How to Pay Off Student Loans

Student loan debt is one of the biggest financial challenges facing twenty and thirty-somethings today. As of 2019, U.S. student loan borrowers owed a collective $1.6 trillion, at an average of $29,000 per person. Students pursuing a professional degree can expect a much higher student loan debt—the average medical school graduate owes a whopping $196,000.

Keeping up with loan payments can be tough, and some find it gets in the way of other things like buying a first home. We have tips on paying off your student loans faster, so you can pursue your next dreams.

Step 1: Find Out How Much You Owe

When you graduate from college, you have a grace period of six months before your first student loan payment is due. If you’re like most students, you probably took out more than one loan to pay for your education. So knowing how much you actually owe can be a tricky thing. Once you have all of your loan information, you’ll have a clear picture of what you owe.

Federal student loans

If you have a federal student loan, log in to the National Student Loan Data System. This database is managed by the Department of Education, and can show how much you owe in federal student loans, and who your loan servicer is now.

Private student loans

Finding your balances on private loans is a little more complicated. There is no national database for private loans, so you’ll need to do some investigating. Ask your original lender, talk to your university’s financial aid office, or check your credit report for a listing of all of your lenders.

Step 2: Make a Payment Plan

Now that you know how much you owe, it’s time to come up with a strategy for making payments. You can use a student loan calculator for a quick estimate on how long it will take to pay off your loan to be debt-free, and how extra payments can speed up the process.

Step 3: How to Pay Off Student Loans Faster

One of the most important things you can do to pay off your student loans is making sure you’re paying on time. Depending on your financial situation, you might be able to speed things up and save money with one of these methods.

Start making your payments. This one might seem obvious, but paying your loan on time is crucial. When you miss a payment, you may be charged a late fee (which just makes your debt bigger).

Try autopay. Many loan issuers and banks have auto pay options, so you can set a regular payment date each month and forget all about it. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to make sure your student loan payment is on time.

Use extra income to pay down debt. If you have a tight budget without money for extra payments, there are still ways you can get ahead of student loans. Did you get a raise? A tax refund? A big check for your birthday? Use that money to make an extra payment on your loan balance.

Other Tips: Refinancing Student Loans

When you refinance a student loan, you are transferring your education debt to a new lender, often with a lower interest rate and repayment schedule You can refinance both federal and private loans, and you may be able to get a lower monthly payment. Consolidating your student loans isn’t the same thing. If you consolidate your loans through the federal government, you may qualify for loan forgiveness or income-related payment plans, but you won’t get a lower interest rate.

Student loan debt can be a lot to handle. By starting small and making payments on time, you’ll be one step closer to eliminating that loan and getting closer to being out of debt. Take a look at our tips on debt consolidation for more ideas.


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