The moratorium on student loans that came about as a result of the pandemic is set to expire December 31, which means that approximately 42 million Americans saddled with student loan debt will be expected to start making payments again as of January. However, Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are pressuring President-elect Joe Biden to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per person via executive order in the interest of stimulating the economy.
Whether or not student debt will be wiped clean for many Americans remains to be seen, and it’s likely that the forgiveness will only apply to federal student loans, according to Forbes. The worst-case scenario for people struggling with student loan debt is no relief from the government come January 1 (or after Biden’s inauguration on January 20). If that happens — or if you have private student loans — here are some ways to tackle your student loan debt once and for all.
Calculate What You Owe
Find out what you owe on your student loans by visiting the National Student Loan Data System for details on your federal loans. You’ll need to key in your Social Security number, last name, date of birth, and your FSA ID, which replaced the PIN in 2015. And don’t despair if your loan is well into the five figures — the average student loan debt of the class of 2019 was $29,900 according to Student Loan Hero.
If you have private student loans, check with your financial institution for your loan details. If you’re unsure of which bank or finance company holds your loan, order your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and review your creditors to find out.
Make note of each loan’s balance and interest rate, plus required payments, or use an online student loan repayment optimizer tool. Knowing how much interest you’ll pay over the course of your loan should motivate you to find ways to pay off student loans faster so you’ll pay less interest.
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Refinance or Consolidate Loans
If you have more than one loan, it may be possible to consolidate student loans by refinancing and combining them into one, which can reduce your minimum monthly payment. Talk with your lenders to figure out if this is one of your student loan repayment options.
Plus, if you’re employed and have good credit, you can qualify for competitive refinancing rates for both federal and private loans. Fixed-rate refinancing is as low as 2.63% APR right now.
Read about federal loan consolidation at the Federal Student Aid website, and complete a Direct Consolidation Loan Application.
Research Alumni-Backed Student Loans
If federal or private lending consolidations won’t work for you, an innovative student loan consolidation option might give you another option. Some college alumni associations offer sponsored loans or can give helpful direction to affiliated lenders you can work with.
For example, the Wisconsin Alumni Association at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., partners with UW Credit Union, a private lender. The organization promotes its consolidation loan to alumni members and offers incentives including reduced interest rates, an interest-only payment option for the first two years and reduced fees for payments made on time and electronically.
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Create a Plan to Pay Off Multiple Student Loans Faster
If refinancing student loans isn’t possible, decide which loan you’ll focus on paying off first. Each loan’s monthly minimum must be paid, but putting extra money such as a tax refund or gift money toward one loan means you can pay it off faster.
Some experts recommend putting any extra money you have toward the loan with higher student loan interest rates — a strategy known as the avalanche method. Using this strategy makes sense because loans with higher interest rates cost you more than those with lower interest.
Another option would be to be put extra money toward your smallest loan first because it will be the easiest and fastest loan to pay off, which is known as the snowball method. Using this strategy can give you a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to find alternative ways to pay off your loans.
Either way, put all extra payments toward one loan at a time to eliminate that specific debt. Then, move on to the next one.
Sign Up for Automatic Payments
In the excitement of your new post-graduate life, your loan payments could get lost in the shuffle. Avoid extra charges and credit score hits with automatic payments to your student loans.
Also, ask your lender if you can schedule two half payments monthly on days that match your paydays. By simply splitting your payment in half, you’ll pay one extra payment per year.
Check your student loan agreement’s fine print or talk to your lender to see if you can make paying off your student loan cheaper or faster. Ask about making extra payments of any amount at any time without penalty online, adding student loan payments as a bill payment to simplify making extra payments and getting a rate discount for setting up automatic payments.
Set a Payoff Goal Date
If you regularly make only the minimum student loan payment, it might take years to pay off your loan. Instead, choose a realistic payoff goal date and then create a plan to achieve it. The faster you pay off your loan, the more money you save in student loan interest.
Consider using an app that’s specifically targeted at paying off student loan debt, such as ChangEd, which links to all your debit and credit cards. Then, each time you make a purchase, it rounds the purchase amount up to the next dollar and sends the difference directly to your student loan provider.
Set a Budget and Cut Expenses
Setting a budget to track income and expenses can help you meet your student loan payment goals, especially when you can work backward from a target payoff date and see what it takes to get there. However, “we are not talking about scribbling a few figures on a napkin,” said Kendrick Wakeman, CEO of FinMason, which provides financial and investment portfolio assistance. “You need to get a detailed budgeting tool to help you develop a budget and, just as importantly, help you stick to it.”
Once your budget is in place, take a long hard look at ways to cut expenses — and expect to make some sacrifices. After you’ve figured out how much extra you can shave off your expenses, increase your automatic student loan payment — or add an extra one — to include your savings and pay off your loan faster.
Get a Roommate or Move Home
Getting a roommate is not for everyone, but rent often makes up your biggest monthly expense, especially in a big city. The national median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,487 per month, according to the Zumper National Rent Report for December 2020. If you split the rent in half with a roommate — as well as all the accompanying expenses — you’ll have a huge sum to dump into loan payments.
Or if your parents are willing, you can also choose to move home for a while until you make some headway on your student loan debt.
Postpone Big-Ticket Buys
Once you’ve graduated and started earning money, you might be tempted to buy items you couldn’t afford before, such as a dream vehicle or frequent wardrobe upgrades. But if your spending is taking up half your budget or more, consider cutting back to funnel more money into your loan balance. As one financial expert put it, material possessions can’t buy happiness, but getting out of the debt jam can.
“I’ve found people with less live less stressful and happier lives,” said Michael Chadwick, president and founder of Chadwick Financial Advisors, which offers financial advice. “They’re not trying to substitute physical possessions for personal happiness.”
Sell Your Stuff Online
Make extra money to pay down your student debt by selling things you don’t use. Textbooks, clothes, sports equipment, home electronics and small kitchen appliances all are good choices.
List your unwanted items in local classifieds like Craigslist. Or use local platforms like LetGo, NextDoor or Facebook Marketplace, which allow you to negotiate a final price online with buyers before meeting in person to make the transaction.
If you don’t want the hassle or risk of meeting in person, you can also utilize national platforms to sell your stuff for cash — minus a small commission — and ship your items once sold. Options include Decluttr, Poshmark and eBid.
Get a Side Hustle
The average salary for 2019 college graduates was just over $48,000, according to data from CollegePulse and PayScale analyzed by LendEDU, so a part-time gig might be what you need to make a big dent in your debt.
Consider easy-entry gigs like pet sitting or acting as a companion to an elderly person through platforms like Rover or Care.com. If you have writing or graphic design skills, you can pick up gigs on platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Other options for side hustles include driving for Uber, becoming an Instacart shopper or delivering food via Grubhub or DoorDash.
Join the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps
This isn’t a suggestion to skip off to Micronesia to duck your loan payments (especially in the midst of a pandemic), but a number of loan programs through the Peace Corps can cut your balances significantly, even as you see the world and get your living expenses covered – once it’s safe to travel again. With a Perkins loan, for example, you might be eligible for up to 70% cancellation. And depending on the type of loan you have, you may be eligible for income-driven repayment or student loan forgiveness.
If you are in an approved AmeriCorps program, your student loan may qualify for forbearance. While interest might accrue on loans in forbearance, if you successfully complete your term of service and your loan qualifies, the National Service Trust may pay all or part of the interest that accrued while you served.
Explore Public Service Loan Forgiveness Programs
Employees of federal, state, or local government organizations or graduates working for a tax-exempt nonprofit, also known as a 501(c)(3), might have another option to pay off student loans faster. The federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans. But if you want to take advantage of PSLF, keep in mind that you first need to make 120 qualifying monthly payments. That’s a full 10 years of payments.
Find Out More: How to Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Ask Your Employer
Before assuming your boss or human resources director will laugh you out of her office, keep in mind this might work out well for your employer as well. After all, helping staff with hefty student loan payments is one way for them to keep top talent. Companies who are helping employees repay their student loan debts have been increasing, up from 4% in 2018 to 8% in 2019, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey.
Suggest this during salary negotiations to make it part of your compensation package.
Get Additional Student Loan Debt Assistance
Paying off student loans is a large task and sometimes life gets in the way. If your income is simply too low to pay your student loans or you were recently laid off, act immediately to get help with your federal loans by finding out more about income-driven plans.
The current four federal student loan repayment plans include the REPAYE Plan, the PAYE Plan, the ICR Plan and the IBR Plan. Depending on your income and the program, your payments may be reduced to between 10 and 20 percent of your discretionary income. Keep in mind that reduced payments might mean it takes between 20 and 25 years to pay off your loan, though outstanding balances at the end of your repayment term might qualify for loan forgiveness so you don’t have to pay it off.
As with most financial decisions, knowledge is power when it comes to paying off student loans. Educate yourself about student loans and the dangers of debt. And, if possible, get started making a dent in your student loan balances now, rather than later.
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Cynthia Measom contributed to the reporting of this article.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: What if Biden Can’t Cancel Your Student Debt? Here Are 15 Ways to Pay Off Those Loans