A few weeks ago a friend of mine shared a really funny picture on Instagram, it said: “Dear student loans, thank you for getting me through college, I can never repay you.” I will admit it’s a pretty funny meme. But I don't necessarily think it's true.
Student loan debt in the U.S. is out of control at an estimated $1.2 trillion. (source) Can your brain even fathom that number??
According to one report, 59 percent of the overall student loan debt is carried by people who didn’t even finish college. Also, student loan debt from those who didn’t finish school is less like to get paid off, which is both a sad and telling statement about the overall student loan “crisis.”
But student loan debt can be paid off, and in less time than your loan terms indicate. The average debt carried by 2015 graduates (who took out loans) is $35,000. While that is a big number, it is still a number that can get paid off quickly if you have a plan.
While I was fortunate enough to graduate from college with no debts, my husband took out student loans totaling about $20,000 it took us 8 years to pay them off, but at least, they’re gone now.
1. Figure out what you’re dealing with
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to know the terms of your debt. You wouldn’t take out a home loan without knowing the terms would you? Or even exactly how much you owe? It’s important to understand your interest rate and your payment plan.
For example, a friend of mine, who recently paid off ALL her loans, was on an income-based repayment plan. This meant that over the course of 25 years she would make small payments on a regular basis. Then after 25 years her loans would be forgiven. Sounds great. Right? Nope.
This meant being in debt until she was 47 and paying $10,000 of dollars in interest. So instead, she decided to increase her minimum payment by $100 a month. It still took her nearly a decade to pay off that debt, but she did it early and saved herself almost $6,000 in interest.
2. Develop a plan that works for you
My plan isn’t your plan and your plan isn’t mine. Having no plan is the worst plan of all. Just making your minimum payments and watching the days go by won’t get you out of debt. I know that sounds harsh.
Some people recommend a bi-weekly plan where you make half payments on your loan ever other week. This equals one extra full payment a year. That’s a great plan.
Other people look for a side job or sell things to increase their income. That’s also a great plan.
The bottom line is you have to look at where you are and come up with a plan and stick to it.
3. Don’t take on more debt
It’s so tempting when you are a new graduate to start spending money. College was just your sampling of freedom, but chances are you still had parents to answer to and professors to please. Now you’re in the real world with lots of bright and shiny lights to distract you. Don’t get distracted.
A new car with a hefty price tag can wait. A high-end apartment or a new home can wait. Pay down your debts first, or at least, pay down a good chunk of them before you consider borrowing money again. I know this from experience. You will enjoy your car and home more when you have some breathing room.
4. Use found money
Did you get a bonus at work? Great, throw that at your student loans. Did you get a tax return? Wonderful, throw that at your student loans. Did your grandma give you $20 for your birthday? Awesome, throw that at your debt.
Any extra money that doesn’t come from your regular paycheck, throw that at your debt. You would be amazed how quickly it all adds up.
5. Don’t wait for the perfect job
I know that when I graduated from college I expected that the perfect job would be waiting for me. Or at least, a job in my field. Nope. No. I was wrong. It took TWO YEARS after graduating from college to actually find a job in my field and it didn’t pay very well… at all.
But until that time I didn’t sit at home bemoaning the fact that the perfect job wasn’t out there for me. I still worked. I worked in an office as an administrative assistant. It wasn’t my favorite job in the world but it paid my bills and I was good at it. Because it wasn’t a job that took a lot of responsibilities after hours I was able to send out resumes and research jobs until the one I wanted came along.
It’s not always an ideal situation, but the fact is you are already at an advantage because you are a college graduate. Use that advantage.
6. Know it takes time
I know it’s frustrating. You want to be out of debt now. You spend four years earning your degree and now you feel like you’re spending forever paying it off. It’s not going to happen overnight. But if you stick with it you will get it paid off.
What about you? Are you in student debt and what are you doing to pay if off faster?