If you’ve been paying your student loans off on time for years, you probably think you’re on your road to financial freedom. However, just paying your minimum requirement can actually end up costing you much more in the long run due to the interest you rack up.
Here are a few simple tips and tricks you can use to pay your student loans down faster and minimize what you’ll owe in interest.
Pay on time or early
This sounds obvious, and it is, but it’s also effective: Pay every month before or on the day the payment is due. Not only will this help your credit rating, but it will result in less interest being charged on loans where interest accrues daily (as in Direct Loans).
Pennies really matter over the life of your loan and paying early or on time could save you money in the long run.
Make extra payments
If you find yourself with extra cash on hand, put some towards paying down your student loan balance. Paying a little extra money whenever you could reduce your loan without making you feel deprived.
Contact your loan servicer to make sure that your extra payment is applied to the balance and not just automatically rolled into your next monthly payment.
Pro tip: If you make more than $5,000 a month, you can free up more cash for your student loan payments with these brilliant money moves.
Pay more than the minimum
Paying more than the minimum payment every month could help you get out from under your student loans faster. If you can pay an extra $50 a month, you could take a year or more off the length of your loan, depending on the size of your balance.
Even $5 or $20 extra every month can tip the numbers to keep you ahead of the accruing interest and pay down your balance.
You may be able to get a lower interest rate or better payment schedule by combining your loans with a new lender. Refinancing your student could be a good idea if you have multiple loans, loans with different servicers, or a high interest rate.
Most student loan refinance companies don’t charge origination fees, application fees, or prepayment penalties. If you find a lender that does charge any of these fees, shop around and compare student loan refinance companies.
Any time you get a windfall of cash as a gift, unexpected payment, freelance work payment, or any other source, put it into your loan balance to pay it down more quickly. You’ll need to contact your loan servicer to make sure the windfall money is applied to pay down the balance of the loan, not just applied to your next monthly payment.
Adjust your tax withholding
Some people suggest using your tax refund to make extra payments on your student loan balance.
You can also adjust your withholding at your job so you don’t get a refund and get more money in each paycheck instead. Then put that extra money into paying down your loans each month. It may not feel as satisfying as making one big payment, but it could save you money in interest.
Enroll in autopay
Many loan servicers offer a small discount (typically around .25%) on interest if you sign up to autopay your loan payments. If you know you’ll have the money available on the day it needs to come out of your account, you can take advantage of this discount.
If your finances are not stable, signing up for autopay could cost you money in overdrawn account fees, and the discount could be eaten up by fees.
Don’t use income-based repayment
If your finances are in flux and you’re trying to stop living paycheck to paycheck, an income-based repayment (IBR) plan could sound like a good idea for managing your payments and preserving your credit.
However, an IBR plan will extend the term of your loans and cost you more in interest over time. If you can pay more every month, refuse an income-based repayment plan and make bigger payments instead.
Apply for loan forgiveness
If you're in an industry that qualifies for student loan forgiveness, you may be able to get all or part of your loans forgiven entirely simply by applying. If you qualify for forgiveness, filling out the application could potentially wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of debt in one shot.
Pay down higher interest loans first
You could pay down your student loans faster by paying down higher-interest loans — like a car loan — first. Paying off a higher interest loan first will reduce your overall debt by stopping more interest from accruing and help crush your debt faster.
By adding any amount to the minimum payment of the higher interest loan, you can pay it down more quickly. Then take the amount you were paying toward the other loan and add that to your monthly student loan payments.
Look for tax deductions and credits
Depending on the type and age of your loans and your current income, you may be eligible for tax deductions and/or credits for your student loan payments.
Most commercial tax software will guide you through the process. However, it may be worth it to use a professional tax preparer or accountant to make sure you’re getting the maximum deductions and credit.
Make 26 payments instead of 12
This is a well-known strategy for paying down a mortgage faster, but it works for student loans, too: Make a payment every other week instead of every month.
If you pay half your monthly payment every other week, you’ll end up making 26 payments for the year, which is the equivalent of an extra monthly payment.
Pro tip: Try one of these legit ways to make extra cash you can use to pay off your loans faster.
Reduce other expenses
By reducing the amount you spend on other things, you can put that money into paying down your student loans.
For instance, trading in your vehicle for something older and less expensive will cut your monthly car payments without affecting your life very much. You can also review monthly subscriptions and cancel the ones you don’t really need.
Changing your living situation to pay less per month may make sense, too. Anything that won’t affect your mental health and will free up money in your budget is worth cutting down or out.
Figuring out how to pay off your student loans can be as confusing. Different types of federal loans have different rules about interest and paying down the balance, and private loans are another category entirely.
The suggestions here could work across all kinds of loans and interest configurations. Implementing just one or two could help reduce your financial stress and get out from under your student loans faster than you planned.
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