan balance.
With amortization loans, you typically pay more in interest than principal at the beginning and the ratio gradually reverses as you keep paying your loan. Paying more than the minimum monthly payment means you can accelerate the reduction of the total amount you owe rather than covering the interest.
One plan of attack is to consider signing up for automatic payments. You can customize the payment amount to be withdrawn on its own, and there can be a discount for doing so. If you have a Direct Loan, you can get an interest rate reduction for participating in automatic debits. (As a side note, many federal and private student loan servicers offer a discount for enrolling in autopay, so it can’t hurt to ask and get that discount, if it’s available to you.)
One final tip: Try to get in touch with your lender before you make additional payments so you can verify that your extra cash is going toward paying down the loan principal.
3. Refinance Your Student Loans
If it ever reaches a point where making real progress on repaying your loans feels nearly impossible, and income-driven repayment and forgiveness options either don’t apply or aren’t the right fit, then refinancing with a private lender might be a good option.
When you refinance federal and/or private student loans, you’re given a new — ideally, better — interest rate on a single new private loan. A lower rate translates to total interest savings over the life of the loan. Further, you may be able to lower your monthly payments with a longer term or pay your loan off faster (with higher monthly payments) if you decide to shorten your repayment term.
Recommended: Student Loan Refinancing Calculator
Don’t forget: Refinancing federal student loans with a private lender means you’re no longer eligible for federal repayment programs, forbearance, loan forgiveness programs, and other protections and benefits extended to federal student loan borrowers.
4. Apply for Forbearance or Deferment
If you’re struggling with your loan payments, it might be time to grit down, pick up the phone, and call the loan servicer. Quite a few banks and lenders have forbearance and deferment programs, although they are mostly dependent on the customer reaching out and asking for help.
Federal student loans also offer student loan forbearance and deferment options. Forbearance can allow for decreased or delayed payments for a specific period of time, often up to 12 months.
Some lenders may offer to reduce the interest rate being charged on the debt, but there are no federal guidelines for terms for forbearance agreements across all industries (with the exception of federal student loans).
On the surface, this sounds positive, but be forewarned that these options can significantly affect credit history and credit scores. The effects on credit depend on the type of loan and the lender, and whether forbearance or other payment or rate adjustments are available or chosen.
Here’s to Stability
You’ve paid down whatever you’ve managed so far on your college loans, so what are your plans now? Are you happy with your current interest rates? Do you like your lender and/or servicer?
As you get more established with a financial track record and the start of a career, know that refinancing or consolidating can help either pay things down more quickly or help secure terms that fit where you are in life right now — and where you’d like to be in the near future.
If you’re thinking about refinancing, consider SoFi. SoFi offers a fast, easy online application, competitive rates, and no origination fees.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.
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Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.