I’ve received several questions about student loans (thank you!), and while I’m not an expert, let me share what I do know…and hopefully some helpful resources.

The Expert

Heather Jarvis is widely regarded as one of the top student loan experts (if not the top expert). Her website is a great resource for additional questions. There is a ton of content and a lot of free tools. http://askheatherjarvis.com/

First Things First

First things first, believe you can pay your student loans off. You can! And probably faster than you think.

Step 2

Make sure you have all the necessary information.

  • How many student loans do you have?
  • For each loan, is it a Federal or private loan?
  • What is the interest rate for each loan?
  • What is the outstanding balance?
  • What is the minimum required monthly payment?
  • Anything else I may be forgetting and any information that is specific to your situation.

The Approaches

There are two primary approaches you can use to pay off your student loans, if you have multiple outstanding loans. (If you only have one outstanding loan, focus on that and pay it off.)
1. Pay off the smallest balance first. Then, pay off the loan with the next smallest balance, then the next, and so forth. This approach is best for people who feel totally overwhelmed and don’t have the momentum needed to tackle their student loans. By paying off the smallest balance first, you begin to create the necessary momentum as you pay off each outstanding student loan, especially if you have a couple loans with small balances you can quickly knock out.
2. Pay off the loan with the highest interest rate first. This is my preferred approach. By paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first, then the next highest, and so on, you ultimately will save more in interest costs over time. I like this approach because it saves you more money. (If you’re really having trouble staying motivated though, Approach 1 may be best for you.)

A Couple of Important Notes

  • Once you’ve decided which approach to take, make sure you still pay the minimum required payment on ALL of your loans. Any EXTRA money you can add each month should then go toward the loan you’re targeting (either the loan with the smallest balance or the loan with the highest interest rate).
  • Make sure when making these extra payments they are going to principal ONLY, not principal and interest.
  • “But Lucy, what do you mean EXTRA money? If I had extra money, I wouldn’t have all these student loans.” Fair point. BUT, remember all the things we’ve talked about in regard to spending less, saving more, and limiting purchases that don’t align with your values? I bet you could find some money there, even if it feels small, to begin more aggressively paying down your debt.

Should I Consolidate?

This depends on the types of loans you have. It is important to know if you have Federal and/or private loans. If you aren’t sure, Federal loans can be found using the National Student Loan Data System.

Unfortunately, there is no such database for private loans.

If you have Federal loans only, I would NOT consolidate if your loans are from 2006 or later. (If you have pre-2006 Federal loans, this may make sense.) Federal students loans since 2006 have fixed interest rates set by Congress. Consolidating these Federal student loans is not about improving interest rates. The consolidated interest rate would simply be the weighted average of the underlying loans. So, there is no financial gain to consolidating Federal loans from 2006 or later. Plus, by not consolidating you maintain the benefit of being able to cherry-pick which loan to payoff when.

If you have private loans, consolidation MAY make sense. Private consolidation is often referred to as refinancing. This may make sense if you have really good credit and credit that is better than when you initially took out the loans. I defer again to Heather Jarvis.

Loan Forgiveness at a Glance

The government does offer loan forgiveness in some cases. This is something that should be considered but also needs to be looked into (Heather has a lot of resources on this). At a glance, you have to use specific types of loans, work a specific type of job, work for a specific type of employer, and then work for 120 months. Then, you prove all conditions have been satisfied and after the 10 year working period, the outstanding balance of your loans is forgiven.

A Student Loan Pay-Off Calculator

Once you have the relevant information for your student loans and have started to think about your options, adding the information to a student loan calculator and adjusting the extra payment inputs can be very valuable. When you see how much you will save by paying them off more quickly, you are likely to become more motivated. And perhaps more than that, when you see how quickly you can pay them off and have that target date in mind, you can really get to work. (Believe me, a couple readers already have!)

The calculators below may be helpful. Note that some calculators only let you put in one loan. You can adjust for multiple loans by putting in the numbers for your combined total outstanding balance and your weighted average interest rate. Though there will be some variation depending on how much extra you pay each month and the order you decide to pay off your loans, these calculators should at least give you a pretty good idea.

http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/college-planning/loan-calculator.aspx
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/your-money/student-loan-repayment-calculator.html?_r=0

You can do it! Having a plan to free yourself from debt frees you not just financially, but mentally.

Let me know if you have any questions! And, if you have had success paying off your student loans in the past or are currently working to do so, I’d love to hear about it.

Lucy


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