A friend of mine just graduated from business school with six-figure loans totaling just over $1,000 in monthly payments. That’s more than his car loan, more than his rent, more than his monthly Visa bill.
At present, student loan debt has eclipsed credit card debt. According to a Wall Street Journal report, outstanding student loans – both private and public – amount to nearly $830 million. The report cites Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of Finaid.org and Fastweb.com.
As a borrower, if you fall into that category, there’s no doubt that you may need help, fast.
Consider this advice:
Pay Down the Principal. The best way to get out of any kind of debt quickly is to pay it off aggressively and chop down the principal. When you boost income (which I’ll discuss how below) or get a lump sum of cash for your birthday or year-end bonus, pre-commit to putting at least 50% of that windfall toward your debt. Make sure you direct that extra payment toward the principal, not the interest (a common mistake).
Stay the Course. If you can only afford the minimum payment, don’t worry. More importantly, don’t ever miss a student loan payment since there is no statute of limitations on how far lenders can go to retrieve your payments, including garnishing your wages or taking money out of your tax returns. This can also put a big dent in your credit score and credit report.
Peg Payment to Income. If you have federal student loans, you may qualify for Income-Based Repayment (IBR), a program that helps borrowers cap their loan payments based on their income and family size. For most qualifying borrowers, IBR loan payments will amount to less than 10% of their income. The program will also forgive any remaining student loan debt after 25 years of making payments.
Work in Public Service. The Department of Education has also begun a program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), again, strictly for federal loan borrowers. If you work full-time for a “public service” employer such as a non-profit, AmeriCorps, PeaceCorps, the military or a government agency, PLSF may forgive your remaining debt after 10 years of employment and making on-time payments. During this time the IBR plan can help make your loan payments affordable.
Get a Gig. If you can’t get a raise at work, try to boost your income outside your 9 to 5 with part-time or freelance work, like child care, pet sitting, adult care, home care and tutoring (try sittercity.com or sitters.com) to online technical work (visit elance.com and freelanceswitch.com) to selling goods online (visit etsy.com, ebay.com and gazelle.com). Take it from me: I babysat, bird-sat and wrote freelance articles while working a full-time job out of graduate school, which helped me pay down my student loans in 3 years, instead of 10.
Shorten the Term. See if the bank will reduce the term or repayment period on your student loan. You’ll get out of debt faster but, of course, you’ll need to shore up more money each month. Or talk to your lender to see if there’s an alternative program that can help you keep your head above water temporarily.
Deduct It. You can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest from your taxable income and any savings you make can go toward paying down your debt.
Transfer Debt to a Personal Loan. If you get an offer to open a private loan with a lower rate than your existing student loan, consider transferring the debt. This is easier said than done (which is why it’s my last tip). Transferring debt to a loan product with a lower rate will lower your monthly minimums but you’ll need superb credit to qualify. But don’t fall into the trap of paying the lower monthly minimum or you may stretch the life of the loan for several more years, paying more interest in the long run. Psychologically this may not be the best solution for some folks.