If paying off your student loans feels way far away—or even worse, totally impossible—hold on just a minute. Yes, paying off your student loans can seem totally overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Whether you’ll be graduating from college soon or you’ve been trying to kick those student loans to the curb for a decade, you can make a plan for paying off student loans quickly.
Let’s set some expectations first. There is no magic plan for paying off your student loans. I don’t have a special trick to share or a way to help you get rid of it all in 30 days flat. It’s not going to happen overnight. Sorry, guys.
But by following these steps, you can get on a fast track to dumping your student loan debt for good. Paying off your student loans takes time, hard work, and a whole lot of sacrifice, but it’s totally doable! Let’s make it happen.
1. Get on a Budget
Y’all, this is serious. If you’re not already doing this, now is the time to make a budget and stick to it. A zero-based monthly budget will show you exactly where your money is going and where you can cut back. You might even find “extra” money you didn’t know you had (praise!).
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Throw that money at your student loans each month, and you’ll be making progress in no time.
With the free budgeting app EveryDollar, you can even put a line item in your budget for each student loan you’re paying off. That way you’ll see the progress as you keep crushing that student loan debt—and you’ll feel pretty BA in the process.
2. Pay More Than the Minimum Payment
You’ve probably heard this one before. If you’re only paying the minimum payment each month, you’re not getting anywhere fast. You might not even be breaking even with the interest you’re piling up! By making larger payments, you’ll be able to attack the amount you owe at a quicker rate. You can use the Student Loan Payoff Calculator to figure out how quickly you can pay off your loans by making extra payments.
Here’s an example:
- Let’s say you have the typical $35,000 in student loan debt that the average student graduates with.1 (That number could be made up of multiple loans, but for the sake of this example, we’ll say it‘s all one loan.)
- With a 6% interest rate (typical interest rates range from 4.53–7.08%) and a 10-year loan term (which is also common), you’d be looking at a minimum monthly payment of about $389.2
- Because of interest, your total repayment amount would be $46,629—that’s $11,629 more than your original loan! What even.
- But let’s say you decided to pay just 20% more (that’s $77) than your minimum payment each month. That would put your monthly payment at around $466—which means you’d pay off your entire loan in about eight years and save over $2,600 in interest!
- If you paid over 20% more than your minimum payment each month, you’d pay off your loan even faster. You get the picture!
Word to the wise, though: When you pay more than the minimum monthly payment, the student loan servicers might put that extra amount onto next month’s payment. That pushes the due date back, but you won’t actually pay off your loan any faster. Tell your loan servicer to keep next month’s due date the same and to just apply the extra amount of money to your current loan balance.
All that said, if you’re having trouble even making the minimum payment each month, you might think the idea of paying more money is a total joke. With that in mind . . .
3. Make Some Financial Sacrifices
Remember when I brought up sacrifice earlier? Here’s where it comes into play.
Look at your lifestyle. What extra stuff have you been living with that you can do without? Bye, cable package. See ya, bougie subscription boxes. Maybe cut your housing cost in half by finding a roommate. Do you have a guest room that’s not getting much use these days? Rent that sucker out! Just think how quickly you could pay off your loans if your housing costs were cut way down.
How about selling some junk you don’t need anymore? Dig through your closet, garage and storage to see what you could put on eBay or Craigslist. Then, add up what you spend eating out every week. Ditch the lattes and brew your own coffee at home. Have leftovers (they’re not that bad) or meal prep for the week instead of spending $10–20 on lunch. Trust me—there are plenty of creative ways to save.
4. Pay Off Student Loans With the Debt Snowball
The debt snowball method has helped a ton of people dump their debt, and it can work for student loans too. List all your loan debts (that includes private loans, secured loans, unsecured loans—you name it) from smallest balance to largest. Start paying on the smallest student loan balance first. Throw any extra money you have into paying off that first debt while still paying the minimums on everything else.
Once you’ve paid off the first debt, move to the second-smallest balance. Take everything you were putting toward the first one and add it to the minimum of the second balance. Once that debt is paid, move on to the next one and repeat the process until you’re finally out of debt. Boom.
You might be thinking, Nope—this is going to take forever! I mean . . . it’s definitely not going to happen overnight. But as you work the debt snowball method, you’ll feel the progress you’re making as each student loan disappears. Knocking those smaller loans out first will give you a couple of quick wins and help you stay motivated to start crushing the bigger student loans fast!
Just make sure you don’t pocket the payment money as you pay off each loan—keep the momentum going by rolling that money into the next loan payment. You’ll thank ya boy later.
5. Apply Every Raise and Tax Refund Toward Paying Off Your Student Loans
What do most people do when they get a raise? They blow through it like it’s nothing. And then they wonder why it felt like they didn’t get a raise.
As you keep killing it in your career and getting promotions as you go, put your extra income toward paying off those student loans. Don’t move to a bigger house. Don’t buy a new car. Don’t buy any designer threads. And don’t upgrade your smartphone. Use your income boost to make major progress in your fight against student loan debt!
The same goes for your tax refund. How many people do you know who take that “free money” and burn it all on new furniture or a 55-inch flat screen? Here’s a tip: Your tax refund isn’t free money from the government. They’re just giving you back the money you already paid them because you gave them too much. Take that refund and put it directly toward paying off a big chunk of your student loans!
6. Increase Your Income With a Side Hustle
If your biggest problem is income, pick up a part-time job on the nights or weekends that can help you stack cash quickly. Then, toss that extra cash directly at your student loan debt! There’s a ton of side hustle options out there—everything from driving an Uber, to walking dogs, to house-sitting.
Remember, the extra job won’t last forever. You’re just trying to get intense and kick that student loan debt out of your life.
7. Don’t Bank on Student Loan Forgiveness
Listen up, y’all: I know people probably told you that taking out student loans was no big deal because you could just get them forgiven later.
But student loan forgiveness isn’t really the dream come true it sounds like. There are plenty of requirements you have to meet in order to be eligible (like working in a public service job for 10 years). And even then, forgiveness isn’t guaranteed. You’re better off having a job that pays well—that you actually like—so you can go ahead and pay off the debt as fast as you can. That way you won’t spend years of your life waiting to have your loans forgiven.
8. Refinance Student Loans if It Makes Sense
Before you go running into the arms of an all-too-eager lender, know that refinancing student loans is not the right move for everyone. When you refinance, you’re taking your loans—federal, private, often a mix of both—to a lender who pays them off for you. And now you owe this new lender the money they just fronted you.
With a refinance, the goal is to secure a better rate and payment terms—which mean you pay less each month and for a shorter amount of time to one lender instead of more money for a longer period of time to one or more lenders.
If you’re in a position to keep paying the same amount you were paying before you refinanced, even better. Because that means you’re throwing more at the principal each month than you were before and avoiding more interest. Plus—and here’s the best part—if you’ve got other debt outside your newly refinanced student loan, you can ramp up your debt snowball even faster once you knock out that student loan. (Head back to #4 for a debt snowball crash course!)
Remember though, you’re refinancing to get a better rate and payment terms. If that’s not what you’re being offered, do not refinance. You’ve got to do your homework, or you could end up deeper in the hole than you were before.
9. Stay Motivated and You’ll Destroy Your Student Loan Debt ASAP!
Look, I’m not here to beat you up over taking out student loans in the past. But I do want you to experience the power of living debt-free. There’s no need to drag out your student loan payments for the next 10 years or more. When your money doesn’t have Sallie Mae’s name on it every month, you can do so much more with it!
One last pro tip: Taking a class like Financial Peace University (FPU) can help you stay on the debt-free grind and learn plenty of other strategies for getting rid of your debt as fast as humanly possible. We’re offering a free, 14-day trial of FPU—the program that has changed more than 6 million lives—and it’s available 24/7 online. You got this!
Now that you have the tools to pay off your student loan debt, do you want to help the next generation avoid student loans completely? If you want to make sure that no young adult in your life ever takes out loans for school, check out my book, Debt-Free Degree. It’s the resource all college-bound students—and their parents—need so they can prepare for this next step. Or if you’re ready to kickstart your journey to dumping student loan debt, then start with my new 64-page quick read, Destroy Your Student Loan Debt.
About Anthony ONeal
Since 2003, Anthony has helped hundreds of thousands of people make smart decisions with their money, relationships, and education. He’s a #1 national bestselling author of Debt-Free Degree and national bestselling author of The Graduate Survival Guide. He recently released Destroy Your Student Loan Debt. He travels the country spreading his encouraging message to help teens and young adults start their lives off right and people of all ages succeed with money. You can follow Anthony on YouTube and Instagram @AnthonyONeal and online at anthonyoneal.com or facebook.com/aoneal.