If you have student loan debt, you may feel like it controls your finances. You always have the balance hanging over your head, and you may even have multiple loans if you completed post-graduate education. It can be frustrating to feel controlled by your student debt even once you have a job and are working to repay the loan. Here are several strategies to keep your student loan debt from controlling your life and finances.

Take Budgeting Seriously

While budgeting may seem like an obvious part of controlling your finances and repaying debt, many people struggle with creating and sticking to a budget. Even people who try to budget make mistakes or give up after a few months. However, making a realistic budget and then sticking to it is essential to financial security and freedom from debt. Once you feel like you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, you can start to make headway against debt (student loans and otherwise).

If the whole idea of creating and sticking with a budget seems overwhelming, the good news is there are countless resources to help. There are books, magazines, websites, blogs and apps all dedicated to helping people learn how to budget properly. The easiest way to get started with your budget is to do some research on whys and hows of budgeting. There are numerous financial experts out there and all have slightly different takes on budgeting, but the basic concepts are the same. Once you feel comfortable with how to create a budget, it’s time to actually do it.

There are numerous ways to create and then track your budget. Some people prefer to do it the old-fashioned way with a pencil and a ledger. Others use budgeting software or online programs offered by banks. Another option is to use a budgeting app for your smartphone or tablet. Some apps allow you to link your bank and credit card accounts, so tracking your expenditures is automatic. Whichever method you choose, it’s essential to make a realistic budget and then stick to it.

Prioritize Debt Repayment

An important part of your budget should be allocating money to debt repayment. Whether it’s student loan debt or credit card balances, waiting to repay debt only makes it worse. You’ll end up paying additional fees and an excessive amount of interest, and your credit score could be negatively impacted. Most financial experts agree that getting out of debt should be a high priority when making a budget. This means that when you create your monthly budget, you should set aside at least enough money to cover the minimum payments on all your loans.

While paying the minimum amount due is better than making no payment, it still isn’t ideal. Paying the minimum means it will take years to pay off debt, and you’ll pay hundreds of dollars in interest. If possible, budget enough to make higher payments. If you can’t do this for all your loans, prioritize which ones you should pay off first. Generally, it’s better to pay off debt such as credit cards and student loans as early as possible, and then after those are paid off, focus on secured debt such as an auto loan or mortgage.

Consider Loan Consolidation

Depending on your financial situation, you may benefit from student debt consolidation loans. The basic idea of a consolidation loan is that you take on a single comprehensive loan in exchange for paying off several other loans. For many people, this is a wise financial decision. It can help you budget more easily since you’ll be making only one payment instead of several. In addition, some consolidation programs help you find a single loan with a lower interest rate than you are paying on other loans.

Consolidation loans, like any financial strategy, are a good fit for many people but not everyone. There are numerous different companies that offer consolidation services. Choices may be different depending on if you have a federal or private student loan. It’s vital to do extensive research before taking on any new loans to determine what is best for you and your situation.

Repaying debt such as student loans is a serious matter. It can seem like an overwhelming task at first, but with careful budgeting and smart priorities, you can pay off your debt in a reasonable amount of time. For some people, a consolidation loan is a good option, but it’s important to make sure it works for your situation before you jump into a new loan.

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