For many college graduates, student loans are an unfortunate reality. With the cost of college rapidly outpacing inflation, most students have no choice but to take on debt in order to obtain an education. This leaves many struggling with large monthly payments after graduation and attempting to balance student loan obligations with other goals, like saving for retirement or for a down payment on a house.
If you are like many graduates, you want to pay off your loans as quickly as possible—but you aren’t exactly sure how to go about doing it. A good place to start is understanding basic loan terms and how the length of your loan can impact the amount that you pay. The standard repayment period for federal student loans is 10 years, or 120 months. Most private student loans also have a 10-year repayment period.
However, some student loans have repayment terms that range from 5 to 15 years. Read on to learn how the choices that you make can affect how long it takes to pay off student loans.
How Long Does It Take to Pay Back Student Loans With These Repayment Options
If You Refinance Your Student Loans
When you refinance student loans you can reduce the interest rate or obtain a lower fixed interest rate. In refinancing, you are essentially taking out a new loan that is used to pay off your old student loans—and then making payments on your new loan. Because you have a choice as to the loan term for the new, refinanced loan, refinancing your student loans can either extend the amount of time it takes to pay off your student loans or shorten it.
If you choose to go with a reduced loan term, your monthly payments for your student loans may be higher, even if you qualify for a lower interest rate. This might seem like a bad thing, but it is actually good; you’ll be paying more towards principal rather than interest. The upside is that you will pay off your loans more quickly and pay less on your loans overall. If you extend your loan term, then your monthly payment will likely drop—but you will pay more over time. It may also take you longer to pay off your loans.
If You Go On an Income-Driven Repayment Plan
Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans are options offered by the Department of Education for students who cannot afford their monthly federal student loan payments under the standard 10-year repayment plan. Going onto an IDR plan will have the immediate effect of lowering your monthly payment, which helps in the short-term, because it makes your student loans far more affordable. However, depending on which plan you qualify for, it will extend your payment term to between 20 and 25 years.
An IDR plan may be necessary depending on your financial situation. Be aware that it means that you will be paying off your student loans for 20 to 25 years, which will cost more in the long run. After that time, any portion of your student loans that are not paid off will be forgiven, and that amount will be taxed as income.
If You Make More Than the Minimum Payment
For anyone who is committed to paying off their student loans as quickly as possible, adding extra money to their monthly payments is another way to get out of debt faster. The amount of time that you can shave off of your student loan repayment term will depend on a number of factors, such as how much you owe, your interest rate, and how much extra you put towards your loans each month.
For example, if you have $30,000 in student loans with an interest rate of 6%, adding just $100 per month to your payment will save you over $1500—and take 18 months off of your loan term. If you put in $200 a month extra towards your student loan payments, you will shave off a whopping 30 months and over $2,500!
The way it works is fairly straightforward. When you make a student loan payment, the amount that you pay goes to interest first, and then anything that is left over goes to paying down the principal. When you add more money to your student loan payments, you are able to pay off more of your principal instead of just putting most of your money towards interest. In that way, you can get out of debt more quickly. The more you can put towards your loans, the faster you will be able to pay them off.
While every person’s financial situation is different, there are choices that many people can make to try to pay off their student loans more quickly. Understanding how long terms work is the first step in making smart decisions about your own student loans.