This “8 Ways to Pay Off Student Loan Debt Fast” post is a guest post by David Cahill, the founder of FinanceSuperhero.com.
It’s 2018, and Americans are saddled with more student loan debt than ever before in history. In fact, Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers, according to Student Loan Hero. Given this trend, it’s no surprise that more and more borrowers are looking for new ways to pay off student loan debt fast and regain control of their hard-earned money.
Just two years ago, I was one of those student loan borrowers. I graduated with a masters degree in school administration in 2014, and my new credentials came with a nearly $20,000-price tag. Yes, it could have been much worse (have you seen law school tuition rates?), but I couldn’t help the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Some quick math showed that a normal 10-year repayment plan on my student loans would cost me a grand total of $27,128. And to make matters worse, I had come to realize that my new dream job as a school administrator was not at all what I wanted to do with my life.
So over the next 54 days, my wife and I scratched, clawed, sacrificed, hustled, and went without –basically doing everything we could– to pay off my student loans as fast as we could. The good news? If you’re looking to do the same, it’s totally possible.
8 Ways to Pay Off Student Loan Debt Fast
It may take longer than 54 days for you to knock out your student loans, or you may do it even faster. The following X tips can help you pay off student loan debt fast and keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket!
1. Get on a Monthly Budget
Without a doubt, our monthly budget was the biggest factor that allowed me and my wife to pay off student loan debt fast. Yes, we were committed to taking several different actions to wipe out my debt as we could, but our budget was the biggest driving force for several reasons.
First, because we knew how to create a zero-based budget every single month, we never allowed a dollar to go to waste. If we had chosen to rely on an estimated budget each month, we likely would have allowed hundreds of dollars to slip through the cracks without even realizing we had spent them.
Second, keeping a detailed monthly budget required me and my wife to have frequent discussions about how we were managing our money. This not only made us closer as husband and wife, but it also helped us to keep our focus on our goals.
Third, going over our budget with a fine-toothed comb helped us realize that we could do much more, even if just for a short period of time, to cut our living expenses and use the savings to pay off debt even faster.
2. Live Like a Minimalist For a Short Time
As a result of our frequent budget discussions, my wife and I decided to adopt a minimalist lifestyle for a short period of time. We were influenced by Dave Ramsey’s popular mantra, “Live like no else, so later you can live and give like no one else.”
Once we decided to cut back our lifestyle, we went all in on some big temporary cuts to our budget. We didn’t go out to eat at restaurants, shop for new clothes, or spend a dime on entertainment. We even reduced our food budget to drastic new lows. And surprisingly, we still managed to eat well.
All told, these temporary cuts to our budget didn’t seem like they would help us to pay off student loan debt fast before we implemented them. But by cutting our spending back to only the bare essentials, we freed up several hundred dollars each month.
3. Briefly Pause All Investments
After we had pared down our budget as much as we possibly could, my wife and I started searching for other ways to speed up our repayment plan. We are both teachers, and the terms of our employment require us to contribute a small percentage of each paycheck to our state-sponsored pension plans. So unfortunately, we weren’t able to pause all of our investing, but we did temporarily stop contributing to our IRAs.
Stopping investment contributions to pay down debt is a controversial subject that deserves an entire series of posts of its own, but here are just a few reasons to consider this strategy yourself:
- All investments carry risk. Yes, your contributions could help you make money in the short-term (and they almost certainly will in the long-term), but you could lose money. Paying down your student loan debt has a very predictable outcome.
- If you’re not giving up an employer match, pausing investment contributions for just a short time will likely have a minimal impact on your overall investment performance.
- The future benefits of this short-term sacrifice could be very significant. Once you have eliminated debt, you’ll be able to significantly increase your investment contributions.
4. Find Creative Ways to Boost Your Income
If you’re truly looking to pay off student loan debt fast, the simple truth is that finding ways to make extra money on the side is far more effective than cutting your spending. After all, most people don’t have thousands of dollars they can cut from their monthly budget, but there are many legitimate ways to make a few thousand dollars extra each month.
Here are just a few simple ways to make more money in your spare time:
- Take online surveys in your spare time
- Join a ride sharing group like Uber or Lyft
- Pick up extra shifts and overtime
- Start a dog sitting business on the weekends
When my wife and I were hustling to pay off my loans, she took on additional music lesson students in our home music studio and I decided to earn my real estate license. These side hustles helped us earn over $40,000 last year.
5. Tap Into Low Interest Savings Accounts
One of the biggest mistakes my wife and I made before paying off my student loans was saving too much money. Yes, a personal finance blogger like me was guilty of saving too much money.
The simple reality is that we were sitting on more emergency fund savings than we needed at the time. This money was earning far less than 1% in interest, all while we were paying 6% interest on my student loans.
Once we were able to overcome our fear-based mindset, we tapped into our emergency fund and wiped out a huge portion of my student loan debt in just a few minutes.
This strategy may not work for everyone, but if you’re sitting on an emergency fund of more than 3 months worth of living expenses, it’s worth your consideration.
6. Refinance to Speed Up Your Payoff
For many borrowers, refinancing is one of the best ways to pay off student loan debt fast. I know that may seem counterintuitive –after all, refinancing debt can often extend the repayment term and reduce monthly payment amounts–but stay with me for a second.
Refinancing student loans is an effective strategy because it ultimately increases the amount of each monthly payment that goes toward your principal balance each month. With less of your hard-earned money going to interest every month, you can make additional payments to reduce your principal balances.
Another benefit of refinancing, especially for borrowers who have many loan installments, is consolidation. Rather than continuing to send several small payments to a variety of loan servicers each month, consolidation allows you to send one smaller consolidated payment each month.
There are potential drawbacks to refinancing student loans (especially federal student loans), so it pays to do your homework and weigh the pros and cons carefully. But refinancing could be the jolt you need to speed up your repayment.
7. Use 100% of Unexpected Windfalls to Reduce Your Balance
When my wife and I were hustling to pay off my student loan debt, we were fortunate enough to receive an unexpected, modest federal tax refund. I’ll be honest: it was tempting to spend some of this money on a vacation, new clothes, or a nice dinner. But instead, we choose to use 100% of the refund to pay down my student loan balance.
If you’re blessed enough to receive a similar one-time windfall, whether from a tax refund, inheritance, or large family gift, using it to pay off student loan debt is a smart move.
8. Payoff High Interest Loans First
During my student loan payoff blitz, my wife and I didn’t pay attention to interest rates –in our situation, they were all equal.
But if you find yourself with a mix of federal student loans and personal loans, you can speed up your payoff by tackling high interest loans first. Most experts call this is the “avalanche method.”
Alternatively, if you have several small loans with very similar interest rates, consider adopting the “snowball method,” which calls for paying off your smallest loan balances first. This technique can be very psychologically motivating.
The Bottom Line
It wasn’t easy, but two years later, my wife and I have zero regrets about hustling and sacrificing to pay off my student loan debt as quickly as we did. Today, we are able to invest more, give more, and live a better life thanks to our short-term sacrifices. And now that our first child is here, we will be able to max out his college savings plan every year to ensure that his future education won’t come at such a steep cost.