Along with that crisp, new diploma often comes some pretty untidy business: student loan debt. According to Forbes and the New York Federal Reserve as of Q4 2016, there are 44.2 million total borrowers with student loan debt in the U.S. In other words, you’re not alone.
So “how can I help myself manage my debt,” you ask? Here are 6 tips that can help you to manage, and eventually eliminate student loan debt in a controlled and responsible fashion.
- Spend Less.
If you’re still in school and have already taken out loans, the first order of business is to be very careful with your spending. That $6 beer, when purchased with loaned money, is actually going to cost you more than $6, in the long run, thanks to compounding interest.
Unfortunately, if you’ve already got your diploma, the same advice applies: spend less. Living below your means is a crucial part of paying down debt. Do you really need that latte? If so, buy an inexpensive coffeemaker and become your own personal barista instead!
As an exercise, try to think about the long-term cost of every purchase you make for a week. It may help reframe your spending. The occasional, nominal slip is ok, but try to be vigilant. Think of it as helping your future self.
- Pay Down Interest
As soon as you are able, pay down your loan’s interest. If you have a summer job, save as much as you can and put the money toward your loan’s interest. This will help tame the compounding interest beast that will be roaring when loan statements start appearing in your inbox.
If you have loan funds remaining after graduation, start earning an income as soon as possible, build up a savings cushion, and repay the leftover money you took out as soon as you can. If not, that money will end up costing you more in the long run because the interest will continue to compound.
- Grace Period?
Does your loan have a nonpayment grace period? If it does, take the opportunity to build up a formidable cash savings cushion to cover emergency expenses and then start using your income to chip away at student loan debt as quickly as possible.
- Earn More
At the risk of sounding obvious: earn extra money and put it toward your loan. In addition to your regular work and loan payments, pick up a side job and make a deal with yourself that all the money you earn freelancing, bartending, or babysitting, goes toward your loan.
As an alternative to earning more, you can make each dollar go further by finding innovative ways to save. Try living with a roommate or two and put the monthly savings toward your loan. Take it one step further and live with said roommate(s) in a less trendy area, and watch your savings grow.
For readers who are still in college, get a head start by earning in the summers between semesters. Replenishing and building up your financial reserves can help you avoid taking out loans or at least reduce how much you’ll need to borrow.
If you receive a biweekly paycheck, try setting up automatic payments through your bank and fly on autopilot. Do you get a bonus? You know what to do with it, put it toward paying your student loan debt.
- Get Educated
Even if your payments are on autopilot, the best thing you can do to empower yourself is to understand your loan(s). Open the statements. Read them. Know your interest rate(s). Ask questions. Get informed. Stubbornness and ignorance won’t help.
Find out if you are eligible for student loan refinancing, consolidation, more favorable repayment options, and student loan forgiveness. Take advantage of opportunities to take control of your loan so it doesn’t control you.
For those interested in learning more about student loan debt, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers a wide variety of information related to paying for college and paying off student loan debt.
- Pay Attention
Stay abreast of student loan debt policy changes, which may or may not make it more difficult to repay student loan debt in a timely fashion depending on shifting political attitudes. The last thing you want is to be surprised by a new government policy that negatively impacts your ability to repay debts on time.
At times, the burden of student loan debt can feel debilitating. But remember that frugality is the key to paying off debt as quickly as possible. In order to break out from under student loan debt, educate yourself about the particular terms of your loan(s) and create a clear plan of attack to ensure your debt is eliminated.