Ahhh the circle of (higher education) life. You:
- Go to school for four (or more) years, working hard to get a degree
- Graduate and use said degree to get a good job
- Use the money from that job to pay for the loans you used to get the degree to get the job
Ouch. Wouldn’t you rather that circle be something less infinite??
Studies show that more than 44.2 million Americans have student loan debt.* Raise your hand if you’re one of them! (I’m raising both hands over here).
I worked hard in college to get scholarships and grants that lowered my student loan debt considerably. Even still, upon graduation I was stuck with a pretty hefty bill. I’ve paid off more than half of my debt in the eight years I’ve been out of the classroom, but want to ramp up my loan payments so I can use that extra $6k a year on things that really matter – like, say saving for my own child’s education fund.
How do you break the cycle?
- Keep paying, even if the amount is small. When I got out of college, I honestly had no idea what to do when I started receiving my student loan bills six months post-graduation. I was presented with a multitude of payment options, one of them being to “defer” my loan payments. Now, that option sounded pretty nice to a strapped-for-cash college graduate who had just gotten her first job a few months before. But, something about it didn’t seem right.
Deferring your loan payment doesn’t mean that the loan just stops existing, it instead keeps building interest behind-the-scenes, waiting for you to come back to a much higher loan amount than before. Instead, I opted for a lower payment plan in those early years – paying, even if it was a smaller amount. I slowly raised my payment amount each year as my paycheck increased.
- Get a raise? Large tax return? Put it toward your loans. As un-fun as it sounds to put your extra funds towards something as boring as student loan payments, you’re setting yourself up for fun in the future once the loans are paid in full. Instead of splurging on a (much deserved) new gift for yourself, just act as if your paycheck was the same as before, putting the extra money into your student loan payments. A little sacrifice early on will pay off big time down the road.
- Consider consolidating. I ended up with three different loans from three different places with payments that came out of my account three different times a month. What. A. Mess. It’s a good idea to talk to your financial institution to see if you have any options to consolidate your loans and receive a better interest rate – that is a major win when dealing with student loans. Plus, who wants to keep up with three different bills for the same thing?
So, is the cycle really infinite? Well, no – maybe more like a really, really long line (for some). My encouragement to anyone paying off student debt (including myself) is that there is an end to the cycle – and we can do it!
Whether it is a slow and steady pace, or an aggressive payment approach, as long as we stick to it, we will see those glorious three words, “Paid in Full” sooner than we can imagine.