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Seven strategies for paying off student loans
Graduation is a time of celebration. You’ve finished four—ok, maybe five years of school, and you’re ready to conquer the world. Do you know what else you should be ready to conquer? Your student loan debt.
In 2018, the total amount of student loan debt in the U.S. was at an all-time high at nearly $1.5 trillion. Spread over 44 million borrowers, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. While the idea of repaying your debt may be overwhelming and a seemingly impossible feat, take heed. We’ve got a few words of wisdom that can help you get started. With some self-discipline and a little sacrifice, you’ll be able to wipe out that I.O.U. sooner than you think.
Here are some practical strategies you can use to get your finances in order, knock down that debt, and be well on your way to financial freedom:
1. Live like a college student
You’re eager to venture out into the real world and live on your own. You want to rent a cool apartment that doesn’t include a hand-me-down couch and four other roommates. We get it. But if you can stand it, try not to inflate your current lifestyle too quickly. By keeping the same penny-pinching habits you used in college, you’ll be able to send a bigger chunk of your paycheck to your lender. The quicker you pay it down, the faster you’ll graduate to a more comfortable lifestyle that doesn’t include a repayment plan.
2. Send more than the minimum payment
If you continue to send the required minimum loan repayment each month, it’ll take the full term of your loan to pay it off. You’ll also wind up paying the maximum amount of interest. Consistently sending more than your $50 minimum payment, for example, will not only help you pay the balance down more quickly, it will significantly reduce the total amount of interest you pay over the term of the loan. Increasing your payment by any amount will save you both time and money, and who wouldn’t want that?
3. Pick up a side hustle
If you need more money, find a way to bring in additional income. Maybe you DJ on the weekends, wait tables at night, or work as a freelance photographer. Whatever your talent, parlay it into a side hustle. The key here is to have enough discipline to take the extra income and pay down your student loans. It’s not a way to save for a vacation, to buy a new car, or a Louis Vuitton bag—right now, anyway. If your objective is to tackle your student loans, keep your eye on the prize!
4. Send extra payments
Did you get a tax refund, a bonus at work, a little extra cash in your birthday card? It might not be the most exciting thing to do, but paying down your loan with a windfall, no matter how big or small, is the financially smart thing to do. Making extra payments, whether it’s each month, every quarter, or whenever you happen upon some extra cash, will speed up your loan repayment and reduce your total interest expense. The faster you pay it down, the more money you save, and the quicker you get out from underneath that student loan debt.
5. Add loan repayments to your gift wish list
C’mon, how many Starbuck’s gift cards do you really need? When friends and family ask you for birthday or holiday gift suggestions, you might tactfully ask them for a cash gift to pay down your student loan balance. Check out sites like LoanGifting or Generosity, now a part of GoFundMe, to make it official. Services like these are exclusively dedicated to helping reduce student loan debt by accepting and processing loan repayment donations. Set up a profile, connect it to your loan account information, and gift-givers can help you on your road to financial freedom.
Be sure to read the fine print, though. Setting up an account is free, but there are some fees deducted from each financial gift.
6. Refinance your student loans
Consolidating and refinancing your student loans at a lower rate can help you reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay. It may also allow for a shorter repayment term and a quicker route to becoming debt free. With one loan, one monthly payment, and a more competitive interest rate, it’s worth a look. There’s no harm in evaluating your options, especially when there may be an opportunity to save some cash and reduce your debt more quickly.
7. Look for employers who can help
Student loan repayment assistance is an employee benefit that’s growing in popularity. In fact, according to Forbes, it was the hottest employee benefit of 2018. Check out their list of ten companies that are already on board.
There are other similar programs, too. Government employees may be eligible for the federal government’s Student Loan Repayment Program. Nurses and teachers may be eligible for the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program and Teach for America, and public sector employees may be able to receive assistance through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Weighted down with student loan debt isn’t the ideal way you’d like to begin this next chapter of your life, but it’s a reality for most college students. You can make the minimum payments, repay your loans as scheduled, and live happily in the process. But, if you’re anxious to finish those monthly payments and begin investing in your future, use these strategies and get started sooner than later.
Parents: Should you borrow for your child’s college education?
Congratulations! Your son or daughter was accepted into his or her top-choice university. You have an extra $175,000 lying around, right?
Your offspring’s education may cost that much or even more, now that the average cost of attending a private school has topped $42,000 a year, according to the College Board. If you can’t cover the whole bill with scholarships and savings, you may be tempted to borrow.
But should you? Ask yourself these questions:
How secure is your retirement?
Parents struggle with whether to put their child’s needs before their own. If you’ve followed the financial industry’s advice and prioritized your own retirement savings, you may not have been able to save much for college. Talk to a financial advisor about your retirement planning. This will help you decide whether you can handle education loans.
What’s your current debt level?
Are you still paying off your own education? If so, you wouldn’t be the only one. Many people are still chipping away at their college loans well into their careers, even as their own children near adulthood. Taking on more education debt may not be advisable if you haven’t eliminated your own.
Mortgage loans are also a consideration. Paying off your mortgage before retirement can help reduce the amount of monthly income you need once you stop working, so crushing this debt may be a big priority later in your career. If your home is worth significantly more than you owe, that equity may be a good source of college money. The interest rate on a home equity line of credit is likely to be lower than the rate on a federal loan for parents of college students. And, like other types of mortgages, the interest on home equity lines of credit may be tax deductible.
What are your other obligations?
If you buy your eldest a car as a 16th birthday present, your younger children will expect their own wheels, too. Over-extending yourself for one child’s education may be hard to replicate when the next kid enters college. Make a realistic plan that includes all your children’s likely college costs.
So should you borrow?
If your retirement savings are healthy, the rest of your finances are strong and you don’t have much debt, borrowing to pay for your child’s college might make sense. But it’s a last-resort option. Before you take out a loan, exhaust all possible financial aid options. Consider choosing a less expensive school, or having your child start at a community college and transfer to a four-year university later.
Many families find that it’s best for the student to be the borrower, rather than the parents. The interest rates on federally subsidized loans are better if they’re in the student’s name, and you can always help pay it off later if your own budget will allow it.
Your role as a parent is not coming to an end just because your son or daughter has earned a high school diploma. You still have to model good decision-making practices and healthy financial habits. That may include saying no to borrowing money for your child’s education.
5 facts about student loans that you need to know
The majority of students attending college will need to finance at least a portion of the cost required to further their education, most likely through student loans. While taking out a student loan may be a viable solution, there are both benefits and drawbacks of signing on the dotted line.
Here are five things you should know about the who, what, and how much of student loans.
1. Complete the FAFSA–NOW
FAFSA is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid, and it’s the gateway to all federal financial aid, which also includes student loans. The Education Department offers scholarships, work-study, grants, and loans for eligible students in the amount of $150 billion each year. The only way to see if you qualify is to complete the application. The federal deadline is June 30, 2018, but the sooner you hit the submit button, the better, so don’t procrastinate.
2. Federal loan vs. private loans
Federal student loans often offer lower interest rates, a friendlier repayment schedule, and typically don’t require Mom or Dad to cosign to be your safety net. The income-driven repayment schedule is highly attractive, but if you have trouble making your monthly payments on that entry-level salary, you’ll also have deferment or forbearance options to consider. A private student loan is often used to fund the shortfall left by federal loans. They typically come with a higher interest rate compared to federal loans and your parents will need to cosign on the loan.
3. Parent PLUS loans
Every parent would love to save enough money to fund their child’s education, but if that’s not your reality, you might consider a Parent PLUS loan. This type of loan is available to the biological or adoptive parents of dependent students, and it does require a credit check. They’re not especially cheap, though. In 2017 the interest rate was 6.31%, the highest rate among all federal student loans.
4. Student loan default
Even with the generous repayment options, sometimes borrowers default on their student loan. You should be aware that if you default on your loan, you’ll lose all of the benefits that were so attractive when you applied. That includes deferment, forbearance, and any other repayment options that were offered in the past. You’ll also forfeit any future access to federal education aid while your loan is in default.
Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The lender may also report the loan default to the major credit bureaus so your credit score will take a serious hit and the government has the authority to garnish your wages and claim your annual tax refund. And don’t forget about your cosigner, if you have one. They’ll be subjected to the same actions.
5. Student loan forgiveness
Who doesn’t wish that their debt could just disappear? Sometimes it’s called loan forgiveness and other times it’s referred to as loan discharge or cancellation. They’re all a little bit different, but the result is essentially the same.
Loan forgiveness plans may be available for people in education, public service, healthcare, military and other professions. There are specific requirements that need to be met, and not all loans are eligible for forgiveness.
Student loans may also be discharged for personal reasons, although this is very rare. They include school closings, bankruptcy, disability, identity theft or false certification, unpaid refunds, and fraud.
School loans are an excellent means to help fund your education, but all options are not created equal. If you know the rules and can budget your repayment, it can be a wise investment in your future.
Should you borrow to get an MBA?
If you’ve decided that an MBA is an important investment in your career, then your next step should be to determine how to finance your next two years of study. While many students rely on a combination of their own savings, help from family and other outside sources, other students have only to rely on the availability of grants, loans, and employment. If you’re a member of the latter group, don’t be discouraged. There are multiple resources that can help you overcome the financial challenges.
Start where the money is free. Grants, also called fellowships, fall into this category because they do not need to be repaid. A grant is awarded from the government, a foundation, or a trust and is typically given to an institution, a business, or an individual. The criteria for receiving a grant is not necessarily achievement based and can be more general in nature.
A business degree makes you a valuable asset to your employer, which is why your company may be willing to finance your post-baccalaureate education. They may already have a tuition reimbursement program in place. If not, submit a proposal that highlights the benefits of investing in you and your future at the company. Interviewing for a new position? Consider using tuition reimbursement as a negotiating tool.
Student loans, the most popular education financing tools, fall into the opposite category because they require repayment. Federal student loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized, which determines whether the government or the borrower is responsible for paying the interest while you’re in school, as well as the generosity and flexibility of the loan repayment terms.
Private loans designed to meet the needs of an MBA student can also be attractive options when it comes to supplementing other sources. In fact, if you have excellent credit, a private lender may be able to offer a more competitive interest rate and friendlier repayment terms. Most private lenders don’t charge application, disbursement or origination fees and you can refinance your loan if interest rates go down or your credit score increases.
While they may not be your first choice, don’t cross private loans of your list quite yet. They do have their advantages, especially when you combine them with other sources to create a flexible and smart financing package.
4 Tips to Help Manage Student Loan Debt
If you’re a recent college graduate who took out student loans, you likely owe about $35,000. As eye-popping as that average debt figure is, you’re certainly not the only one wondering how you’ll possibly get out from under your loans. As with any difficult assignment, though, research and a well-thought-out plan will help you tackle even the most challenging of debt situations.
Making use of the following strategies will help you dig your way out of student debt. Here’s a look at where to get started.
Know what you owe
First things first: Figure out what your monthly payments should be. To do that, use one of a handful of repayment calculators. These tools let you plug in the total amount that you owe along with your loans’ interest rates and term lengths. You’ll get a better sense of how much you should be paying each month if you want to take care of your debt within a certain amount of time.
Adjust your monthly budget accordingly
Knowing how much money you’ll need to put toward eliminating your student debt each month will help you adjust your budget. That may mean making tough decisions like cutting back on nonessential expenses.
Remember: Every extra dollar you put toward your debt reduces the total amount of interest you’ll end up paying over the life of your loan, so it’s well worth the effort.
Consider automatic payments
To ensure that you make your monthly payments on time, set up automatic deductions from your checking account. The way it works is easy: Your student loan servicer simply subtracts what you owe from your account whenever your payment is due. Your lender may even offer you a discount if you choose this option, which can be much more convenient than writing and sending a check every month. Just be sure that there’s enough money in your checking account so that you aren’t hit with overdraft fees.
Switch up your repayment plan
If you’re still struggling to put money toward your student debt, consider changing your repayment plan on federal loans, which you can do whenever you want. You may, for example, opt to switch from standard repayments —which have you contributing a set amount each month over a period of about 10 years — to graduated repayment, which is when your payments start out lower and increase over time.
Extended repayments, on the other hand, give you additional time to pay back your loans, sometimes up to 25 years, if your debt is more than $30,000 and you meet certain other requirements. Other plans, aimed at borrowers whose federal student loan debt is high relative to their income and family size, are income-based. If you qualify, the payments you owe are based on how much you earn every year. Although any of these plans can ease your monthly payment, you’ll end up paying more for your loan over time than you would if you had stuck with the standard 10-year plan.
Private lenders typically have stricter policies, but it’s still worth checking to see whether there’s any way to adjust your repayment plan with them.
If you’re a teacher or a public servant, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness. Otherwise, your last resort may be opting for forbearance, which means you can stop or reduce payments for a month or two. However, because interest continues to accrue, this course of action is better avoided.
With all that said, what you definitely don’t want to do is default on your loans. When you do that, the entire unpaid balance of your loan is due immediately, and you also lose the right to defer or change your repayment plan.
Breaking down the repayment process into smaller steps will make your student debt feel less overwhelming. Although it may take several years to wipe it out completely, a carefully crafted plan will set you up for success down the road.
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What are the differences between private and public student loans?
With the cost of a college education continuing to skyrocket, more students than ever depend on financial assistance to help cover their educational expenses. Financial aid is money that is available to students to help pay for attending a post-secondary institution in the United States. There are a variety of financial aid tools available to students, including grants, scholarships, need-based awards, work-study employment and student loans.
Types of student loans
Based on eligibility requirements and some limitations on the federal financial aid products, many students compliment their award package with a subsidized or unsubsidized federal student loan, both of which are offered through the U.S. Government.
Private student loans are another method students use to pay for college. These are offered through lenders, such as banks, credit unions, and companies, such as Sallie Mae, as well as through schools.
Public vs. private loans
There are substantial differences between public and private student loans, as we’ll look at here, but both are designed to help students sufficiently fund their education. As a general rule, private education loans serve as a supplement to the federal loan option.
- Federal loans offer a fixed rate that is the same for every borrower. The interest rate for a private loan varies based on an index rate plus a margin, and the margin is based on the credit rating of the borrower.
- A subsidized federal student loan doesn’t need to be paid back until after the student graduates, and the government will pay the accrued interest up to 6 months after graduation. An unsubsidized federal student loan acts the same, but the student is responsible for paying the accrued interest. Private loans, however, have a variable interest rate, so students are encouraged to repay the interest while they’re still in school.
- All federal student loans come with terms that protect the borrower if they lose their job, go back to school or experience another economic hardship. If you don’t qualify for a deferment, federal loans have an additional check, called forbearance, which can place repayment on hold due to illness or by meeting other requirements.
- Private loans do not allow borrowers to put their payments on hold. However, if you experience a hardship, you can appeal to the lender for a deferment or forbearance.
- Federal loans offer seven repayment options, including standard repayment, which satisfies the debt in 10 years, and flexible pay-as-you-earn plans that allow you make payments based on how much you earn. Private loans typically provide two repayment options, standard and extended.
- If you are disabled, go into public service or teach in some low-income areas, all or a portion of your federal loans can be forgiven or discharged. However, federal student loans are generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Private student loans are usually not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and the federal programs that allow you to discharge the debt when you go into public service or social work do not apply to private student debt.