One study found that the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree had 29,000 dollars in debt. That’s equivalent to a car loan. Unfortunately, there are many people with 50K or even 150K in student loan debt. That is equivalent to a mortgage, and the debt payments can be crippling. Here’s what you need to know about paying your student loans.
Determine How Much You Really Owe
Determine how much you truly owe. For example, you may have taken out a mix of direct subsidized student loans, direct unsubsidized loans, private loans and racked up credit card debt to pay for school and your living expenses as a student. Create a list of loans and minimum payments you need to make. Make sure you’re making the minimum payments each month, so that you don’t rack up late fees or, in a worst-case scenario, see the loan balance balloon because you forgot about it.
Get on a Budget
Dave Ramsey describes a budget as telling your money what to do rather than wondering where it went. Creating a budget allows you to determine where your money goes. Decide how much you’ll spend on eating out, travel, and childcare. Limit how much you spend in some areas, so that you have more money to put against your debt. Know that additional principal payments will reduce your debt, whether you are paying more toward your student loan payment or credit cards.
Automate Your Payments
We recommend getting on a budget before you automatically pay your payments, since you don’t want to have checks bounce because you didn’t have enough money in the account. Once you have a budget, set up autopay. This will ensure that you don’t get hit with late fees. If your budget allows for it, make biweekly payments instead of monthly payments. This slightly reduces the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.
Lower Your Monthly Payments
One of the best tips for those who need to pay off their student loans is to lower the debt payments. This may be done by consolidating private and public loans into a single lower payment loan or refinancing the loan. Then pay more than the new, lower monthly payment. Note that you could save money by refinancing other loans, too, like car loans. Just don’t extend the loan term by a few years, since this will cost you dearly over the long-term.
Make Use of Your Grace Period
The grace period is the six-month period you have after graduation before you have to start making payments. This period exists because the average person takes three to six months to find a job when they’re laid off, and it can take longer for graduates. If you land a job, start saving twenty percent or more of your paycheck. Create an emergency fund, so that you can pay for unexpected bills like car repairs or dental work. That emergency fund will allow you to make your student loan payments and pay the rent if you lose your job, too.
We recommend against enrolling in continuing education courses or going to grad school because you’re afraid to start making payments.
Commit to Putting “Found” Money on the Debt
Too many of us blow through windfalls like bonuses and financial gifts. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll put most of it on the debt. You can balance wants with needs by deciding now to put 50% against the debt, 20% in savings and having 30% to blow on whatever you want. You can add that found money like half your Christmas bonus to the next loan payment. Just don’t let it sit in a general bank account where you’re prone to spend it.