Student loan debt is a growing problem for college students. In fact, about $3,000 of student loan debt is accrued every second, according to Debt.org, an organization that aims to help people manage their debt. Even though most student loans allow students to defer payments until after graduation, that doesn't mean you can't get a head start while you are still in school. Here are a few tips.
Budget, Budget, Budget
Even if you don't have much to budget, getting into the habit of setting (and observing) spending limits will help you find opportunities to put extra money toward your student loan(s). Set a budget for eating out, entertainment, gifts and shopping and stick to it. Track your spending to find areas where you can cut back and save. For example, that $4.50 latte may seem like an innocent purchase until you realize you bought 10, or $45 worth, last month.
Creative Ways to Earn Money on the Side
When your study load is already packed, you may not have time to commit 20-30 hours a week to a part-time job. But perhaps you have 5-10 hours each week, or free time on the weekends. Earning an extra $100-$300 a week can help offset extra college costs and go toward loan repayment. Look for side jobs that allow you to set your own hours, such as:
- House/dorm cleaning
- Computer/cell phone repair
- Dog walking/sitting
- Driving for ride-sharing companies
Set Up Automatic Payments
Set up automatic payments so that money is funneled directly from your bank account to your loan payment, thereby eliminating the chance that you'll spend your funds elsewhere. Even paying as little as $25 a month could ultimately save you thousands of dollars.
"Let's say you have an unsubsidized $10,000 loan at 5 percent APR that's in deferment while you're in school [for 4 years]," said Andy Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, an Austin-based company that helps borrowers manage and pay off their student loans. "If you pay $50 per month while in school, the balance on the loan will be about $9,560 after four years. If you hadn't made these payments, the balance on the loan would be $12,200."
Pick the Best Loan to Attack First
Not all loans are created equal, so it makes sense to prioritize. It's often best to begin paying off private loans before federal loans. The latter generally have more flexible repayment options, such as state-based loan forgiveness programs and income-based repayment options.
You can also start by paying more toward the loan with the highest interest rate. This will allow you to save the most money, since loans with higher rates ultimately increase your total loan cost.
Return Unused Loan Amounts
Many times a financial aid package will come with loans that exceed what you actually need for college. This happens because colleges calculate and include living expenses. However, if you plan to live with your parents or will pay for living expenses through your paycheck, you might not need your entire loan amount.
Some private lenders, like Discover Student Loans, use school certification to prevent students from borrowing more than they need. Each school and lender has its own policies, but you can usually return excess money to the original provider within the first 30 days, said Zack Perkins, co-founder of CollegeVine, an online mentorship and college applications guidance company.
But if you wait too long, it may not be so easy. "Within 120 days of the money being transferred, a school can deny your transfer request," he said, "so you will need to return the money yourself by contacting the loan provider."
If you can't return the original loan, that doesn't mean you are entirely out of luck. You can still pay back the unused portion of the loan early to avoid interest charges. If you wait too long to return your loan, you will owe interest on money you didn't use. It's best to talk with your school's financial aid office to determine how much of your loan you need so you only accept what's necessary.
Discover Student Loans Repayment Options
With Discover Student Loans, students have the option to make either interest-only or $25 fixed, monthly payments while in school and during the grace period to lower the overall loan cost. However, students can also choose to defer payments, meaning that monthly payments are not required until six months after they graduate or if their enrollment drops below half-time.
Students can make payments anytime to help reduce the overall cost of the loan, and there is never a penalty for prepaying.
Each lender has its own rules for repaying loans, so check with your school's financial aid office for more information. Putting money toward your loan while still in school might feel like a balancing act, but it will be worth it when you graduate with less debt.