Part of providing for yourself after graduation may repaying student loans, which can be a major responsibility. In fact, statistics on student debt show 7 out of 10 graduates hold student loan debt, with an average debt of just under $30,000.
If you’re like most borrowers, you likely want to find the fastest way to pay off student loans. Paying off your loans quickly will help you save money on your student debt and achieve other goals like buying a car or saving for retirement.
Fortunately, there are several key strategies for tackling student debt fast. LendEDU has found these 12 ways to pay off student loans fast, along with some key details on how to decide which debt to pay first.
1. Pay more than the minimum
Paying more than the minimum and putting the extra money toward reducing your principal balance is the fastest way to become debt free.
This strategy lowers the remaining amount due and, because interest is calculated on your remaining balance, reduces total interest owed.
You can set up an automatic monthly payment for more than the minimum to ensure you always pay a little extra. You can also take extra money you earn, such as a year-end bonus, and apply it to your loan balance.
2. Refinance your student loans
Refinancing involves getting a new loan at a lower interest rate. If you keep payments the same or increase them, but reduce your interest rate, you’ll pay less in interest in the long term. And more of your payment will go toward reducing the principal balance with student loan refinancing.
** Read More:** Should I Refinance My Student Loans?
You give up important protections on federal student loans by refinancing such as the ability to use an income-driven repayment plan, and you need to qualify for a new loan based on your income and credit score. However, if you’re eligible, the savings from a lower interest rate can be substantial.
Instead of paying your loan monthly when the payment is due, you can divide your required payment in two and pay it every two weeks.
This little trick does help you pay off your student loans faster because you will end up making 26 payments, which amounts to 13 months’ worth of payments instead of the 12 you would have paid with once-a-month payments.
4. Pay off high-interest loans first
Some of your student loans may charge interest at a higher rate than others. If you can pay those more expensive loans with higher interest rates off first, you’ll save more on your total interest.
Read More: Which Student Loans to Pay Off First
While you’ll need to pay the minimum on every loan you hold, putting any extra cash towards your highest interest loans first helps pay them down faster. That leaves loans with your lower interest rates to accrue interest for a longer period of time, rather than the loans with the high interest rates.
5. Take advantage of interest rate reductions
Many student loan servicers provide a deduction on interest if you set up auto-pay. Some also reduce interest after you’ve made a certain number of on-time payments.
Interest rate reduction programs vary among lenders, so find out what your options are with getting your lender to reduce your rate. And remember, even a slight interest rate reduction can make a big difference if you’re dealing with $100K in student loan debt.
6. Create a budget
With a budget that includes student loan repayment, you’ll be more mindful where your money goes and can plan for more money to be put towards paying off student loans early and you can eliminate debt faster.
To create a budget, track your spending to see where you’re going overboard. Budget for necessities first, such as rent and food. Then, work some money into the budget for extra student loan payments before allocating for your wants.
When you abide by your budget and make extra payments every month, your student loan debt will disappear more quickly.
7. Work for an employer offering repayment assistance
Employer student loan repayment assistance is growing in popularity as a workplace benefit. Employers who offer this benefit pay a certain amount of money towards employees’ student debt each month. Amounts vary, but typically employers offer around $100 to $300 monthly.
When you work for a company that offers this benefit, keep paying the minimums yourself and use the extra funds from your employer to pay down the balance more quickly.
8. Avoid extended repayment terms
Many federal student loan repayment options, including income-based plans, extend the time to pay off your loan.
While this can make your monthly payment lower and help in times of financial hardship, it’s best to avoid extended plans if your goal is to pay off your loans faster. You’ll pay more in interest when you stretch out your repayment period, and it will take years longer to become debt free than if you stuck with the standard plan.
9. Utilize tax deductions
For most student loan borrowers, you can take a tax deduction of up to $2,500 annually for student loan interest. When you take this student loan interest tax deduction based on the actual amount of interest you pay, it reduces your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), so you pay less in taxes.
However, if your income exceeds $65,000 as an individual or $140,000 if you are married filing jointly, you lose part of the deduction. And you lose the full deduction if you make at least $80,000 as an individual or $130,000 if married filing jointly.
10. Use extra cash to make lump-sum payments
A LendEDU survey found that over half of student borrowers who are able to pay off their student loans in one to five years made at least one lump sum payment of at least $5,000, making this one of the best strategies for paying off student loans fast.
When you come into some extra money for example from a tax refund, don’t spend the cash. Instead, put the funds towards paying off your student debt with extra payments or a larger payment. This will reduce the principal balance you owe, so it will reduce your interest and the outstanding amount you have to pay back.
11. Utilize loan forgiveness programs
If you work in a qualifying public service job, you can get your debt forgiven after you make 120 on-time payments. This strategy does require you to pay for about a decade. But, after about 10 years, you can have your remaining balance, which allows you to become debt free much faster. Public Service Loan Forgiveness has strict criteria, so know the rules if you want the government to forgive part of your debt.
There are also other student loan forgiveness programs that you may be eligible for; just be sure to read the fine print before pursuing one of these options.
12. You can join the military
If you join the military with some student loan debt, you may be able to pay it off using the GI Bill or another form of relief, such as military student loan forgiveness.
Typically, you’ll need to commit to a certain number of years in the active military to get help with your debt. Research some of the different programs to find out requirements and explore your options.
Understanding your student loan repayment
When you’re committed to paying off your debt as soon as possible, it’s helpful to understand your loans so you’ll know how to prioritize. This chart shows some of the key differences between federal and private loans:
Federal student loans have many benefits, including fixed interest rates and student loan forgiveness programs. Because of those benefits, it often makes sense to prioritize paying off private student loans first if you have multiple student loans. You’ll need to know you know how much you owe and make a personalized plan for your situation.
Determine how much you owe
To make your student loan repayment plan, first list all your debt, including both federal and private loans.
- You can find out your debt balances by using the National Student Loans Data System to identify federal loans. Check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to find your private loans.
- Contact each lender to find out the interest rate and outstanding balance, and make a list of all you owe.
Also, list all your income coming in each month, as well as your expenditures. This will give you an idea of how much extra money you can put toward your student loan debt.
Decide which student loans to pay off first
Take your list of loans and determine how long it will take you to pay them off on your current plan. Then, decide which of your student loans to send extra money to so you can get those paid off as soon as possible. Typically, you should focus on:
- High-interest loans first
- Private loans before federal loans
By paying off your highest interest loans first, you’ll make the most efficient use of your money. Typically, this means paying off your private student loans first. Even some of the best private student loans will have rates higher than offered on federal student loans.
Explore federal repayment plan options
Finally, when you’re trying to pay off student loans quickly, it’s helpful to understand federal repayment plan options, including:
- Standard Repayment Plan. Has fixed payments and allows you to repay your loans in 10 years.
- Graduated Repayment Plan. Allows you to start with lower payments that gradually increase as your income rises.
- Extended Repayment Plan. Is available for certain borrowers and allows you to repay your loans over a long time period.
- Income-Driven Repayment Plans. Cap payments at a percentage of monthly income. Learn more here.
The standard repayment plan allows you to pay off your debt more quickly, so it may be the best choice if that is your goal.
But, if you’re trying to pay off private loans first, you may want to opt for a plan that allows lower monthly payments – such as a graduated plan – so you have more cash to put toward private loans. Once your private student debt is paid, you can switch back to the standard plan and increase your payments to get those federal loans paid.
By being strategic about how you pay off your debt, you can pay off your student loans much faster so you won’t have student debt weighing on your finances.