If you’re like many Grownups out there, your student loan balance has you wondering how on earth you’ll ever make all those payments without robbing a bank. (Don’t do it!) Nancy Mann Jackson offers a few lesser-known ideas on how to keep up and get ahead of those pesky loans.
Student loan debt has become crippling for many young adults. Seventy percent of college seniors who graduated last year had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 per borrower. From 2008 to 2012, debt at graduation increased an average of 6 percent each year, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Many Americans in their twenties, thirties, and beyond are working for years to pay off student loans, often delaying home ownership, parenthood, or other milestones until the debts are paid.
There’s no magic formula to erase student loan debt overnight, and most people will need to make methodical, monthly payments for awhile to trim away at it gradually. But there are some unconventional approaches and resources that can help you pay those loans off faster.
Here are five to consider:
- Upromise. The Upromise rewards program is well known as a method for helping parents save up for their children’s college costs by applying reward points to a college savings account, such as a 529. However, few graduates realize they can use the same rewards card to gradually hack away at student loan debt. Their parents, grandparents, and friends can help them by doing the same thing. “The borrower, and anyone else wanting to help the borrower, can open a free Upromise awards program account,” says Reyna Gobel, author of CliffsNotes Graduation Debt and How Smart Students Pay for School. Once you have a Upromise account, you’ll earn a percentage of online shopping purchases you make starting on the Upromise site. Your travel, home, and restaurant purchases may also lead to earning student loan money. Account holders can ask for the money to be directly transferred to repay a Sallie Mae student loan, or a check can be cut and sent for the borrower for use in repaying other loans, Gobel says.
- GradSavers. GradSavers.com brings together college graduates with student loan debt and growing businesses who need help with online sales and marketing tasks. For instance, grads might compose tweets, post items for sale on Craigslist, take surveys, or write blog posts. For each task performed, the grads earn credit that can be used to pay off student loans. Dan Bagby, who just started using the site, plans to spend about six hours per month on GradSavers tasks, and projects that he will pay off an extra $200 per month on his student loan, which totals about $20,000. In March, the site’s top earner received $782 to go towards student loan repayment.
- Half payments. It may sound counterproductive, but paying half a payment biweekly, rather than one payment monthly, can actually take years off the life of your loan. Shannon McNay, community outreach and customer support manager at financial site ReadyForZero, is making half payments on a biweekly basis, and “it’s taking over two years off the life of my 20-year student loan and saving me several thousand dollars,” she says. “Every time I talk to my friends about it, they’re blown away by the savings and ease of making payments this way and they tell me they’ve never heard of it.”
- Crowdfunding. While crowdfunding websites are typically used to fund businesses or other ventures, some college graduates are using these resources to help pay back their student loans. Maybe strangers aren’t likely to help you pay off your college loans, unless you have a particularly heartwarming or heart-wrenching story, but these sites offer platforms that can be used to ask for help from your own family and friends. For instance, TrustLeaf recently launched as a platform for small businesses to raise capital online, but some users are taking advantage of the site as a way to pay off student loans faster, says founder Daniel Lieser. “One user is borrowing money from some friends and family members, paying off the higher-interest student loans and then paying her friends and family a much lower, but still reasonable, interest rate,” he says. “Since she’s about to graduate medical school, her friends and family know she’ll do just fine financially, even if she doesn’t have much money yet.”
- Income-based plans. The standard 10-year repayment plan is not the only option for repaying your student loan debt. That option “often has payments too high for someone with $40,000-plus in student loan debt,” Gobel says. Many borrowers don’t realize there are other, income-based repayment options that may be more affordable. “Depending on the income-based option available to them by loan dates and graduation year, they could have affordable payments with potential partial loan forgiveness after 20 to 25 years of repayment, 10 years if they qualify for public service loan forgiveness,” Gobel says. Rather than choosing forbearance, a temporary payment break, consider a payment plan based on income. With an income-based plan, your interest will be continually paid on subsidized loans, and the repayment period is capped between 20 and 25 years, depending on loan dates and year of graduation.
Are you currently tackling some student loan debt using a payment process listed here? Do you have a payment plan we failed to mention? Fill us in on your student loan success/horror stories…
Freelance journalist Nancy Mann Jackson writes regularly about personal finance, small business, health care, and education. Her work has appeared in Entrepreneur, CNNMoney.com, Bankrate, Working Mother, and many other publications. She lives in Alabama with her husband and their three boys.
Grownups know when to delegate: Get new articles like this delivered right to your inbox by signing up for our newsletter!