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Student loan debt is now over $1.4 trillion. Yep, let that sink in. The Class of 2016 (latest data) graduated with an average of $37,000 in student loans.
Student loans stressing you out? You’re not alone.
Student loans are a big problem for many people. They contribute to the delay of many life events like travel, marriage, kids, saving for retirement, buying a house. Aside from big life events, they can also affect your day to day, robbing you of the ability to have a greater quality of life that being debt-free would entail.
There was a strong sense of relief I had when I finished paying off my student loans and became debt-free. No, it wasn’t some mega event where rockets shot out and confetti rained down on me. However, it did feel good.
After seeing the final payment go through, I finally felt like I had a little bit more control of my life. More options.
Student loans stress out a lot of people. Destroying them is a long battle filled with ups and downs. If you’re feeling like student loans are stressing you out, there are some things you can do.
Assess the Situation
You probably have a general idea of what your student loan debt is. It’s the number you see when you log in to your loan provider account.
Seeing the number is a good start, but it’s best to lay out your student loans. Lay them out to get a clear picture of where each payment is going and what the current state of them is.
- Remaining balance
- Interest rate
- Monthly payment
- When they will be gone if you keep paying the minimum monthly payment.
A great free tool I found for managing this is Undebt.it. You sign up for an account, input your various debt amounts and interest rates, and it will tell you the projected payoff date depending on how much you put towards your debt every month.
Undebt.it lets you follow the debt payoff plan you choose. This can either be the debt snowball (lowest balance first), debt avalanche (debt with highest interest rate first) or your own custom plan.
The tool is free to use. It can be a great way to visually see your progress as you pay off your debt. I used and loved Undebt.it during my own student loan payoff journey. Seeing the progress I was making is what helped me stay on track and keep from getting discouraged.
Understand Your Federal Benefits
I graduated college with $21,000 in student loans. All of that debt was in the form of subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans. For an increasing number of college students, this isn’t the case.
The gap between federal loan limits and college costs continues to grow wider. As a result, more people are taking out private student loans in addition to federal student loans.
If most or all of your student loans consist of federal loans, then you have many repayment options on your side.
Standard 10-year repayment: The most common type of repayment plan. You pay a set monthly amount for 10 years.
Graduated repayment: lower amount at the start, increase in monthly payment every two years. 10-year overall repayment term. Benefits of this can be lower payments when you’re making a low entry-level salary. As your salary increases, the monthly payment does, making it manageable for some.
Extended repayment plan: extends your repayment term to 25 years. The monthly payment is a fixed or graduated amount.
Income-driven repayment plan: monthly payment is a percentage of the total income you make.
The extended, graduated, and income-driven plans can be great if you’re struggling to make the minimum payments while on the standard plan. The downside is you pay more in interest over time.
Go through each of the plans and weight the pros and cons to find the one to best fit your situation. It’s all about what works for you and helps make the debt manageable.
See if You Can Refinance Your Student Loans
The higher the interest rate, the more you pay.
The journey to paying off student loans is often a years long process. If you have student loans with high-interest rates, consider refinancing them. Doing so could save you thousands of dollars over the course of your repayment journey.
One of the things I have wondered about my own student loan payoff journey is how much I would have saved if I had refinanced them. I didn’t have any private loans. They were all federal loans with interest rates of 4-5%. I did, however, have a big unsubsidized student loan with a 6.8% interest rate that dragged me down a lot.
I’ve stories of people being able to save up to $20,000 on their student loans by refinancing them to get a lower interest rate. This usually happens to people with a lot of private (i.e. high interest) student loans.
LendEDU is a great tool to use if you’re considering refinancing your student loans. 10 questions and three minutes is all it takes to find and compare the best interest rates from several different student loan refinancing companies.
Explore ways to pay off your student loans faster
Usually, this involves making more money. Finding ways to grow your income can be tricky at first. Start by identifying some low-hanging fruit. This can be taking surveys, using cash back credit cards, and cashback sites.
Taking surveys can be a good way to make a little bit of money in your downtime, like when you’re watching TV. You’re not going to get big bucks from them. In my personal experience and from what I’ve seen, you can probably make about $50-100 a month taking surveys.
Cashback credit cards can be really good. You probably have several regular, recurring expenses like groceries, cell phone bill, gas, rent, and auto insurance. Why not put those expenses on a cashback credit card and get rewards?
I have a Discover It Card that earns me 1% cash back and 5% in rotating categories. I also have the Ebates cash back browser extension installed so I can earn cash back on my online purchases. I’m able to redeem my cashback by sending it to my bank account or getting things like an Amazon gift card, which allows me to buy books (I love books!).
After you’ve implemented some simple ways to make a little extra cash, it’s time to step up the game. Look into how you can start and grow a side hustle that can yield you a nice little stash of side income.
Arm yourself with some knowledge to get going. Read books on side hustling to get in the growth mindset. Become a frequent visitor to freelance/side hustle focused websites. My favorites are Side Hustle Nation, The Write Life, and the And.Co blog.
Starting a blog can a great way to build your skillset and a side hustle. When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing (sometimes I feel like I still don’t….haha). Along the way, I started to improve.
A blog allows you to gain experience in digital marketing topics and parlay it into different side hustles like freelance writing, social media management, virtual assistant, and digital marketing consultant.
My first freelance writing client came about because the person read my blog, liked it, and decided to hire me to write content for their website.
Pick a Debt Payoff Plan
Debt snowball or debt avalanche? It’s a constantly debated topic about which one is better.
The debt snowball method involves paying down the debts with the lowest balances first. This allows for quicker gratification since you’re able to pay the debt off faster.
The debt avalanche involves paying off the debt with the highest interest rate off first. Mathematically, the debt avalanche saves you more in interest since you’re saving money on interest by paying off the highest interest debt first.
The answer? Whatever the heck works for you. The important thing is to get on a debt payoff plan. So many people don’t and just get by on paying the minimum. Be strategic!
Student loans stress a lot of people out. They suck. I’m pretty sure that’s something most people can agree on.
If your student loans are stressing you out, start mending the situation by taking some small steps. Understand your student loans, figure out their interest rates, see how they fit into your monthly budget. Take action and find different ways to destroy them.
Are student loans stressing you out? How do you manage them?