Student loans are a lot like a ball and chain, slowing down what could be a perfectly good financial plan. Outstanding student loan debt in the United States has tripled over the last decade, surpassing both auto and credit card debt to take second place behind housing debt as the most common type of household debt. Today, more than 44 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.4 trillion in student debt. Here are some strategies to pay it off.
LOOK TO YOUR EMPLOYER FOR HELP
The first place to look for help is your employer. While only about 4% of employers offer student debt assistance as an employee benefit, it’s predicted that more employers will offer this benefit in the future to attract and retain talent.
Many employers are targeting a student debt assistance benefit of $100 per month.3 That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. For example, an employee with $31,000 in student loans who is paying them off over 10 years at a 6% interest rate would save about $3,000 in interest and get out of debt two and a half years faster.
UNDERSTAND ALL YOUR REPAYMENT OPTIONS
Unfortunately, your student loans aren’t going away. But you might be able to choose a repayment option that works best for you. The repayment options available to you will depend on whether you have federal or private student loans. Generally, the federal government offers a broader array of repayment options than private lenders. The following payment options are for federal student loans. (If you have private loans, check with your lender to see which options are available.)
Standard plan: You pay a certain amount each month over a 10-year term. If your interest rate is fixed, you’ll pay a fixed amount each month; if your interest rate is variable, your monthly payment will change from year to year (but it will be the same each month for the 12 months that a certain interest rate is in effect).
Extended plan: You extend the time you have to pay the loan, typically anywhere from 15 to 30 years. Your monthly payment is lower than it would be under a standard plan, but you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan because the repayment period is longer.
You have $31,000 in student loans with a 6% fixed interest rate. Under a standard plan, your monthly payment would be $344, and your total payment over the term of the loan would be $41,300, of which $10,300 (25%) is interest. Under an extended plan, if the term were increased to 20 years, your monthly payment would be $222, but your total payment over the term of the loan would be $53,302, of which $22,302 (42%) is interest.
Graduated plan: Payments start out low in the early years of the loan, then increase in the later years of the loan. With some graduated repayment plans, the initial lower payment includes both principal and interest, while under other plans the initial lower payment includes interest only.
Income-driven repayment plan: Your monthly payment is based on your income and family size. The federal government offers four income-driven repayment plans for federal student loans only:
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
CAN YOU REFINANCE?
Yes, but only with a new private loan. (There is a federal consolidation loan, but that is different.) The main reason for trying to refinance your federal and/or private student loans into a new private loan is to obtain a lower interest rate. You’ll need to shop around to see what’s available.
If you refinance, your old loans will go away and you will be bound by the terms and conditions of your new private loan. If you had federal student loans, this means you will lose any income-driven repayment options.
WATCH OUT FOR REPAYMENT SCAMS
Beware of scammers contacting you to say that a special federal loan assistance program can permanently reduce your monthly payments and is available for an initial fee or ongoing monthly payments. There is no fee to apply for any federal repayment plan.
STILL NEED HELP?
Student loans can be complicated and can have a significant impact on your long-term financial success. It’s important to develop the right plan for your unique situation. Don’t let your student loan debt derail your financial progress contact us for a free consultation.