Recently, I wrote about a millennial who paid off about $23,000 in student loans in the first 11 months after he graduated from college.
We're all freaked out by student debt, if I can judge by my email in the wake of that article. So, I reached out to others who've paid off massive amounts of student debts for their advice.
Here are their top tips--a foolproof strategy to put student debt behind you. It applies no matter how much you owe, and how much you make. (If you have other strategies, or if you want to suggest a column idea, contact me directly.)
1. Plan ahead.
This tip is all about budgeting. If you're not making enough to pay your student loans on top of living expenses and maybe some entertainment, you're not going to make much headway. Having gone through this myself years ago, the best advice I can give is not to give up--if you're flexible, you'll find a way.
"Balancing student loans and living expenses in major cities like New York and San Francisco can be difficult, but there is no quicker way to paint yourself into a financial corner than to overextend yourself with your living expenses," ays Phil DeGisi, vice-president of marketing at CommonBond, who paid off $150,000 of MBA student loans in six years.
2. Get started quickly.
Giant loans are daunting. When you owe $100,000 or more, and you don't even make that much in a year, paying down your debt can seem impossible. So you simply need to get started chipping away at it.
"Even if it's only increasing your loan payment by $20 in the beginning, that $20 will add up," says Ashley Feinstein, a money coach at Knowing Your Worth. "And if you continue to increase your payments by $20 increments every few months, you'll pay off larger and larger amounts. You can also put a percentage of bonuses, tax returns and gifts toward your student loans as well. This is a great way to pay off a more substantial chunk of debt at once."
3. Get ahead by paying more.
Like almost any loan, if you pay more than the required monthly minimum payment, your overpayment is applied to the principal, which can significantly reduce the overall amount you owe.
"Once I confirmed that I was in a good place financially, I slightly increased my payments such that I was overpaying each month and therefore paying down my loan principal quicker," says DiGisi. "Even if the extra payment wasn't a ton of money (ranging from $50 to $200 per month over the years), I thought these payments could add up to thousands of dollars over time (which they did)."
4. Slash your expenses.
Melanie Lockert, an event planner who writes the blog DearDebt.com, paid off $81,000 including $54,000 during the past 4.5 years.
The keys, she said, included slashing expenses by moving from New York City to Portland, Oregon, sharing a studio apartment with her boyfriend, and forgoing having a car. (She also "went without health insurance for two years," she said, but added she doesn't recommend that.)
5. Side hustle.
If you're just starting out, you likely don't have a giant salary or a ton of assets, so working on a side business or second job is likely the main way you can make extra money to pay off debt. (Fun fact: Writing for Inc.com is one of my side hustles.)
"I paid off my debt quickly mainly by side hustling like crazy," writes Michelle Schroder-Gardner, who runs the blog Making Sense of Cents. "There were many weeks where I worked 100 hours a week between my side jobs and my full-time day job. It was tiring, but well worth it."
6. Use direct deposit.
"Right before my grace period ended, I idiot-proofed my payments [by setting] up my student loan payments to automatically debit from my checking account so that I would never miss a payment. Being in debt was tough enough, so the last thing I wanted was to get hit with a fee or hurt my credit," DeGisi says.
As an extra benefit, many lenders will reduce your interest rate if you signup for direct deposit, which can shave thousands off the life of your loan.