Kali Hawlk

Financial Writer & Digital Marketer

10 Things Every Millennial Should Do to Get Rid of Student Loan Debt

student-loan-debt

I am so pleased to share a brilliant post contributed by amazing writer – and my fantastic soul sister – Claire Murdough of Ready For Zero! Claire is one of those people that has made me extremely grateful I started blogging and got a chance to meet everyone in our amazing personal finance community & blogosphere. Without further ado, I’ll let Claire take it from here!

Immediately after my college graduation, I moved back home to live with my parents, was unemployed for the next several months, and received my very first student loan debt bill in the mail. I also ate a lot of Kix cereal and entertained the idea of moving to a farm and starting a basil & strawberry jam company. In other words, I was a classic Millennial. When I wasn’t fretting over job applications or dreaming up new ventures, I felt guilty for failing in my job search. When I wasn’t worried about my emotional and creative sanity, I was bitter towards the high cost of an education that seemed to be getting me anywhere. I shook my fist in the air a lot too.

But damned it all if I was still totally and unabashedly idealistic! Optimism: the silver lining of the millennial generation. And though it doesn’t exactly pay the student loan bills, it’s a great motivator to inspire you to boot student loan debt out of your life as quickly as possible. We have big dreams to pursue, right?

So here are my top 10 tips to get rid of student loan debt so you can get on to other important things in life (like traveling, inventing, and jamming).

1. Make friends (or at least amends) with your debt

Student loan debt is currently hitting the US in a huge way (as in over a trillion owed). Being part of such an enormous sum can be weirdly uniting and comforting. It’s terrible, but it also means that you aren’t alone. But while it’s nice to share a certain camaraderie over your debt, it’s easy to spend more energy on feeling defeated than on actually paying it off. That’s why it’s essential to focus on your personal numbers and come to terms with what that means for you. Engage with your student loan debt, make peace with the fact that it’s a part of your life. That means opening bill statements and doing research that allows you to truly understand your options and how to pay off your debt even more quickly.

2. Understand the terms of your repayment plan

Next up? Understanding what the heck is going on with your student loan debt repayment. I was (rightly) intrigued by all the federal loan repayment plans when I was in college. It seemed like they were there just for me… the low earner and high debtor! Under an income-based repayment (IBR) plan, 25 years of consistent on-time minimum payments meant the remaining balance is just forgiven. Plus I would get to push off repayment for a good year via grace period, forbearance, and deferment? Psh, that doesn’t seem too bad…said the 22 year old with no real concept of time or how interest works.

25 years is indeed a long time – I’ve since realized. And I’m not that interested in being chained to debt for quite that long if I can help it. It’s a lot of time for compounding interest (and not the good kind) to accumulate. I’m definitely not interested in paying tens of thousands of dollars in interest.

It’s not that these programs don’t make sense – anyone who is struggling financially could (and does) benefit from any one of them. But they’re also not the end-all be-all of your debt repayment. I went straight-shot to a plan where I paid the least amount each month because I thought it was my most feasible option. And honestly, at the time it was. But I didn’t really understand what my repayment should look like over time and I stuck to paying minimums even as I started to make more money. I was just happy to be following a plan! Unfortunately, it was one that put me on the slow track to debt free. Do some homework (ahhh, never thought I’d say that again!!) and carefully consider what each repayment plan means. Take into account the length of repayment, how you might accelerate your plan as you continue to increase earnings, and even just consider what it means to pay student loan debt for so many years.

3. Create a personalized repayment plan

Once you’ve figured out exactly what repayment plan works best for your present (and your future) circumstances then it’s time to put your sweet college skills to good use! Creating your very own repayment plan will help you to keep track of your payments and ensure that you’re going about repayment in the most efficient way possible. Decide on your timeline, how much you can sensibly pay into your repayment plan, and how you want to go about paying off your student loan debt most effectively. Visuals that highlight your repayment timeline are particularly useful to help you really picture the trajectory of your repayment. When I first started using ReadyForZero, I was a bit appalled each time I saw my principal balance creep up on the graph when I was accumulating interest. It was motivating!

4. Make your payments work FOR you

Micromanage your debt! There are so many sneaky tactics that could be keeping you in debt for longer than necessary. To pay off your student loan debt you’ll need to keep your wits about you – especially as you sort out your initial payment plan. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you’re paying off your higher interest rates first while paying minimums on the rest, and also that your payments are actually applied to the principal balance! Be diligent with your payments or the entire process will go on for longer than anyone would probably like.

5. Bi-weekly payments

Making bi-weekly payments is a fun “trick” to share and it also happens to be an awesome way to accelerate your repayment plan. If you’ve never heard of bi-weekly payments before they essentially add an extra payment each year.  It works like this… instead of making one single payment each month, you take your monthly payment and divide it by two. Then you pay two half payments every two weeks, instead of one full payment at the end of the month. Since there are 52 weeks in the year, that means you’ll have an extra payment on your debt repayment. It’s fairly simple and the result is pretty awesome. Punch in your numbers to see how it works for your numbers using this calculator!

I know, it’s a crazy cool trick! And it’s not even magic.

6. Track your daily interest…

… because you will be traumatized into action. I remember the moment that I truly understood just how much interest I was accruing on a daily basis. Let me tell you, it was a doozy of a panic. The only thing worse was seeing how that translated into monthly interest charged, and then from there, the yearly interest.

Keeping track of interest paid is one of the most effective motivators when it comes to paying off your student loans. It hurts to see how much interest you’re paying on a daily basis, even if your loan is attached to a slight interest rate. Even years into repayment it pains me to see my daily interest charges. On the same token, these numbers have motivated me to throw more force into my repayment plan.

7. Pay above the minimums

Yet another must for millennials who want to dig out from under student loan rubble… pay above the minimums! If you pay the suggested payments you will be stuck in the student loan payment wheel for a long time. Much longer than if you paid even a small amount above the minimum payments. That’s because minimum payments are often largely a representation of the interest accumulated over the previous month. It’s essential that you boost your payments above the minimums, even if it’s just 20 dollars a week.

8. Tweak your spending habits (or create good habits that will help speed up your repayment)

One of my favorite tricks to connect with my spending is to preface every “extra” purchase with… “are you willing to buy this AND match the amount in your repayment?” So for instance, if I see something that I want, but don’t need I’ll challenge myself to match whatever I spend on that item and put it directly into my student loan debt payoff. Sometimes, that stops me from making the purchase. Other times, it incentivizes me to put more into my repayment plan. It’s a great way to add a bit of thought to my purchasing – especially since it’s so easy to swipe more than I intend to when I’m hangry at the grocery store.

9. Use accountability

Talk about your student loan debt! Tell people about your student loan debt! Sharing is a great tool to help you stick to your repayment plan and stay accountable to your goals. I’m not saying you have to live-tweet, snapchat (I’m trying to sound hip by using these references) or paste your numbers on your resume, but sharing your student loan payments goals with someone you trust and who will kick your butt when you’re distracted is extremely valuable. And remember when I talked about the camaraderie over student loan debt in the beginning of this post? It can work for motivating each other’s repayment too!

10. Have common sense (AKA, hone in on your inner Kali)

I’m not stretching in the least when I say that Kali is one of most inspiring millennial financial bloggers I’ve come across. She’s done an amazing job at securing her finances by using a powerful, but simple tool: common sense. And even better - she’s spreading this common sense and sharing tips that are simple and easy to implement. By making good financial habits widely applicable, she’s shown that this is not something that people have to struggle with alone and that much of financial wisdom can be boiled down to making informed and sensible decisions.

She’s a smart cookie – I’d listen to her.

Bonus: Open up a retirement account

OK, I know I said 10. But here’s a “bonus” tip, if you will…

If you don’t already have a retirement account, get thee to a computer/bank/financial advisor/friend and go about opening one!! I was practically forced to open up a Roth IRA and it was one of the best decisions of my young life. Not only did I start to build up savings for my eventual retirement kingdom, the biggest benefit came around tax time when I realized that I qualified for the savers credit! $500 into my retirement savings and then $500 dollars returned at tax-time. Millennials are winning in one area… we’re young enough to benefit from compounding interest in our retirement accounts. Start today!

Student loan debt can carry a stigma but finance is a part of life. It isn’t something that you have to turn into a dry, boring topic as evidenced by some of Kali’s creative posts. There are tons of resources available to help you out. If you want to optimize your life and happiness you’ll need to lock-down your repayment so that you can free up more of your attention and funding to pursue personal goals. Get your student loan repayment together and you’ll be all the closer to your dream job of traveling the world while spearheading your own startup! Or, in my case traveling to New Zealand to take the Lord of the Rings movie tour.

 

claireAbout the Author: Claire is a writer at ReadyForZero. She’s a Bay Area native with an affinity for travel (yay!) and food (yum!). She loves sharing financial tips and tricks that help people achieve their personal and financial goals.

Editor’s Note: Claire is also a super awesome, super sweet, and all around super person. If you’re wanting to meet her at FinCon, you’ll have to get in line. Me first!

26 Comments

  1. Your first point is definitely the most important! “But while it’s nice to share a certain camaraderie over your debt, it’s easy to spend more energy on feeling defeated than on actually paying it off.” I think a lot of people spend an enormous amount of time and energy feeling bad about their debt. It’s better to come to terms with it ASAP and use it to get motivated. My student loan debt motivated me to create side income and ever since starting that two years ago I have been able to create a brand new income stream on top of my full-time job. I would recommend others do it as well!

    • So awesome to hear that you were inspired to create side income! I’m such a big proponent of adding to debt repayment through methods like that rather than simply cutting back on spending. A great, active way to approach kickin’ that debt to the curb :)

  2. Great article! Many of my friends have graduated from college within the past few years, and they really have never looked into their student loans. They just pay the minimum payment and hope that it will go away. I’m always trying to get them to make a game plan and actually learn the terms of their loan!

    • Ahh, I took a total “head in the sand” approach to my repayment for the first few years post-graduation!! It was only when I realized I was literally just paying interest that I got my butt in gear. Game plans are so essential!!

      Thanks so much for the comment :)

  3. Nice article! I found for myself, coming to terms with what the debt was and all that was entailed with it (your #1) was so important in attacking my debt. It wasn’t until then that I was able to start working on all the other things and what helped me kick the debt payment into gear. It sucked, putting it lightly, but it helped me see realistically what I would need to start doing. As an aside, I’ve had to promise my wife I’ll be taking her to New Zealand for the same tour – she’s a big LoTR fan. :)

  4. I completely agree!! Especially the part about it being sucky but oh, so necessary. But the coolest thing is that once it’s faced, it’s pretty darn empowering!

    And wahooo to the LoTR vacationing!!! A visit to The Shire is definitely a motivating goal to save for!!! My student loan debt has become my personal Mt. Doom, so I can’t wait to visit the real thing once it’s all paid off :)

  5. These are all fantastic tips, Claire, and I’ve already followed most of them! I am guilty of having paid the minimum right out of college. I figured student loan debt was normal, and if no one else was in a rush to pay it off, why should I be? Thankfully I realized there was no reason to have it hanging over me for the next ten years, and started making multiple payments a month, paying more on my higher interest loan. Seeing how much interest accrues is quite the motivator!

    • I totally know what you mean about the student loan debt feeling like the norm. I always used to say “oh, I just have student loan debt” as if it weren’t a real kind of debt! Once I started to get more serious about repaying I was able to really understand what paying off student loans meant. Now I’m SO looking forward to financial freedom! Thanks so much for reading – and keep on rockin’ the repayment!!

  6. Great tips!! I never even thought of the bi-weekly payment one! My hubby graduated from college in 2011 and we have been over-paying on his loans ever since. (We didn’t think about being financially smart until he already had student loans) Some months, we are barely paying over the minimum, but other months (like bonus months or tax refund months) we are able to pay a lot over the minimum. I will have to start doing the bi-weekly thing and see how it ‘sneakily’ takes away his loans even faster!!

    • Yay!! I’m always excited to share the bi-weekly payment trick! Student loans are sneaky enough on the lender’s side, so it’s high time for borrower’s to use any and all tricks to help pay off debt as quickly as possible!! :)

  7. Good tips here! I was definitely in denial about my student loan debt for a while before I got on board with the debt pay down. Once I came to terms with my debt it was much easier to “fight it”.

  8. Making peace with your student debt is very important to the journey! It’s easy to be regretful and angry, but the debt doesn’t seem so bad once you realize all the value/education you got out of it.

    • I completely agree!! I think it’s SO important to remember the value of an education and one of the best ways to do that is to go full force towards making the most of the expense :)

  9. Common sense really lies at the heart of all major financial decisions. We know what we need to do, we just need to follow through and do it!

  10. Excellent tips! I think somewhere between realizing the debt and becoming comfortable with it, one absolutely cannot ignore it. Deferments can be wonderful tools if necessary but, if one is just trying to put away acknowledging student loans for another year, then forget about it.

    For me, the realization that these were serious was the pay off schedule. If I paid the minimum amounts each month, my loan would be paid off in 20 years! How insane is that? Now I have a 4 year repayment plan. Yeah, I go out a little less and buy a few less things that I want but it is worth it to shave off 16 years of debt!

    • Thanks so much, Scott!! The timeline of repayment is such a wake-up call! I love that you’ve adjusted your repayment in a way that boots your debt in 4 years – a big congratulations!!! Debt free seems so much closer :)

  11. Great tips! I think accepting your debt is so important. Also, finding a plan that works for you! Most people just don’t know where to start! Also, I can’t wait to meet both of you at FinCon!!!

    • I completely agree – it’s a matter of just figuring out what your “spirit” repayment is. And I am TOTALLY pumped to meet you at FinCon! It’s gonna be nutters to finally meet all the awesome faces behind the awesome blogs :)

  12. Claire – this an amazing overview. I don’t even have loans (not to rub it in) and you captivated me! I like your debt matching strategy when you’re tempted to buy something you don’t need.

    By the way, the Lord of the Rings tour is pretty great!

    • Ahhh!!! You’ve been on the Lord of the Rings Tour???? Was it as amazing as I imagine?? So jealous!

      And thanks so much for the nice words… totally made my day :)

  13. These are all great tips!

    It took forever to pay off our student loans, and I’m so glad it’s over with. The monthly payments were annoying and demoralizing. We got it down to around 10K and paid the rest in one huge payment.

    • Thanks so much and CONGRATULATIONS on getting rid of your student loans!! The monthly payments definitely wither my soul a little each month but at the same time… slowly chipping away to zero :D

  14. Awesome post. I love your first point but will take it a step further. Get to know your debt so you can destroy it! Know thy enemy. I find it personally easier to get mad at debt so I can find ways to get rid of it. Great post anyone with student loan debt needs to read this.

  15. Awesome point Syed! Getting into the ring with your student loan debt and throwing a few quick steps its way will definitely get you focused on the prize. What’s that they say about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer?? ;)

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