With graduation rapidly approaching for thousands of college graduates (or if you're recently out of school, this still applies to you), the next most challenging hurdle will be to actually repay the student loan debt you incurred over the last four years. Millions of Americans struggle daily with debt, so being strategic with your student loan repayments right after graduation will do wonders for your finances later on. With student loan debt recently surpassing even credit card debt, it will be a common scenario for people to take years to repay the money. Just make sure you're not one of them.
Since I have been out of school for a while now, I can tell you firsthand just how much better things would be if I had started saving more and repaying my loans back earlier. If I could turn back the clock a few years, here are a few strategies I would use to jumpstart the loan repayment process:
1. Get a part-time job to pay for expenses that aren't related to school.
This may be the most common sense tip I can think of, but I still see plenty of students using their loan money to pay for weekend activities. If you have to incur more debt while in school, get a part-time job and use that income to pay for those things. Keeping your loan money in the bank will help immensely when you are done with school. If you make more than you spend, it will allow you to build a comfortable savings cushion when your six-month grace period is up after graduation and the first payments are due. With many graduates unable to find meaningful work after school is out, you'll be thankful you followed this strategy.
2. Make a budget.
Track everything you have spent your money on over the course of a month. Writing these things down can be a powerful way to highlight expenses that you could have lived without. What else can you trim from your current monthly expenses? Stick to your new budget after reviewing your spending habits and start saving the difference. You should apply the money you save to loan payments and repay everything down more quickly. Your bank account will thank you.
3. Use bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments.
Let's say you have a monthly student loan payment of $250. You could change your payment schedule to a bi-weekly one of $125 instead to save more in interest over the life of your loan. Ask your lender about bi-weekly payments options if you have never heard of this. Over the course of a year, switching to that payment cycle equates to paying down an extra month's worth of loans due to interest savings.
Investopedia has a great chart to help you visualize the process.
4. Apply extra money towards your loan.
Over the course of repaying your student loans, there will be times when you unexpectedly earn more money from bonuses at work or even receive some birthday money from your grandmother (I don't expect her to still be giving you birthday money, but you get the point). Be on a mission to pay down your loan and use every dollar wisely. You'll have to fight the temptation to splurge with that money, but then decide whether you want the monthly debt payments looming over you until the end of time. Make grandma proud and repay your loans.
5. Don't forget to claim student loans on your taxes!
You can deduct your student loan interest of up to $2,500 per year. If you are out of school and make less than $60,000, you can file the interest you paid on your taxes. Since the average salary of new graduates is well below that amount, this should apply to most people entering the work force. It will be a great experience to get some money back from the government that you can also apply towards your debt.
6. Sign up for auto-pay.
Some lenders lower interest rates if you sign up for auto-pay because they know your payments will be on time. Check with your lender to see if this is possible. With thousands of people defaulting on their student loans each month, it makes sense that some lenders will want to reward those who are fulfilling their financial loan obligations.
7. Ask family and friends to hold you accountable.
When you have the weight of college debt on your shoulders, nothing is worse than knowing the next payment is around the corner. It gets even more discouraging if you cannot find full-time work after your grace period is up. Having a support team of family and friends will help ease the burden. Make it known that you have a goal to repay your student loan debt as quickly as possible, and surround yourself with people who are okay with having a movie night in versus going out for an expensive night on the town.
Make sure to remember that even small amounts of money applied towards a large debt can make a big impact on your finances. Being smart with your money fresh out of school and leaving your irresponsible days behind you is a great way to develop strong financial habits. The people who tend to ignore budgets and aggressive debt repayment strategies are also more likely to be repaying their student loans 15 years later.
Jeffery King is an education blogger and social media expert for OPPapers.com. Since graduating from college, Jeffery has continued to stay involved with educating students about college finances, studying tips, online education technology and more.