Even if you have been a careful borrower, you may end up owing more money when you graduate than you had anticipated. That doesn’t mean you need to be saddled with debt indefinitely. With the right strategy, you may be able to pay those loans off more quickly than you think.
Student Loan Repayment Options
Any successful student loan repayment strategy begins by clearly understanding whom you owe, how much you owe and what the repayment terms are for each loan. Take stock of all the money you’ve borrowed, identifying each loan and its source, and explore the repayment terms or options available to you.
Federal student loans — those provided by the federal government — offer a variety of repayment options. The options available to you may depend on the type of loan you have (direct subsidized or unsubsidized, for example) and your income (for income-based repayment plans). All federal borrowers may choose the standard repayment plan, which requires monthly fixed payments for up to 10 years (up to 30 years for consolidation loans), or the graduated repayment plan, which starts with lower payments that increase periodically to ensure the loan amount is paid within the 10- (or 30-) year period. You can learn more about federal loan repayment options here.
Private loans have their own terms for repayment. If you’ve taken out any loans from a bank, credit union or other financial institution, be sure to ask about their repayment options.
You will also want to become familiar with the servicer of each loan, and how they bill and process monthly loan payments. In the case of federal loans, all of your loans may be held by one servicer, so they may ask for just one monthly payment that they divide among the loans. Or you may need to make payments to multiple servicers. Make sure you understand each of your payment obligations, including the amount of each payment, the due dates and how your dollars will be applied to each loan.
Steps to Help You Pay Off Your Student Debt Quickly
Now that you can see the big picture, here are some actions you can take to pay down your student debt:
Enroll in automatic payments. Make sure you never miss a payment by setting up autopay. Late or skipped payments may incur not only additional interest but fees as well — plus, they can negatively impact your credit report and push your repayment schedule back. You also may be able to save money with an interest rate reduction for enrolling in autopay.
Pay more than the minimum monthly payment. Paying even just a little extra each month will help you pay your loans down faster. Don’t compromise your savings goals to achieve this (you should always have a savings net that could cover at least three to six months of essential living expenses in case of a hardship); rather, consider whether you can cut down on your discretionary spending to beef up your loan payments.
If you can pay more toward your loan, inform the servicer how you would like the funds to be distributed toward your loan balance. Otherwise, they may apply them to your next month’s payment and advance your due date, which does not help you pay the debt off faster.
Make biweekly payments. If you get into the habit of paying half your monthly payment every two weeks instead of making one monthly payment, you will end up making one extra monthly payment each year (26 biweekly payments = 13 monthly payments).
Resist extending your repayment timeline. Federal and private lenders may offer you opportunities to stretch your loan term, such as extending the 10 year repayment term on a federal loan to 20 or 25 years. Extending the repayment term may lower your monthly payment, but you may also pay more in interest over the life of the loan and it may take longer to pay off the debt.
Determine if refinancing is right for you. Refinancing is opening a new loan to pay off one or more existing student loans. It may enable you to combine multiple loans into one, making payments more manageable, and/or get better terms than your existing loan(s) — a lower annual percentage rate, or APR (interest rate plus fees); a shorter term; and/or lower monthly payments. Be sure to factor in any fees or other charges as you evaluate whether refinancing could save you money and shorten your repayment term. (PNC offers tools to help you explore your options for refinancing student debt.)
Stay committed to the cause! Staying positive and focused can go a long way in helping you make good financial decisions that support your goal of paying off your student debt.