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Get Out of Debt

How to Determine Your Strategy for Paying off Student Loans

Today Allie is taking over the blog with some tips on how to handle your student loan payments. Take it away Allie!

I graduated college with over $30,000 in debt.

If you can believe it, that’s still less than a semester’s worth where I graduated. Getting a Bachelor’s degree is expensive, and I’ll be paying for it for years to come.

Signing your life away for student loans.

Within six months after graduating — since I didn’t go to graduate school and had no deferment options — I started paying off those loans. I now pay over $200 a month.

These payments are automated through my student loan provider which, thankfully, is online. I follow a budget every month using Mint, and I keep track of my loan due dates in my calendar app. They’re the largest payment I make every month besides rent.

My mother’s a CPA, and she’s always been highly interested in optimizing the financial aid process and in helping me build a strategy to pay off loans. I’ve picked up a few tips from her over the years, and I’m happy to share them with the Red Debted Stepchild readers today.

How you handle your debt is very personal, but I’m going to offer a few recommendations based on some common situations below. Keep in mind, there are different types of student loans, and these tips only apply to federal loans and to people who don’t work in the public service sector. Other loans, like private college loans, may not have different repayment options. Here’s where you might find yourself 6 months after college graduation:

You have a full-time job that pays well.

Congratulations! You can stick with the Standard plan, paying the same amount every month for however long until your loan runs out. You can even increase your payment amount to pay off the loan faster if you’re feeling that secure. This plan will accrue the least amount of interest, and you’ll be paying off your loan sooner than on any other plan. You should also automate your payments because you know you’ll be able to afford them every month.

Pro tip: Don’t pay off the full loan. I have one loan that’s a few thousand dollars, and I considered shelling out the money so I didn’t have to worry about it. It wasn’t a good idea. Even though you’d be saving interest, you’d also be spending money that could be saved — in a 401k, for an emergency, for fixing your car, for sticky situations such as a layoffs. If you want to pay off your loan sooner, just increase the payments a bit; even $10 could really make a difference.

You have an entry-level job and you can’t afford to spend too much.

This is my current situation. Living in Boston with an entry-level salary is not ideal. I also just prefer to save when I can; I won’t even buy headphones until I see a sale on Amazon. For that reason, I opted for the Graduated  plan. I’ll start with smaller payments now, and after 5 or so years, I’ll start paying more. By then, I’ll hopefully be earning more, and can afford larger payments.

Pro tip: When you can, always give yourself some breathing room. The Graduated plan may make your loan last longer, but you won’t have to sacrifice living your twenties in poverty — so that’s an upside, right? If you’re still unsure, you should check out the Extended or Income-Based plan to see if you can get a repayment option customized for you.

You don’t have a full-time job, and you’re freaking out.

OK, breathe. First, you need to look for a job and contact your loan provider. Missing even one payment can screw up your credit and affect the rest of the loan. You can apply for Loan Forbearance, which temporarily excuses you from paying your student loans, although it will increase the length of your loan and add unpaid interest to your principal balance. It’s not a great option, but it’s an option.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to utilize your social network, your family, and your school’s alumni association to look for new jobs and miscellaneous opportunities to make money. Freelancing, dog-sitting, website testing — there are so many ways to earn passive income when you’re in a rut.

Keep in mind that you can change your repayment schedule any time, with the right reasons. You may feel like you’re drowning in debt, but there are actually many strategies you can implement depending on your specific situation. Even if you’re dreaming of bigger things, you need an effective strategy for paying off those pesky student loans.

What’s your strategy for paying off student loans?

Allison Tetreault writes for 20-somethings with loads of debt who have big dreams and small budgets on her blog, Allie Kay Tee. Want to grow your business, but can’t invest the money? Want to explore more, but can’t pay the travel expenses? Me too! Allie explores the post-grad life on her blog every week. Follow her on Twitter.

Like what you read? It’s your turn! We’ll pay you for your debt story.

Around here, we’re all about taking our debt and beating it down. Grrrrrrrr! We pay $5 for every awesome debt story we publish (whether you’re in debt, out of it, or barely living to tell the tale) so send yours our way to be considered: reddebtedstepchild[at]gmail[dot]com!
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Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson spent years managing her own blog about budgeting and debt. Because of that, she has great insights not only about managing spending and borrowing but also about running websites profitably. When she's not writing articles for us, she's traveling and looking for new types of wines to try.
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