If you have student loans, you don’t need me to tell you how great a burden they are. Your student debt is like a ball and chain that keeps you from living the life you want.
If you took out loans in order to get your degree, you need to cut those shackles as quickly as possible. That way, you can enjoy more freedom today and start building a solid financial foundation for your future.
On the face of it, getting out of student loan hell may seem an arduous task. But believe it or not, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. In my experience there are five steps that can deliver you to the debt-free Promised Land much faster than you might imagine. Let’s get to it Pilgrim.
Before you start, devote yourself completely to your cause of paying off your student debt. The best way to do that is to fully understand what your debt costs you. As I suggested above, people who have student debt sometimes
- Take jobs they otherwise wouldn’t.
- Live in places they would prefer to move away from.
- Rent when they would prefer to buy a home.
- Find it more difficult to save, invest, and enjoy their lives.
People don’t often stop and look at all the costs associated with debt. But when you go through that list it’s easy to see how expensive student debt really is. This should serve to fire you up. Get good and angry at your liabilities and totally commit to erase student debt from your life.
This first step is very important because along the way, you’re going to encounter obstacles and you’ll have second thoughts. You and any significant other in your life are going to have be all in when it comes to slaying the debt dragon, because this is going to require some sacrifice and you may have to make a few lifestyle changes. Without being fully dedicated you may find it difficult to stay on the path.
List ALL your debts on a spreadsheet and sort them by interest rate. The highest rate loans (regardless of the size of the debt) should be on top, and the least-cost loans go toward the bottom.
What we’re going to do is set priorities. First, we’re going to try to reduce the cost of the loans. Once we do that, we’re going to throw as much money as possible at the highest cost debt while minimizing payments to your lower cost liabilities. This is a version of Dave Ramey’s “debt snowball” and I’ll explain how this works in just a minute.
For now, just create your list and make it sortable. By the way, this list includes all your debt — not just student loans. Again, the concept is to eliminate your highest cost debt first regardless of how that debt was created.
Lower your interest costs
Lowering your interest cost is the No. 1 most powerful way to get out of debt fast. Remember, every dollar you pay toward interest does nothing to pay off your debt. Therefore, if you can lower your cost of debt, more of your payment will actually go toward reducing the principal rather than making a finance company rich.
One often overlooked way to reduce your interest costs is to ask your family to refinance your debt with a lower interest costs. Now is a great time to do this because interest rates are so low. Your rich uncle might be delighted to pay off an old debt that costs you 8 percent and only charge you 5 percent. As I see it, that’s a win-win for you both.
Another way to refinance your debt is through sites like www.credible.com — especially for student loan debt. They have a great deal experience in this realm and if I was carrying student debt I would absolutely look into their resources.
If you have high-cost credit card debt and your family won’t refinance you, consider peer-to-peer lenders. These are companies that put people like you together with investors who have funds to invest but want more interest than the bank is willing to pay. Again, since rates are very low right now, this might work like a charm if you are paying more than 8 percent on any of your loans.
Another way to lower your interest costs is to maintain the highest credit score possible. If you’ve had a few blemishes in the past try to clean them up yourself or hire someone reputable to assist — but do whatever you can to maximize your score. Why? Because creditors base the interest rate they charge you on that number.
Rearrange your payments
As I suggested above, once you refinance all your high-cost debt, your next step is to put as much money as possible towards the highest cost existing debt. Let me use an example to illustrate why this is your golden ticket to Debt Free Land.
Let’s say you have two loans. Assume the most expensive loan is for $18,000 and your interest rate is 8 percent. The schedule calls for monthly payments of $219 a month for 10 years in order to clean this off your books. In addition, you have a 10-year $10,000 loan at 2 percent. If you pay $92 a month you’ll have that puppy paid off in 10 years as well. So if you stick to the schedule, your total monthly payments will be $311 for 10 years.
Now, let’s say you discover that instead of paying $92 a month on the second loan, you can pay them $16 instead — interest only. That’s a savings of $75 a month. Now, take that $75 and add it to the $219 you pay the more expensive debt. If you do that, you’ll pay off that $18,000 in about 6.5 years rather than 10.
Once you do that, you keep paying $311 but you apply all of it towards that $10,000 debt at 2 percent. And when you do that, you’ll pay off that debt in 2.75 years. In other words, by using the debt snowball you get out of debt 9 months faster. Not bad considering you didn’t even break a sweat.
Up until now, we’ve gotten you out of debt faster by simply refinancing your debt and changing how much you will pay each of your lenders. These are the low hanging fruit when it comes to getting out of debt. The benefits are nice but our goals are to get you out of debt in 3 years – not 8 or 9.
In order to accelerate your Debt Freedom Day, you’re going to need to put more green towards your loans. This might include earning more, cutting down on spending or a combination of the two.
In order to retire the total debt of $28,000 in 3 years, you’ll need to bump up your payments to about $800 a month.
If increasing your payments from $311 to $800 is no problem for you, all the power to you. But if that kind of jump isn’t possible right now, don’t sweat it. Refinance and reorder your payments and push up your monthly amount as much as you can. You’ll be far better off than you were before you started. Maybe you won’t get out of debt in 3 years, but you will get there much faster than 10 years.
Cleaning up student debt isn’t complicated. It may not be easy but it’s certainly understandable. Break it down into bite-sized tasks.
First, refinance and then rearrange your payments. Once you take these two steps, create more money to apply towards those debts by getting a side gig, spending less on your standard of living or a combination of both.
If you still carry student debt, what are you willing to do in order to take care of it?
Neal Frankle is a Certified Financial Planner in Los Angeles and author of the Wealth Pilgrim blog.