7 Tips for How to Pay Off Student Loans
Creating a plan to repay your student loans can help you get out of debt faster and borrow less in the long run.
1. Understand how your student loan debt will affect your future
If you haven’t started repaying your college loans yet, it can be hard to imagine how they could impact your income and lifestyle. Are you going to be able to make enough money to cover your loan payments and support everyday living expenses?
You’ll get some ideas about repaying your student loans by looking at a student loan repayment calculator like 1st Financial Bank USA's Student Loan Repayment and Affordability Calculator. Student loan repayment calculators show your estimated loan payments based on your interest rate and term length of the loan. These calculators help you determine how much of your future salary will go toward your loan payments, and can give you an excellent reality check, preventing you from over-borrowing in college.
2. Start making student loan payments while you're still in school
It may sound impossible to make loan payments while you’re still a college student and not earning a significant income. However, any amount you can put toward your student loans will reduce your debt and help you form responsible saving habits in the long run. If you don’t have other necessary expenses to pay for, use money you earn from a part-time job or other odd jobs to start paying off your debt.
Federal unsubsidized loans and private loans accrue interest during college that will be added to your total loan balance. If you start paying down this interest as soon as possible, it can result in lower debt after graduation.
3. Return your financial aid refunds
After your school receives your college loan disbursement from your lender, it will deduct tuition, fees, and other costs from your total bill. Then the remainder of the loan will be refunded to you. Your return can be used for expenses not billed by the university, such as off-campus rent, books, and supplies, if needed.
If you have money left over after covering these expenses, it can be tempting to spend it. Once you’ve spent your leftover money from the loan, you'll have to pay it back with interest. Instead, return the refund to the lender within their specified time period (usually from 30-120 days) so you stay on track.
4. Pay down high and variable interest loans first
It can be easier and faster to pay off student loans if you make more than the minimum payment each month. If you have multiple college loans with different interest rates, some financial experts suggest paying more than the minimum payment on your highest and variable interest rate loans and making the minimum payment on loans with lower, fixed interest. This strategy can help eliminate or reduce your most expensive college loans faster and protect you from variable interest rates that can raise your monthly payments.
5. Work and save during the "grace period"
Federal college loans don’t require students to start making payments until six months after graduation. This time frame is known as a "grace period." Save as much money as you can during your grace period to put toward your loans, especially if you land a job right out of college.
6. Set up auto-pay
Having your student loan payments automatically deducted from your bank account will prevent you from missing payments and incurring late fees. Even better, some loan servicers offer an interest rate deduction if you sign up for auto-pay. Federal student loans, for example, offer a 0.25% interest rate deduction.
7. Choose the right student loan repayment plan
Look at all the repayment plans available and choose one that works best for your financial goals. Federal college loans offer several repayment options:
- The standard repayment plan sets up the same payment amount every month (with a minimum payment of $50). Unless you have decided to have a different plan, this standard plan is the one you will receive. Students on this plan must pay off their loan in 10 years.
- The graduated plan increases your payments every two years. Students must repay this loan within 10 years.
- The extended plan sets up either a fixed or graduated payment over a period of 25 years.
- The five income-driven plans allow payments to fluctuate according to your annual income, family size, and other factors. For example, the Revised Pay-as-You-Earn plan reduces monthly loan payments to 10 percent of discretionary income and forgives the remaining loan balance after 20-25 years of consistent payments.
You can switch to a different payment plan anytime with no penalty. Just keep in mind that a plan with a lower monthly payment will take longer to pay off, and you'll pay more in interest.
Repaying college loans can be a complicated process. It’s important to understand that paying for college takes consistency and financial stability, and finding the right repayment plan is going to make a big difference. While you’re still in school, try to save as much as possible or start repaying your loans so you have less to pay off later.