If you hold a degree from an American university, chances are, Sallie Mae swings by your inbox every few weeks to remind you that you have a student loan payment due. Today, approximately 70% of American college students graduate with a “significant” burden of student loans. The average graduate will have to pay back about $37,170, and the average monthly loan payment has risen to nearly $400.
Student loan repayment plans often give graduates 10 years to pay off what they owe, but many graduates report it’s taking them much longer than expected. In fact, 60% of graduates say they don’t expect to pay off their student loans until their 40s. Dealing with student loan debt for decades can prevent young adults from reaching major milestones like buying a home, getting married, and starting a family.
Anyone with student loans is usually interested in paying them off as quickly as possible, but doing so can take some sacrifices. I graduated college two years ago, and, predictably, I am still looking at a few more years of steady loan payments. But I have taken a few steps to put more than the bare minimum towards my loan payments each month. Here are the strategies I’m using to get rid of my debt.
1. Living with roommates and family
For my first year after college, I lived with three other roommates, including my boyfriend, which cut my rent in half. When we realized the city we lived in wasn’t a great fit in the long term, we both moved back home with our families while figuring out our next move. We plan to get our own place again this winter and split the rent evenly. Americans spent a record amount of money on housing in 2017, and with rental costs rising steadily across the country, living with roommates or moving back in with family to save on rent means you can put significantly more funding towards paying off loans. It may not be possible for everyone, but if you can do it, it’s a smart financial move.
2. Using a spending tracker
After a summer of reckless spending before my sophomore year of college, I decided to download a spending tracker to avoid wasting more money. A spending tracker allows you to see exactly where every dollar you spend goes, and it can help you decide where to cut back on spending to redirect those funds towards loans. You can download spending trackers that will link to your bank account and track all of your transactions for you, but I recommend using one that requires you to manually enter all of your income and expenses to increase accountability and awareness of each dollar you spend.
3. Spending cash more often than credit
Earlier this year, I met with an accountant for the first time to go over my taxes. She gave me a few tips to help me pay off my debt. She recommended making purchases with cash instead of credit cards to help curb my spending, and it turns out there’s research to back her up. When people make purchases with cash, they generally spend less money and place a higher value on the items they do buy. Of course, it’s useful to make certain payments with credit cards to build a good credit score, but by balancing that with cash purchases, you can trick yourself into spending less without really thinking about it.
4. Starting a side hustle
It’s unfortunate that so many recent graduates struggle to pay off their loans on time with just one job, but the increase in both debt and cost of living can make a “side hustle” a necessity. I’m a full-time freelance writer, and there’s one company that I write travel “listicles” for as my side hustle. It’s not exactly groundbreaking journalism, but it’s fun, easy, and allows me to put extra money towards my loans each month. Choose a flexible side hustle that you enjoy — some popular choices include babysitting, freelance projects for local businesses, or dog walking.
5. Setting up a monthly automated transfer for your loan payment
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, this might not be a good idea, but if you have a stable income, you might want to consider automating your loan payments. This ensures that you will always make your payments on time, and you won’t be able to spend that money on anything else. It’s important to keep an eye on your bank account balance if you plan to automate payments — you don’t want to end up overdrawn — but overall, I find that automating payments means one less thing to worry about each month.
The stronger a grasp you have of your finances, the more likely you’ll be confident enough to negotiate a raise or ask for a promotion. Check out this guide to the effects of financial confidence on women’s careers, brought to you by InHerSight, Ellevate Network, and Mercer's When Women Thrive.
By Jane Harkness
Jane Harkness is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. Her writing has been published on Thought Catalog, Student Universe, Pink Pangea, and more. You can check out more of her work at janeharknesswrites.com.