Early Career

How to Pay off Student Loan Debt

College was a blast, right? You partied, made a few friends and might’ve even learned a thing or two. But now that your final semester is in the rearview, it’s time to think about how you’re going to pay for that hard-earned education.

If you’re in your early twenties and part of the class of ’16, your student loan debt is likely the largest bill that’s ever had your name on it. That can be a bit intimidating, but there is good news: You’ve got six months from the moment you throw your mortarboard in the air until your student loan grace period ends and your first payment is due. So if you haven’t done so yet, put your college smarts to good use and learn how to pay off student loans fast by following these tips to tackle debt.

Make Sure You’re On the Right Plan

By default, most student loan repayment plans are based a 10-year schedule that evenly distributes debt across 120 months. For most new grads, this standard plan is manageable enough and makes the most sense moneywise. But if you can’t swing the monthly payment, the government offers a few alternatives to help you make ends meet while your career gets off the ground.

If you know you’re going to have a hard time making payments when your grace period ends, switch to one of the government’s income-based repayment plans. These plans extend the length of your loan to 20 or 25 years and reduce your monthly bill to a fixed percentage of your annual income. Keep in mind that aside from affecting how long it takes to pay off student loans, these plans result in more of your money going toward interest. On the plus side, any remaining balance at the end of your term is forgiven…but you’ll still have to pay taxes on that amount.

Find Out If You Qualify for Forgiveness

Depending on what line of work you plan to pursue, you might be able to have part—or even all—of your debt forgiven once you’re a few years into your career. If you land a job working for the government or a nonprofit organization, you could see your loan balance slashed or even eliminated completely after a certain amount of time. The specifics about forgiveness plans depend on the terms of your loan and the type of organization you’re working for, not necessarily on the exact nature of your job. So if you plan on devoting your life to public service, you could end up paying a lot less than many of your fellow graduates.

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Minimize Expenses and Maximize Income

It almost goes without saying, but the less money you spend on things you don’t need, the more cash you’ll have leftover to pay toward your loan. So whether it’s canceling that gym membership you’re not using, or cutting back on how many times you eat out each week, saving a few bucks here and there can shave years off your loan repayment. Budgeting apps help identify areas where you might be over-spending. And seeing how those caramel macchiatos add up over time can change your habits in a heartbeat.

In addition to cutting back on your expenses, look for other areas of your life where you could earn some extra dough. Maybe you can convert a hobby into a small side business, or perhaps there’s something you can do at work to pad your paycheck. In any case, just be sure to put your extra income toward your loan before thinking about ways to spend it.

Automate Your Payments

From dinging your credit score to increasing the amount of interest you owe, missing a loan payment doesn’t have many upsides. By automating your payments ahead of time, you won’t ever have to worry about getting off track. If you’re not already doing so, use a bill-pay service to determine which day of the month you’d like funds deducted from your account. Just “set it and forget it,” so you’ll never miss a payment.

Refinance Your Loan

If you’ve established a respectable credit record after a few years of paying down your student loan, there’s a good chance you could refinance your balance for a lower interest rate. Not only will this save you money in the long run, but you’d be able to pay off your debt faster too. So even if you don’t currently have the credit score needed to get a reduced rate, knowing that this option exists is a good incentive to make sure you don’t miss any payments. And if you’re already a few years into your repayment plan, check out Mint’s new Loan Center for student refinancing options that might be perfect for you.

Having a plan to pay off your loans will help you breathe easier and could save you a mountain of money in the long run. So why put it off? See your student debt disappear by following these tips to eliminating what you owe.