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7 Ways to Put More Towards Student Loan Payments

This article was originally published for SoFi and is used with permission.

So you thought your mac and cheese and ramen days were over? Well, maybe not quite yet.

If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of managing student loan payments for years or even decades to come, there are strategies that can help you dump that debt faster. Unfortunately, many require cutting back on your spending or finding ways to make more money.

That might not seem fair if you were thinking graduation would mark the start of a sweeter lifestyle—not more austerity. But the thing to keep in mind is that if you can pay off your loans faster, you’ll typically save money down the road.

Potentially a lot of money: trip-to-Europe, house-down-payment, let’s-get-married kind of money. And knocking down your student debt is a goal worth working toward if you like the idea of financial freedom. Here are some ways to get after it.

Making Extra Payments

Obviously, one of the fastest ways to tackle your student debt is to put more toward your loan each month—either by increasing your payment or by making payments more often.

Using a student loan calculator to help you determine how much more you could have to pay each month to reach your payoff goal may be a good first step. How would that increase impact your day-to-day living expenses and other goals?

You don’t want to be short of money you may need for other expenses.

If you decide to increase your monthly payment, one possibility could be adding the same extra amount every month or varying the amount based on what your expenses might be.

For example, if you’ll need more money at the holidays, you might make your minimum loan payment in November and December, then consider increasing your payments when the holidays are over.

Making biweekly student loan payments, by paying half of the total loan payment every other week, may also allow you to reduce your loan principal a bit faster, which typically means less interest will accrue over the length of the loan.

You’d essentially be making an extra payment each year, thereby shortening the length of your loan. Just be certain that both payments are always received before your loan’s monthly due date to avoid any late fee your loan servicer may charge. You may also want to consider contacting your loan servicer before making extra payments to ask if there is a certain way they require those types of payments to be made.

Whether you choose to increase the amount or the frequency of your payments, be sure your lender understands that you want the extra applied to your principal and you plan to stay on the same payment schedule.

Putting Every Bonus and Birthday Check Towards Your Student Loan Balance

If you aren’t able to increase your payment on a regular basis, you may still be able to give it a boost whenever possible. If your company gives bonuses, for example, you might decide to put yours toward your loans.

When your aunt sends you a check for your birthday, adding it to your monthly student loan payment could give your balance a boost. If anyone else asks what you’d like for a gift, telling them cash—and telling them why—might help you pay that loan off faster. They just might be impressed and like the idea of helping you.

You also can dump your change in a jar every night and add that amount to your payment. Remember: Every little bit extra you pay now means you could be done with your loans sooner.

Creating Your Own Bonus Money

You may want to consider switching to an account like SoFi Money®. You’ll have the flexibility of a cash management account that earns interest that can help your money grow.

You could also use that account or an account like it to create an emergency fund that will help keep you on track with your student loan payments, and other bills, when unexpected expenses come up. Using the SoFi Money® app also can help you keep an eye on your spending and saving.

Cutting Your Expenses

If you want to make bigger loan payments, you may have to make adjustments to other items in your monthly budget. Could you dine out less often? Shop less?

It might feel like you’re moving backwards if you have to return to sharing an apartment with a roommate, but the costs you’ll be splitting—rent, food, utilities—could help you save more, which is more that you could put toward your student debt. Carpooling or taking public transportation might also help lower expenses such as gas, car maintenance, and parking costs.

Increasing Your Income

Already working with a bare-bones budget? If so, you may need to increase your income to make those extra loan payments.

According to a recent SoFi survey, 57% of people surveyed feel they’re underpaid, yet only 33% said they planned to ask for a raise. And yet, 48% said they received a 1% to 5% increase when they did ask for a raise. On the other hand, you may find that moving on is a better choice, given that changing employers may potentially result in an even bigger pay increase.

And if neither of those is an option, you could consider taking on a part-time job or side gig to get that extra income, making sure there aren’t any time or ethical conflicts with your full-time job.

Paying Your Taxes

Believe it or not, paying your taxes may help you find extra money to put towards student loan payments. For example, the interest you pay on qualified student loans may be tax deductible, depending on your filing status and other factors, therefore you should seek professional tax advice about your individual financial situation. If you do qualify for a tax refund, another option may be to use some or all of the refund to make an extra loan payment.

Refinancing Your Student Loan Debt

If you’re carrying a huge student loan burden and your interest rates are steep, it may be tough to get ahead of your debt—even if you add extra to your payments every month. After exhausting federal student loan repayment options such as forbearance, deferment, or an income-driven repayment plan, you may want to consider a private lender for refinancing your student loans.

Consolidating or refinancing your student loans, whether through a federal program or with a private lender, could improve your terms or make payments more manageable. If you qualify for a shorter term or a better interest rate, you’ll have the potential to get out from under your debt faster—and possibly for less money than your old loans may have cost you.

If you have federal student loans, you’ll want to weigh their financing benefits and drawbacks against the protections those loans may offer. Being a grown-up with a degree and a good job, combined with a clean credit history, might pay off big, perhaps giving you a better chance of getting a loan with a competitive rate.

And as a SoFi member, you may be eligible for other member benefits, including unemployment protection, career services, and SoFi member events.

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