Student loan debt can put a damper on your finances. Depending on how much you owe, the monthly payments can hinder you from buying that dream car or home. And you could even find yourself struggling to make ends meet if the payments are a large chunk of your monthly income.

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The good news is even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s hope to kick that annoying student loan debt to the curb. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Create a Budget

If you’re serious about paying off student loans in record time, you have to be in control of your money. This means following a budget so you know exactly where your money’s going each month.

A budget will also help you determine how much extra income you have to allocate to student loan payments. Already have a budget?

That’s great news. Stick to it and weave those extra student loan payments in there. If not, take a moment to create one right away. (You can use the guidance found here to get started).

Pare down Your Expenses

Creating a budget is instrumental in establishing a student loan debt-payoff fund. But what if money’s already tight? You’ll need to take another look at your expenses and figure out what you’re going to part ways with. A few ideas:

  • Consider getting a roommate or moving back home to save on living expenses if possible. Sounds extreme, but if beats drowning in student loan debt for years to come.
  • Call your service providers to inquire about discounts and other offerings that may be more cost-efficient.
  • Cut the cord on cable and search for a lower cell phone option.
  • Increase your insurance deductibles to lower premiums.
  • Review insurance policies to determine if you can scale back on coverage to save money.
  • Cook instead of eating out, learn to love leftovers and find free sources of entertainment.

This may be extremely difficult, but the idea here is short-term pain for long-term gain. And remember, the faster you ax that stubborn student loan debt, the quicker you can spend money on the things you love most.

Consolidate or Refinance for a Lower Interest Rate

If you have federal loans, you can consolidate through the Department of Education to streamline repayments and possibly lower your interest rate, which can help you pay off the loans faster. It may also be worthwhile to consider refinancing if you’ll qualify for a substantially lower interest rate.

If you have private loans, the DOE Direct Consolidation Program is not available to you. However, there are private options you can consider, like Credible, SoFi, and LendKey.

And unlike the federal program, you’ll need to meet certain income and credit criteria to qualify. You can also look into refinancing to save a bundle on interest.

Always Pay More Than the Minimum

The more time you spend paying down student loans, the more you’ll pay in interest. So, always pay more than the minimum even if it’s only a bit higher than your monthly obligation. You’ll pay off the loan faster and you’ll save in interest.

Double-up

If you have a generous amount of wiggle room in your budget, consider doubling-up on your payments. It may be painful watching the money disappear from your account each month, but you’ll quickly put a dent in your student loan balances and pay them off much faster.

Make Extra Payments

Have you considered making biweekly payments? If you divide your payment and remit this amount every other week on payday, you’ll make an extra loan payment over the course of the year. (There are 52 weeks in a year, so a payment every two weeks amounts to 13 full payments instead of 12).

Use Financial Windfalls Wisely

Some employers are generous enough to dole out holiday and performance bonuses. While it may be tempting to pamper yourself, a much wiser choice is to use the funds to accelerate student loan debt payoff.

The same rule applies for hefty, but unexpected commissions, and tax refunds. (Speaking of taxes, be sure to take advantage of the student loan interest deduction and any student loan tax credits you may be eligible for to maximize your refund).

Get a Side Gig

Put those creative talents to use to earn some extra income. You can also consider taking on a part-time job or side gigs when available to bring in the bacon. Regardless of which route you choose, use all the proceeds earned to pay down student loan debt.

Sell Your Stuff

Do you have random items lying around your house collecting dust? Or maybe you recently purchased some things that you don’t really need? Sell them in a jiffy and use the money to advance your student loan debt repayment mission.

Loan Forgiveness

If you work in a public service or teaching capacity, you may qualify for loan forgiveness. According to the Department of Education, you may qualify if:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: You make 120 qualifying monthly payments under an eligible repayment plan during your employment with a qualifying employer.
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program: You teach for five consecutive years in a low-income school or educational service agency. Other qualification criteria may apply.

So while you may not have considered a career change, it may be the time to do so.

But what if you have student loans? While the DOE’s loan forgiveness program isn’t available to you, it’s possible you’ll qualify for some form of assistance through a program offered by your state of residence.

Work Overtime

During the holidays or during busy periods, your employer may extend the opportunity to receive overtime pay. It’s tempting to pass and give yourself the break, but you should take advantage of this opportunity to the extent that your body can handle it.

Ask for a Raise

If your performance is stellar and raises are the norm, now’s the time to take your shot and ask for one. But you’ll need to be disciplined and only use the funds for student loan payments. The easiest way to do this is by having the increase in pay deposited directly to a savings account where overpayments will be drawn from.

Inquire About Rate Reductions

Have you spoken with your loan servicer about ways to reduce your interest rate? Some offer special incentives to help you lower your rate, like opting-in to automatic payments.

Avoid Income-Based Repayment Programs

Income-based repayment programs are designed to set you up with a more affordable monthly payment. Sounds like a great incentive, but a lower payment usually means an extended repayment period. And ultimately, you’ll pay more in interest.

Also, keep in mind that entering into forbearance won’t advance your mission. In fact, it’ll increase the amount you owe since interest still accumulates during this time.

Automate Payments

Consider automating payments to avoid late fees and preserve your credit score. Remember, the goal is to pay off your student loans faster, not spend extra money on penalties that could have been avoided. You may also qualify for a rate discount if your student loans were provided by the federal government.

Bottom Line

Once you commit to this journey, you may hit a rough patch and want to throw in the towel. But don’t give up. Stay committed and your wallet will thank you.