1. Qualify for a loan forgiveness plan
Sometimes paying off your loans quickly doesn’t mean knocking out the balance as fast as possible. It means being the most strategic in how you pay off your loans.
That’s where loan forgiveness plans come in. A loan forgiveness program means that you do not have to repay the full balance. There are usually several requirements you must meet to qualify for loan forgiveness, like working in a specific field.
The federal government offers several loan forgiveness plans, including:
While federal programs are only available for borrowers with federal loans, there are some loan cancellation options if you have private student loans. These are usually only available for specific professions such as doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers. There are also some loan cancellation programs for lawyers.
Here are some popular programs:
- National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
- National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program
- Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
- Legal Services Corporation Loan Repayment Assistance Program
There are also many states that offer their own loan repayment programs. For example, there are 24 loan repayment programs for lawyers in various states including Florida, Texas and New York.
2. Refinance private loans
If you have private student loans, you may be overpaying on interest. Private student loans usually have higher interest rates than federal loans, which means that if you can qualify for a lower rate you should refinance your loans.
Refinancing entails changing your loan terms, usually with a new lender. Most people refinance to get a lower interest rate, lower monthly payment or both.
Here’s how to find out if you qualify for refinancing. Go to your student loan account and look at your most recent statement, which should show your current interest rate.
Then, look up current student loan refinancing rates from lenders like SoFi, LendKey and Earnest. If their rates are lower than what you’re currently getting, then it’s probably time to refinance.
To qualify for refinancing, you usually mean good or excellent credit. You can also add a cosigner if you don’t qualify for refinancing by yourself.
3. Apply for employer student loan repayment assistance
Nowadays, many companies realize that one of the best ways to retain employees is to offer student loan repayment assistance. There are two main ways that companies can do this.
First, they can either pay your loans directly or contribute a set amount that you can use toward your loans. The annual tax-free limit for this program is $5,250, but many employers do not contribute that full amount.
The second option is for an employer to match your student loan payments by contributing money to your 401(k). For example, a company may pay 5% of your income toward your 401(k) if you pay at least 2% of your income in annual student loan payments.
While this won’t directly help you pay off your loans, it can let you put less money toward your 401(k) because you’ll have money coming in from your employer.
4. Start a side hustle
If you don’t qualify for loan forgiveness programs or employer repayment assistance, then the only two ways to pay off loans quickly are to make more money or trim your budget.
Sounds simple right? One of the best ways to make more money is to find a side hustle that you can do when you’re not at work. For some people that means driving for Lyft, delivering food for DoorDash or delivering packages for Amazon Flex (link here)
But there are other side hustles you can do, like being a brand ambassador, starting an Etsy digital printable business or monetizing your hobbies and skills.
For example, if you’re a great cook, you can start selling meal plans to busy parents or doing small catering services on the side. If you love working out, you can get a personal trainer certificate and offer sessions on the weekends.
Because I’m a writer, I started freelance writing on the side to make more money to put toward my loans.
5. Allocate extra money toward your loans
Do you ever get a random windfall and wonder what to do with it? If you have student loans, putting extra money toward your loans can be one of the best you can do.
Windfalls usually include:
- Tax returns
- Company bonuses
- Escrow adjustment
- Found money
- Lottery and gambling winnings
When I was paying off my student loans, I usually allocated between 80% and 90% of any windfall toward my loans. I would use the rest for something fun so I didn’t feel totally deprived.
- Put your third paycheck toward your loans
6. Put your third paycheck toward your loans
If you get paid every two weeks, then there are two months out of the year where you will get three paychecks. Take this extra money and put it toward her loans instead of spending it or using it for other bills.
Note, this only applies if you get paid every two weeks, not if you are paid twice a month. Your two-paycheck months will differ depending on when your paycheck hits your bank account. For 2024, your options are either March and August or May and November.
7. Start a budget
When I graduated college and started working, I quickly realized that I had to live on a budget if I wanted to pay off my student loans fast. I was only making $28,000 at the time and living by myself, so I had to be careful how I spent my money.
I first started budgeting by using an Excel spreadsheet, but that quickly got old. I finally signed up for a free account with Mint.com, which I still use to this day.
If you’re creating your first budget, start by writing down all your fixed expenses including rent, car insurance, health insurance, internet, cell phone and more. Then, estimate how much you spend on variable expenses like groceries, gas, utilities, entertainment and more.
After you input all your expenses, you’ll be able to see your spending compared to your income. For the first month, track your expenses and see if you’re far off the mark. If you’re spending more in certain categories, you may have to adjust your budget or your spending to make it work.
If you want to pay extra towards your loans, then you’ll have to find ways to cut spending. This might include cutting back on streaming services, take-out and more. It might also spare you to start looking for a side hustle or other ways to earn more money.
8. Get new bank account bonuses
Many banks provide incentives for new customers, like offering huge bonuses if you sign up for a new account and set up direct deposit or deposit a certain amount in the new account.
When I was trying to pay off my loans quickly at age 22, this was one of the biggest hacks I used. I would research checking and savings account bonuses, find the best one and open the account.
I would keep a spreadsheet to mark the bonus requirements, including how long I had to keep the account open, how much I had to deposit, if I had to set up direct deposit and the total bonus amount.
In the first year that I started doing this, I made $1,000 in bank account bonuses. The best part? It’s not that hard to do. The banks should lay out the bonus requirements fairly straightforwardly so you just have to follow them to the letter.
You usually had to keep the account for at least 90 days, but sometimes it’s as long as six months. I would always call to double-check how long I had to keep the account open. Then, when I was ready to close the account, I would call again and verify that I had met all the requirements and that my bonus would not be rescinded if I closed the account.
Most banks only give out new bonuses if you’re a new customer, which may mean not having had an account at that bank for a few years. If you’re confused about whether you qualify for a new customer bank account bonus, just call the bank’s customer service line and ask.
9. Sign up for overtime opportunities
When I was desperate to pay down my student loan balance, I was willing to work longer hours to make more money. Thankfully, I was an hourly employee so I could qualify for overtime and holiday pay. Overtime paid the standard time-and-a-half, while holiday pay was even more. Plus, some weeks I would receive both.
I won’t lie – I didn’t love working those extra shifts. But I knew it was worth it to make more headway toward my loans.
If you’re an hourly employee, talk to your boss about qualifying for more overtime opportunities. Remember, you don’t have to do this forever. If you decide that you need a break from working so much, you can do that too. Just give your supervisor enough notice so they can find someone else.
10. Allocate raises toward your loans
One of the biggest reasons I was able to pay off my student loans in three years is because I didn’t increase my spending when I got a raise.
Anytime I got a cost of living increase or a new job with a higher salary, I just increased my student loan payments. I kept my spending the same and just pretended my income hadn’t changed at all.
If you start doing this as soon as you get a raise, it won’t feel like you’re having to make huge sacrifices to pay off your loans. Plus, once you do pay off your loans, you’ll feel like you got the biggest salary bump ever.