Feel like student loans are preventing you from cashing in on the life you’ve been dreaming of? You’re not alone. Here are some tips to stay on track.
Feel like student loans are preventing you from cashing in on the adult life you’ve been dreaming of? You’re not alone.
New studies are popping up each year showing that this debt can both block young adults from pursuing major milestones in their lives and leave them with emotional wounds. And with America carrying more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, that doesn’t come as a surprise.
But the determined student loan borrower can make sure this doesn’t happen to them. Here’s how.
Don’t pressure yourself to pay off loans immediately
Yes, student loan debt can put a damper on other financial plans. But it doesn’t help to put too much pressure on yourself about it.
Kerri Moriarty, head of company development at Cinch Financial, offers some perspective:
“Many young people feel pressure to pay off their loans as fast as possible because it’s been ingrained in our mind that debt is bad — and while it’s not ideal, it’s not a negative line item on your balance sheet. In fact, it gives you some leverage because it works to positively build up your credit score.”
Moriarty goes on to say that taking a more balanced approach to debt can help you plan for other financial goals. She recommends putting the extra cash toward an emergency fund instead of paying extra on your debt.
Once you have a few months’ worth of expenses put away, you can start to look at other goals such as saving for a down payment on a home, building a travel fund, saving for a wedding, or whatever else your heart desires.
Decide what you want your priorities to be
Sometimes the worst part of student loans is feeling beholden to them. But as much as it can feel like the debt is ruling your life, you can take the power back by checking in with your priorities.
“If you’re having trouble prioritizing your goals, it’s time to be emotionally honest with yourself and understand which of your financial goals is most important to you. You can still go after the great things in life, even if you have student debt. Sure, it might take longer to achieve, or they might come at the sacrifice of other goals, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen.”
It will be a lot easier to find and set aside extra money for your objectives when you know what they are. Ask yourself what you really want before you start planning.
Consider Refinancing Your Loans
Student loan refinancing can be a great strategy for decreasing the cost of your debt. It can also help you lower your monthly payments or pay off your debt faster.
But you don’t have to stop there. Founder and CEO of Ballast Point Financial Planning, Shawn Tydlaska, talks about a more strategic way to refinance:
“If it makes sense to refinance with private student loans, I break up the loans into 3 chunks and refinance with three different lenders. … Each lender offers a refinance bonus between $300-$500. Most of the time my clients end up with $800-$1,200 in bonuses, and their interest rates usually decrease as well.”
Once the loans are refinanced, Tydlaska engages in step two:
“Then we tackle the loan with the highest interest rate first, similar to a debt avalanche strategy. We usually use the refinance bonus to either pay down their student debt or jumpstart their emergency fund. The best part of this strategy is that you only have to refinance $5,500 with each lender. So if someone has $18,000 in student loan debt, they can get $1,200 in bonuses and knock off a big chunk of their debt.”
Remember one caveat, though: Federal student loans, once refinanced, turn into private loans. That means forfeiting access to income-driven repayment plans, federal deferment or forbearance, and federal student loan forgiveness. Make sure your income is stable before you take this step.
Negotiate your bills
Think your budget is final? Think again. All kinds of bills can be negotiated.
Matt Becker, financial planner and founder of Mom and Dad Money, explains:
“See if you can negotiate or otherwise lower one monthly bill at a time and use the savings to either pay off your debt or start building savings toward another goal. Even something as small as an extra $50 per month can make a big difference.”
So, how do you do it? For the types of bills you can replace with another provider, such as your cell phone bill, look for deals and ask your provider for a price match. If they don’t, consider taking the better deal.
For revolving debt like credit cards, call your lender and ask them to lower your interest rate. Better yet, use a balance transfer credit card to refinance the debt.
Choose your employer wisely
When you’re looking for work in that first decade after school, don’t just jump at the first offer you get if you think you’ll have multiple opportunities coming your way. Make the choice based on career trajectory, personal happiness, and — last but not least — financial strategy.
Financial planner and founder of Deliberate Finances, Ryan Frailich, paid off $30,000 in student debt in just more than five years. And he made less than $30,000 per year the whole time. Here’s how he did it:
“I joined Teach For America after college, which meant I was eligible for their yearly education stipend of about $4,750 (at the time). The state of Mississippi also had a program for teaching in certain districts, which I was eligible for. Between all this, almost half of my loans were knocked out.”
Since Frailich reached such success in his own life, he now advises his clients to be just as strategic in choosing their employer.
“Who your employer is and what job you take can have a dramatic impact on your ability to pay back loans. … Factor your various forgiveness options into any salary/benefits [when] you’re evaluating a job.”
Get a side hustle to earn extra income
All of the aforementioned tips can go a long way toward beating back your student loans, but so too can increasing your income. The more money you have to work with, the faster you can achieve your financial goals.
Whether it’s taking on a side hustle to earn extra money or to fill the gap while you’re looking for work, don’t overlook this option as one that can keep you current on your student loan payments — or even help you get ahead.
Here’s what Brett Graff, a former economist for the U.S. government and now founder of The Home Economist, has to say about side hustles:
“Freelancing is an excellent way to make some money. … Be an entrepreneur and see where there’s need for your work.”
The freelance work can be as simple as dog walking or as skilled as writing or design. Just capitalize on what you know.
Use income-driven repayment plans if you need more wiggle room
If you still can’t keep your head above water, it’s time to look into other options, such as income-driven repayment plans, which adjust your monthly payment based on how much you earn. If that’s not enough or if you have private loans, look into deferment or forbearance.
These options won’t help you pay your debt off any faster — in fact, they can lengthen your repayment timeline — but they’re a lot better than defaulting on your loans.
Sure, student loans can feel like a big weight on your shoulders right now, but that doesn’t mean you’re never going to reach your financial goals. As with any financial strategy, paying off your loans can take time. But there are some steps that you can take to gain confidence and momentum toward your other goals.
Shannon Insler is a writer for Student Loan Hero. With five years (and counting!) of writing about personal finance, she loves covering topics like budgeting, credit, debt, and the emotional side of money. You can find her other work on Business Insider, Huffington Post, Lifehacker, Yahoo! Finance, and more.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.