Tips & Tools for Getting Out of Student Loan Debt Quickly
Student loan debt is a burden to some 44 million people and whether you owe $20,000 or are chipping away at a six-figure amount, everyone wants to pay off their loans fast but painlessly. Find out how long it will take to reach zero balance and get valuable advice from two graduates who successfully paid off their massive student loan debt quickly.
How Long Will It Take to Pay Off My Loans?
Whether $100,000+ in debt or $15,000, the calculator below will give you an estimate of your monthly payments so you can figure out how long it will take to pay off your student loans.
Choosing a Repayment Plan
Paying back student loan debt can be complicated. Your payment options can vary depending on whether you have a private or federal loan, your job, income and even family size. Although the Federal government provides a range of repayment plans, private student loans do not. Individuals with private student loans must work directly with their lender to discuss options and find one that provides financial flexibility or a lower interest rate.
When selecting a federal repayment plan, it is important to know the following:
- You are automatically placed into the Standard Repayment Plan if you do not select a different option
- You can select a plan that bases your monthly payment on your income
- You can change repayment plans at any time, free-of-charge to meet your financial needs or situation
- If you are a government worker or nonprofit employee, you might qualify to have your student loan balance forgiven
Are you a government employee or do you work for a non-profit?
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program might be right for you. Under this plan, qualifying students with William D. Ford Federal Direct Loans can have their balances forgiven after 120 qualifying loan payments are made while working full-time. To take advantage of this benefit, students who plan to stay in public service should use an income-driven repayment plan to save on monthly payments and ensure they do not pay off their loan prior to receiving loan forgiveness.
Do you have a good job with steady income?
If yes, these repayment plans may be right for you:
You have fixed monthly payments for up to ten years. Although monthly payments may be higher, you save in the long run compared to the two plans below because you pay less in interest during the life of the loan.
A Graduated Repayment Plan is right for individuals who currently have a lower income, but expect it to continually increase in the future. This plan offers low monthly payments that increase every two years for up to ten years.
If you are in a situation where you need long-term, low monthly payments, the Extended Repayment Plan might be right for you. The plan provides either fixed or graduated payment amounts that are generally less than Standard or Graduated Repayment Plans, for up to 25 years.
Are you looking to save on your monthly loan payment?
If your monthly budget is eaten up by loan payments or if you’re seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness, an income-driven repayment plan may be right for you. Designed to be affordable, the monthly payment is determined as a percentage of your discretionary income, which can vary based on your family size and income.
There are four different types of income-driven repayment plans:
Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
20 years for new borrowers and 25 years for non-new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014
10% of your discretionary income for new borrowers and 15% of your income for non-new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014. Neither payment will be higher than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount
Payment must be less than what the monthly 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount would be
Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
10% of your discretionary income, but no higher than the 10-year Standard Repayment amount
You must 1) be a new loan borrower on or after October 1, 2007 and have received a Direct Loan disbursement on or after October 1, 2011.
Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
20 years for loans used for undergraduate study and 25 years for loans used for professional or graduate study
10% of your discretionary income
All borrowers with eligible student loans
*An important note about PLUS loans and the ICR plan for parent borrowers: PLUS loans are not eligible for income-driven repayment plans. However, parents may consolidate Direct or Federal PLUS loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. After doing so, they may use the ICR plan for loan repayment.
You must recertify your family size and income annually to remain on an income-driven repayment plan. If you don’t recertify by the annual deadline, you may be subject to the following:
If you’re under the REPAYE plan
If you’re under the REPAYE plan: You will be moved to an alternative plan. Your monthly payment will not be based on your income and your repayment period adjusts based on the total balance.
If you’re under PAYE, IBR, ICR
your monthly payment will not be based on income – it will be the same as what you would pay on a Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period.
Interest added to principal balance
unpaid interest will be added to the principal balance of your loan, which increases the amount you have to repay.
5 Expert Tips to Repay Your Loans Fast
According to the Institute for College Access & Success, the average student debt for 2016 graduates ranged from $20,000 to more than $36,000. When fresh out of college, dealing with that amount is no small chore. Here are five strategies you can implement to tackle your student loans efficiently and effectively:
Set a budget and cut back expenses
“If you want to live debt free, you have to act like you don’t make any money,” says Michael Burr, HR Professional who paid down his $74,000 student loan debt quickly. This approach may sound extreme, but you need a plan in place to achieve your goal, he notes. To begin, create a monthly budget of all expenses – from car payments to groceries. Then, identify areas of your life where you can reduce or even eliminate spending. For example, student loan attorney Stanley Tate pay off his $100,000 law school loans quickly by cutting or reducing other monthly expenses such as cable TV, car insurance and his daily coffee.
“By reducing expenses, I increased the money I put towards my loans,” he explains.
For Burr? He employed the want versus need system and lived with minimal expenses. He used cash during the week and put all of his extra income towards his student loan debt repayment.
Pay more than the minimum payment each month… strategically
Adding $5, $100 or $500 per month to your payment sounds good in theory, but only if you do it strategically. A critical mistake, Tate says, is not telling loan servicers how you want those additional loan payments applied. Instead of applying it to your principal balance, loan servicers may lower your upcoming payment, extend the repayment period or use those extra funds for future loan payments. If you have multiple loans with the same servicer, you need to make sure you instruct them where and how you want additional payments applied. “Paying off the balance is a good thing, but you need to know where your money is going,” he says.
Understand the terms of your student loan
Many borrowers do not know the types of student loans they have or even the balance, which makes it impossible to pay off debt quickly. The type of loan – federal or private – directly impacts your repayment options. Federal student loans have flexible repayment options and built-in protections for difficult financial times, says Tate.
By knowing and understanding the details of your loans, you can take a smart approach to paying them off. “I first identified my loans, their balances and interest rates. I chose to pay the loans with the lowest balances first,” Tate says.
Make loan payments strategically
After identifying and understanding the specifics of your loan, attack the balances strategically. Tate recommends paying off the loans with the lowest balance first. The next step is to stack payments. Once Tate had paid off one of his smaller loans, he applied that same monthly payment to the loan with the next highest balance. By taking a strategic repayment approach, “You can get small wins that allow you to pay off your loans more quickly,” says Tate.
Select the repayment plan that works best for you
Understanding your loan is the first step, according to Tate, but you have to make sure you also choose the correct repayment plan. For many, he says, that is an income-driven repayment plan with the lowest payment. However, a standard repayment plan with a higher payment may work better for others. The goal, notes Burr, “is not to focus on the total debt load, but to find a repayment plan that works best for your budget.”
What if I Can’t Afford My Payments?
The thought of not being able to make your student loan payments and going into delinquency – or even worse, defaulting – is scary but can be a possibility for many. When times are especially tough, Burr says, “Focus on small victories and not the total debt load. Set a repayment plan that works best for your budget, determine your goal and execute a smart strategy.”
If you are unable to make your monthly payments, the steps outlined below can help ensure you do not end up defaulting.
Let your lender know about your financial situation
The first step is to be upfront with your lender. “Don’t put your head in the sand and ignore your student loans,” says Tate. “Doing that can lead to serious financial harm.” From there, you can work with your lender to find ways to reduce the interest rate or even postpone payments.
Move to an income-driven repayment plan
You can change your repayment plan during any point in the loan period so if you are in a financial bind, switch to a plan that will work better with your current budget. If you are currently on a standard repayment plan, you can save by changing to an income-driven repayment plan. These plan options vary based on income, family size and loan amount. Your monthly payment will be either 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, which is likely less than payment amounts under the 10-year Standard Repayment plan.
Consolidate multiple student loans into a single loan
Delay or reduce your student loan payments
If you are in an overwhelmingly difficult financial situation, you may be able to temporarily reduce or postpone your loan payments through a deferment or forbearance. Each has specific requirements and you must submit a request with documentation to your loan servicer in order to qualify. During a forbearance or deferment period, you do not make student loan payments. Depending on your type of loan, the federal government may pay the interest on the loan during the deferment period. However, with a forbearance (and some deferments), interest continues to accrue and will be added to your outstanding principal balance.
8 Student Loan Terms You Need to Know
The process of combining multiple loans into a new, single loan.
The process of temporarily suspending loan payments. Subsidized federal loans typically do not charge interest during this time, but PLUS and unsubsidized loans accrue interest.
Failing to meet the agreed terms of a loan. Direct Loan and FFEL loans go into default when you don’t make a payment for 270 or 330 days.
A term used to describe your loan status when you do not make payments when they are due.
A plan for temporarily pausing or reducing federal student loan monthly payments. Interest continues to be charged during the forbearance period for PLUS, unsubsidized and subsidized loans.
A period of time that a borrower is not required to make loan payments. For federal loans, this is traditionally a set period of time after the loan borrower graduates, is enrolled less than half-time or leaves school completely. The grace period allows borrowers to get their finances in order and choose a repayment plan.
A company or business that maintains student loan repayment processes, including collecting payments, handling administrative duties and providing customer service to borrowers.
The length of time you have to repay your federal student loans, which may stretch between 10 to 30 years.