Higher education is expensive — and prices continue to rise. Because of this climbing tuition and inadequate parent savings, student loan debt now plagues 40 million Americans. Your student loans were an investment in your education and career, but now you need to start making your payments. It’s important to not get overwhelmed, intimidated or discouraged in your journey to becoming free from student debt. Check out these methods to help you repay these student loans faster or more easily for your personal situation.
1. Personalize Your Plan
When your federal loans are due, your payments will automatically be based on the standard 10-year repayment plan. If that makes monthly payments or interest too high for you, you may want to change the repayment plan so it better fits your situation. You can even get income-based repayment so that you are not paying too high a percentage of your earnings toward debt.
Private student loans don’t have all the same options, but some lenders will offer some type of forbearance or allow you to make interest-only payments for a period of time. It’s a good idea to try to create a three- to five-year plan for paring down college debt and sticking to it so you can make a dent before other big life expenses. Keep in mind that forbearance comes with downsides too — just because your payments are paused, doesn’t mean that the debt isn’t accruing interest.
2. Automate Payments
Making your payments automatic takes any decision-making and room for error out of the question. It helps you avoid late payments because you do not have to be reminded to pay. The money is simply deducted from your account monthly for the payment amount you set. You can set up a reminder ahead of time to ensure you have enough money in your checking account so you are not charged for insufficient funds. Some debt holders will even shave a small portion of interest off for those using automatic payments since it lowers the chance of missed or late payments for the lender. This would result in a reduction in the total amount you have to pay. A missed or late payment damages your credit score, which in turn could mean you pay higher interest rates if you need credit after college. (You can see if late payments are impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
3. Consolidate or Reduce Your Loan
A consolidation loan combines multiple loans into a single monthly payment with one fixed interest rate. This can simplify the process and sometimes get you lower interest payments, but it’s generally not a good idea to consolidate federal loans into a private student loan or you will lose out on some repayment options and borrower benefits.
You can also reduce your student loan debt through public service by working for the Peace Corps, Americorps, government organizations or certain nonprofits for 10 years and making 120 on-time monthly payments through Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
4. Lump Sum or Extra Payments
If you find your checking and savings accounts looking extra healthy or get a sudden financial boost, you pay want to use that money to accelerate paying off your student loans. You can make a lump-sum payment that makes a big dent in your debt balance at one time or make extra payments each year to help you reduce the amount of money you pay in interest and speed up your loan payoff time frame. These payments will likely still qualify for a tax deduction, but can reduce your deduction eligibility going forward since you will have less years with the loan.
The most important steps are making peace with your debt, creating a budget that accounts for student loan repayment, and sticking to it. The key is finding a method that works with your life and financial situation. You can even pick up a side job to earn some extra cash to put all toward your loans. The better your plan matches your needs and abilities, the less trouble you will likely have repaying what you owe.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.