Your student loan debt can be a major source of anxiety and frustration, making you feel trapped and stuck. It can feel like you’ll never get out of debt or you might not even know where to start if you want to make significant progress. If you want to save money, learn how to pay off student loans fast with these 17 hacks.
1. Boost your payments
The best way to pay off student loans quickly is paying more than the minimum. Your minimum monthly payment is just the base that is required to satisfy the loan. If you can afford to, pay more than the minimum payment.
I paid the minimum for the first five years on my student loans even though I could have put more toward the balance. It didn’t even occur to me and I just treated my student loans like any other bill.
It wasn’t until I accrued a lot more debt from graduate school that I got serious and made monster payments toward my student loans. Though my minimum payments were already $900, I started putting $2,000 to $3,000 per month toward my debt after side hustling like crazy. Even if you can’t double your payments or put four figures to your student loans, anything above the minimum still helps.
Look at your budget and see how much more you can afford. Whether it’s $10 more or $1,000, your loans will be paid back cent by cent, so it pays to put more toward your loans if you can. To get the most impact, talk to your loan servicer about applying the extra payment to your principal balance.
2. Sign-up for autopay
Federal student loan borrowers can take advantage of an interest rate reduction of 0.25% by signing up for auto-pay. Your interest is what accrues daily and can make it difficult to make the progress you want.
Any kind of reduction in interest can help. You can talk to your loan servicer about signing up for auto-pay. Through this option, your student loan payments are automatically taken out from your bank account. Make sure you choose a withdrawal date that works for you when you know you will have the funds. If you get hit with an overdraft fee, the interest savings won’t help!
Another way to save money on interest is to refinance your student loans. When you refinance your student loans, you apply to get a new loan at a lower rate. Once approved, that new loan pays off your old loans. So refinancing has dual benefits — lowering your interest rate and if you’re refinancing multiple student loans, making your life easier with only one monthly payment.
Depending on your credit and eligibility you could end up getting several points of interest shaved off your student loans. Those few percentage points can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. Interested in this strategy? Check out refinancing options and cash back bonuses available.
Just be mindful that this strategy turns your federal loans into private loans so you will give up special programs like student loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment in the process, as well as other protections.
4. Side hustle
If you want to know how to pay off student loans fast, find more ways to earn money. Increasing your earnings gives you the option of putting more money toward your student loans, plain and simple.
If you already have a full-time job, getting a side hustle can seem unreasonable or stressful. But you don’t have to do it all the time. Even just one day a week driving for Lyft or tutoring a kid in your neighborhood can help. If you have talents in writing or graphic design you can freelance on a case-by-case basis.
To get started, evaluate your strengths and talents and how much time you can devote to a side hustle. Consider pet-sitting, babysitting, freelancing, being a brand ambassador at events, delivering food through Instacart or Postmates, and more.
When I was paying off my student loans, my side hustles allowed me to pay off student loans faster. I ended up pet-sitting for a coworker of mine, which added a couple of hundred dollars to my income.
On weekends, I’d work sporting events or concerts as a brand ambassador making $17-$25 per hour. Once a month or so, I worked at a Jewish congregation working as an events assistant making $12 per hour, but with lots of great leftovers and wine to take home.
They actually hired me partly in fact because I am not Jewish and there would be no conflict working on a holiday. So think outside of the box when looking for side hustles!
5. Shopping ban
Another useful way to pay off student loans is limiting your expenses, focusing on your needs and put a halt to your extra, non-essential spending. You need to pay rent, you need to buy food if you own a car– you need to pay for gas and car insurance.
But you don’t need to go to the movies, you don’t have to travel, you don’t have to go to every happy hour. You don’t need to give up all your fun while paying off student loans but consider a temporary shopping ban where you don’t buy anything that isn’t essential. The ban could be a month or six months — however long you think makes sense for you.
6. Use windfalls of cash
At times, you may be the recipient of a windfall of cash. Your grandma passed away and left you $5,000, your Aunt Peggy sent you $50 for your birthday, or you got a $2,836 tax refund. Maybe you got a holiday bonus or an unexpected raise.
Since you weren’t technically expecting that cash and are living on your current income, you can throw all that extra dough toward your student loan payments. Commit to this strategy because having that cash sitting in your hands for too long can be too tempting!
7. Make bi-weekly payments
One of the worst parts about student loans is that your interest accrues daily. It’s so frustrating to try and get ahead when every day your balance is just growing bigger and bigger by the day.
An easy hack is to make bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments. So instead of making one full monthly payment, divide your monthly payment in half and make that payment every two weeks. You’re not even technically paying more, you’re just boosting the frequency. Doing so will help save you money on the interest that accrues daily and will result in one extra payment by the end of the year.
8. Opt for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you have debt in the six figures and feel like you’ll never pay off your debt, even with the extended repayment periods offered on some plans, you may consider opting for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
Under PSLF, federal student loan borrowers can work in the public sector or at a government agency for 10 years and make 120 payments to get their student loans forgiven.
This could be a good option if you’re already working at a nonprofit or government agency, or if that work interests you. You could save years of repayment if you know for sure you could not pay back your loans in 10 years.
9. Change jobs
While this strategy won’t work for everyone, you might consider changing jobs if you want to pay off student loans fast. You can switch jobs and work “for the money” while you ditch your debt. You could work for another company that pays you more, switch industries to something that’s better paid, or start working in the public sector so you are eligible for PSLF.
You can also look for jobs that offer some form of student loan repayment assistance. Many employers are jumping on the bandwagon to offer this perk, so it’s something to look out for.
10. Pay off high-interest debt first
Learning how to pay off student loans fast means looking at the math. In order to make faster progress and save money, focus on your high-interest debt first. This is commonly referred to as the debt avalanche method.
You pay the minimum on your debt while focusing your extra payment toward your high-interest loans. For example, my undergraduate loans were around 2.3% but my graduate loans were 7.9% and 6.8% interest. At the highest balance, I was paying $11 per day in interest. That lit a spark in me and I focused on paying off my high-interest student loans first to save money on interest and pay off debt faster.
11. Deduct student loan interest on taxes
Some student loan borrowers may be eligible to deduct up to $2,500 of their student loan interest on their tax return. Whether you qualify or not depends on your income and filing status. You will want to get your 1098-E from your loan servicer to use on your tax return.
12. Put spare change toward debt
Paying off student loans fast means putting every cent you can toward your balance. One way to do that is through the ChangEd app. Using ChangEd, you can link your spending account and they will round-up your purchases and put the spare change toward your student loans.
If you bought lunch out and spent $7.64, you’d have .36 cents to round-up. That may not seem like a lot at first, but that’s happening for ALL your purchases. The app does cost $1 a month, so weigh your spending with this cost to see if it makes sense.
Another great perk is that your family members can link their spending accounts to help you pay off your balance too.
13. Sell your stuff
Another way to pay off student loans fast is by decluttering your space and selling your stuff. What items do you no longer need or use? Gather sellable goods from your place, take high-quality photos of each one and sell them online.
You can sell your items on Craigslist, OfferUp, Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace. Put all of that extra cash toward your student loan payments while getting rid of things that don’t serve you anymore.
14. Go on a cash diet
If you’re paying off student loan debt, avoid accruing any more debt by going on a cash diet. Instead of using credit cards, only use cash or swipe your debit card when making any purchases. This method means you won’t take on any more debt on top of your student loan debt, and you’ll only spend using the money (not credit) you have.
15. Change your tax withholding
Do you get excited every April because you know you are getting a refund? If that’s the case you may consider changing your tax withholding so you can get a bigger paycheck year-round, instead of getting a lump sum during tax time.
Let’s face it, when you get a big refund it’s tempting to go on a spending spree, rather than save or pay off debt. But if you boost your paycheck a little bit throughout the year, you might be more inclined to use it wisely and free up more money for your student loan payments.
Your rent or mortgage is likely your biggest expense. Cutting back in this area by moving can help free up some more money. If you’re able to, downsize your apartment or move to an area with a lower cost of living. For example, I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon which helped me have a lower base cost of living and I was able to put more toward debt.
If you don’t want to move, consider getting a roommate or renting out part of your space on Airbnb.
17. Use cashback
There are so many different ways to get cash back these days — from credit cards to shopping apps. Earning cash back helps you put more money toward your student loans without a ton of extra effort. Here are just some cash back options to earn money:
- A cash back credit card can apply your earned cash toward your student loans.
- The app, Ibotta, earns you cash back when grocery shopping.
- Ebates provides a range of cash back percentages when shopping online.
- Use Drop to earn points at certain retailer locations to score your gift cards, which can free up money on things you’d buy anyway so you can put more toward your student loans.
Some banks have cash sign-up bonuses that you can use as well. Taking advantage of all these cashback opportunities helps you earn more money and get out of debt faster.
How to pay off student loans fast
When you’re climbing your way out of debt, it can be hard to see the finish line — sometimes it feels like you’ll never get there. But it is possible to get out of student loan debt. It won’t be easy, but using these tips helps you get out of student loan debt faster, so you can finally be debt free.
Have you considered any of these options for paying back your student loans?