College students are pretty familiar with student loan debt. About 60 percent of college graduates have some, with the average debt being almost $28,000. Getting it paid off requires planning and discipline.
What if, however, you look at the average debt and think it’s tiny compared to yours? If you went to medical school, law school, a private university, or even just married a fellow college graduate with loans of their own, you could be looking at over $100,000 in student loans.
You might feel like you’ll never get them paid off. The good news is that it can be done, and there are several options that can help you pay off your student loans. All you need is a solid plan.
For your federal student loans, an income-driven repayment plan could be a great idea. It allows you to make payments based on how much income you’re earning each month. The less you’re making, the less you pay.
This can help you when you’re in an entry-level position in your new career and may not be earning enough to make big payments. Later, when you’ve got a promotion under your belt or have gotten a few raises, you can pay more—and you’re always allowed to make extra payments if you get some extra money.
The best part is that your credit rating will stay intact even though you’re making smaller payments than usual. Unfortunately, there’s still one major drawback; interest keeps accruing, even if you’re on an income-driven program. Those smaller payments will end up costing you more money in the long run.
Student Loan Refinancing
Speaking of interest, another option that can help is to refinance your student loans. Most student loan refinance companies allow you to combine private and federal debt into one payment, hopefully at a lower interest rate. This means you could pay less over time and only have to make one payment each month.
It’s important to be careful when using this option. If you get a refinance loan that lowers your monthly payment but do not receive a much lower interest rate, you may end up paying for a much longer period of time—and interest accrues during that whole period. You might get some relief now, but you won’t pay your loans off for a very long time and it may end up costing you more over the life of the loan.
If you include federal student loan debt when refinancing, you’ll also be giving up the perks that come with federal student loans, such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness. In other words, don’t consolidate or refinance your federal loans unless you’re certain you won’t ever need federal benefits or repayment plans.
Make Your Student Loan Debt a Financial Priority
While it’s certainly not the most popular option, it’s possible to pay off even $100K in student loans in a lot less time than you might think. The main requirement for this option is discipline—and being willing to deny yourself a few things right now, so you can get out from under that debt.
This couple paid off $100,000 in student loan debt in only three years. They did it by making some sacrifices. They made a budget and stuck to it. They chose to use hand-me-down furniture, drove cheaper cars that were fully paid for, and decided to make paying off their debt their top financial priority.
If you have $100K in student loans, you may be in a fairly high-paying profession now. While you might be tempted to go out and buy a new car or home, take a trip to celebrate, or otherwise take advantage of your new income, discipline yourself to keep living like a student instead. It might mean drinking coffee at home, eating less steak and more hot dogs, or telling your friends no when a great new movie comes out. The lifestyle, however, is temporary—and once you’ve paid off your debt, you’ll be that much freer to enjoy the income you worked so hard to get.
Regardless of what repayment schedule you’re on, you should be making more than the minimum payment, if possible. Not only are you paying it down faster, but you’re also cutting down the amount of interest that you'll have to pay.
If you’re at the other end of the spectrum and can’t make payments at all, call your lender immediately. Find out what options you have; federal loans allow you to enter the income-driven repayment plans mentioned above, defer payments, or get a forbearance, which gives you a few months without having to make payments so you can get back on your feet. You could also talk to family members who may be able to make your payments for you until you’re able to take them back on.
Student loans can seem like a huge weight, but no matter how much you have, you can get them paid off. Do some research, make a plan, and get it done.