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15 helpful tips to pay off student loans faster

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Say goodbye to your student debt faster and save on interest.

With student loan debt consistently reaching record highs for the past 18 years, wanting to get out of it as fast as possible is understandable. But with such high debt loads, that can feel impossible, especially if you don’t make six figures. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. Here’s how you can speed up your student loan payment period more quickly.
LendKey Student Loan Refinancing (with AutoPay)

LendKey Student Loan Refinancing

Find competitive rates and unmatched loan benefits from LendKey’s network of not-for-profit lenders.

  • Maximum amount: 300000
  • Minimum amount: 7500
  • Repayment term options: 5, 7, 10, 15 or 20 years
  • Fixed and variable rate options available
  • Must be a US citizen or permanent resident
  • Must have an undergraduate or graduate degree

    1. Figure out your payoff date

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      Knowing when you’re due to completely pay off your student loan is the first step toward making any adjustments to your repayment plan. It can help to budget how much extra you’ll need to pay monthly to move that date sooner.

      Not interested in doing the math yourself? Reach out to your lender to find out when you’re set to be free from your student debt. Once you know this, you can be strategic about how to speed things up.

    2. Make extra payments

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      The quickest and easiest way to pay off your student debt is to pay a little more than you owe each month. It’s not always as simple as it sounds though: You might have to notify your loan servicer or lender that you want your extra payments to go toward your principal, not toward future repayments (which happened to us). If it’s applied towards a future repayment, then the lender will ask you for less next month and it won’t have an impact on lowering your overall loan principal.

      You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars extra for it to be worth the contribution. Even setting up autopay at an amount $10 to $50 higher than the amount due can make a dent in how much time you need to pay off your student loans.

      Say you had $40,000 in student debt with a 5% interest rate and a 15-year term. Here’s how much time you can save by making extra payments to your principle.

    Extra repaymentMonthly repaymentTime needed to pay off loanTime savedSavings on interest
    $0 per month$31615 years0 years$0
    $10 per month$32614.4 years0.6 years$837
    $20 per month$33613.8 years1.3 years$1,592
    $50 per month$36612.3 years2.8 years$3,478
    $100 per month$41610.3 years4.7 years$5,751
    $200 per month$5167.8 years7.2 years$8,557

    3. Refinance or consolidate

    • Difficulty level: Medium

      If you’re stuck with high-interest or long-term student loans, you might want to consider consolidating or refinancing your student loan. This involves taking out a new loan with lower rates or a different loan term — or both — that better fits your personal needs.

      Refinancing can take some time — usually around a month — and can be as involved as applying for your original student loans, if not more. You also might need a cosigner to qualify for the rates you want if your credit score isn’t excellent or if you don’t meet the minimum income requirements.

      You might want to skip this one if you have federal loans. Those come with benefits that private lenders don’t offer — and could potentially help you get out of debt even faster.

    Compare student loan refinancing options

    Rates last updated June 19th, 2018
    Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR Product Description
    SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Variable Rate (with Autopay)
    Good to excellent credit
    full balance of your qualified education loans
    2.63%–7.695% (variable)
    A leader in student loan refinancing, SoFi can help you refinance your loans and pay them off sooner.
    LendKey Student Loan Refinancing (with AutoPay)
    660
    $300,000
    2.58%–18% (variable)
    Find competitive rates and unmatched loan benefits from LendKey’s network of not-for-profit lenders.
    Education Loan Finance Student Loan Refinancing
    Good to excellent credit
    None
    3.09%–6.69% (fixed)
    Lower your student debt costs with manageable payments, affordable rates and flexible terms.
    EDvestinU Consolidation & Refinancing Program
    700
    $200,000
    3.85%–7.45% (variable)
    Earnest Student Loan Refinancing Variable Rate (w/ autopay)
    650
    no maximum
    2.57%–5.87% (variable)
    Get a tailored interest rate and repayment plan with no hidden fees.
    LendingTree Student Loans
    Good to excellent credit
    Varies by lender
    2.55%–9.75% (fixed)
    Compare multiple student loans and student loan refinancing options in one place.
    Purefy Student Loan Refinancing
    620
    $90,000
    2.00%–7.98% (variable)
    Refinance all types of student loans — including federal and parent PLUS loans.
    Credible Student Loan Refinancing
    Good to excellent credit
    None
    2.57%(As low as ) (variable)
    Get prequalified offers from top student loan refinancing providers in one place.

    Compare up to 4 providers

    4. Get out of that graduated repayment plan ASAP

    • Difficulty level: Medium

      That 25-year graduated repayment plan that starts with $200 monthly payments might have sounded great while you were working as a freelance journalist in a foreign country (aka broke). But once you have a steady income that’s high enough to pay more than twice that amount, move on to another repayment plan with the shortest term you can afford.

      If you have federal loans, you can usually change your repayment plan by contacting your servicer. If you have private loans, however, you might have to refinance your loan with another lender.

    5. Avoid deferment or forbearance

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      If your finances run into a rough patch, consider cutting down on other areas of spending first before applying for forbearance or deferment. These not only increase your loan amount, they can also lengthen your loan term, depending on the situation, keeping you in debt longer.

    6. Spend extra money on repayments

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      You can make a big difference in paying off your student debt if you use money you didn’t count on receiving — birthday presents, inheritances, lottery winnings, tax refunds — to make an extra repayment on your student loans.

      If it’s not something your budget is going to miss and you don’t have any other pending large expenses, these can make enormous dents in your student debt and can save you potentially years of repayment, depending on the amount. That vacation to Hawaii or 16th pair of kicks can wait until you’re debt-free.

    7. Use your raise — or part of a raise

    • Difficulty level: Medium

      Just got a raise? Up for one soon? Consider putting it toward your student debt instead of buying a new car or apartment. In fact, if you hold off on large purchases that require financing, you’ll likely get a better deal on interest anyway because your debt-to-income ratio will be lower.

      You don’t need to use your entire raise amount if you need extra funds to cover cost of living expenses or other essentials. Even taking half of your raise could help you pay off your student debt more quickly.

    8. Get a job that offers forgiveness

    • Difficulty level: Hard

      The federal government forgives student loans from borrowers that participate in its public service or teacher loan forgiveness program. This involves working at an approved institution for several years in exchange for having part or all of your student debt forgiven.

      While you might not want to change your entire career path, it could be worth it to read up on the requirements if you’ve considered these jobs.

      If you go this route and stand to have most of your debt forgiven, consider signing up for a graduated or income-based repayment plan. That way, you won’t have to make quality-of-life sacrifices in the meantime, as many of these jobs don’t come with high salaries.

    9. Cut expenses and stick to a budget

    • Difficulty level: Medium

      This can be as involved as you want it to be. If you’re desperate to get out of debt as soon as possible, consider moving to a cheaper apartment, bargain hunting and hold off on dining out until your debt is paid off.

      But it doesn’t have to be that extreme. Something as simple as canceling your cable, cutting back on the booze or limiting how often you dine out can help you pay off your student debt faster.

      Don’t want to do that? Even making a realistic budget can help you cut down on excess spending.

      How to make a budget

    10. Take advantage of that autopay discount

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      Many lenders and loan servicers offer a 0.25% discount on your interest rate just for signing up for autopay. While this might not help much if you have a small amount of student loans, high student debt loans can save a significant amount by even the tiniest reduction in interest. And less interest means less money you have to pay, which means getting out of debt sooner.

      Signing up for autopay also comes with added benefits of no longer needing to keep track of when your repayments are due and risking late payments. Just be sure to set it up with an account that you’re sure will consistently have enough funds to make repayments — otherwise your loan could become delinquent without you even realizing it.

    11. Make payments every two weeks

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      Take your monthly repayment, divide it in half and make that payment every two weeks. Two weeks is just under half a month — enough that it’ll make a difference but not enough for you to really notice it, especially if you get paid every two weeks.

      By the end of the year, you’ll have made one extra payment without feeling any major financial pinch.

    12. Pay off your debt strategically

    • Difficulty level: Hard

      If you have multiple student loans, you can use one of these two popular strategies to pay off your debt more quickly:

      • Avalanche method. You pay off your loan with the highest interest rate and continue until all of your debt is paid off. The logic is that this method will help you save the most on interest, which translates into less time spent repaying your loans.
      • Snowball method. Involves paying off your loans in size order — with the lowest debt amount first. The logic of this is that paying off your smaller loans first will give you an emotional boost that can motivate you to stick to your plan. You won’t save as much on interest.

    Interested in refinancing? Compare providers now

    13. Use your tax deductions and credits to pay off debt

    • Difficulty level: Easy

      One of the nice things about paying off federal loans — and some private loans — while you’re just starting out in your career is that you can often deduct the amount you pay in interest from your income taxes. Typically you can deduct up to $2,500 each year and use those savings to pay off your loans.

      If you’re in school, just graduated or are in a training program for your job, you might qualify for a full refund of up to $2,500 for eligible education expenses, which you can then put toward paying off your student debt. You can’t qualify for both of these, however, so if you have a choice between the two, you might want to go with the refund — it’s usually worth more.

    14. Start before you graduate

    • Difficulty level: Medium

      Most college students are strapped for cash, but paying what you can toward your student loans, even while in school, can reduce your loan principle, which in turn lowers the interest you owe in the long run.

      Even if you start making interest-only repayments while in school, this could reduce your loan principle because once your student loans begin, your lender will capitalize your interest, or add it to your principle.

      Just a few repayments here and there from part-time jobs or one-time gigs is all it takes to potentially save you thousands of dollars in the long run and get you out of debt sooner.

    15. Move back in with your parents

    • Difficulty level: Somehow both easy and hard

      There’s no way around it: Rent is one of the largest expenses you’re responsible for each month. If you can keep your job and moving expenses are reasonable, consider moving back in with your parents — especially if you live in an expensive city like San Francisco or New York.

      Live as you would while living on your own — or as much as you can — and put the money you’d be spending on rent, and possibly food, toward your student loans to pay them off quicker.

    How to get in that student debt-free mindset

    Understand what “good debt” really means

    You might have heard that student loans are a type of “good debt.” And it’s partly true — borrowing to pay for higher education can help you get a higher salary and live a more fulfilling life.

    But just because it comes with rewards doesn’t mean it’s good to keep around. The longer you take to pay off student loans, the more you’ll end up paying in interest. And while a long loan term can help you build up a long credit history, it also means you might have trouble qualifying for other types of credit because you have a high debt-to-income ratio.

    Visualize a debt-free you

    If The Secret taught us anything, it’s that it’s difficult to achieve goals that we can’t even imagine. This might sound like some cornball bullpucky but it can seriously help you reduce stress and stay focused on what really matters.

    If just thinking about living a life without student loans isn’t enough, try adding up how much you’ll save each month and envision what you could do with that money. Maybe it’s moving to a nicer apartment. Maybe it’s having cable again (ha, just kidding — cable is basically dead). Maybe it’s checking off some items on your bucket list. It’s up to you: It’s your imagination.

    Bottom line

    Cutting down on the time it’ll take to pay off your student debt isn’t impossible, but it takes some planning. Staying sane while you’re doing it is also a challenge. Keep your eye on the goal and don’t deprive yourself of the things that make your life worth living — otherwise you could get discouraged and give up.

    Have more questions about student loans? Check out our student loans guide to learn about your options.

    Anna Serio

    Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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