By guest financial blogger, Clint Proctor
Student loans have become the new mortgages in America. Over 44 million Americans have student loan debt, owing an average of $39,400. Nearly a fifth of all borrowers owe over $100,000.
These numbers are staggering. It’s easy to understand why many student loan borrowers just want to keep their student loans out of sight and out of mind. They make their minimum payments each month; but beyond that, they don’t want to think about the reality of their student loan situation.
But I do not recommend you take this approach to your student loans. And here’s the reason why:
Debt affects our mental, physical, and emotional health.
In a 2012 study, Dr. John Gathergood of the University of Nottingham found that debt has severe effects on psychological health. In their own study, the Society of Science and Medicine linked debt stress to depression, blood pressure, and self-reported general health.
What these studies prove is that debt is really never “out of mind.” Whether consciously or subconsciously, debt weighs on us and can have devastating mental, physical, and emotional effects.
So instead of trying to act like they don’t exist, I encourage you to face your student loans head-on and make a plan to kick them out of your life. If you are ready to take that step, here are five helpful tips:
1. Don’t Blindly Expect Your Student Loans to Be Forgiven
A lot has been said and written about the wonders of student loan forgiveness programs. However, many who expected to receive loan forgiveness have later discovered that they did not qualify for one reason or another.
Just this past month, the Department of Education announced that out of the first 30,000 students to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, only 96 were accepted. The truth is that loan forgiveness programs are often complicated with lots of stipulations that aren’t well explained. Federal forgiveness programs are the most notorious for this.
Additionally, many income-based forgiveness programs require that you make payments for 20-25 years. That’s a long time to be shackled to your student loans.
This is why I recommend that student loan borrowers make a plan to retire their debt as quickly as possible. If you end up later qualifying to have the remainder of your student loans forgiven, then look at that as icing on the cake!
If you do end up choosing to pursue one of the forgiveness options, be sure to read all of the “fine print.” Student Loan Hero provides a great resource on loan forgiveness that could help you avoid some of the missteps that have tripped others up.
2. Make a Budget
Yes, I know it sounds so simple, but creating a budget really is the key to reaching any financial goal, including getting rid of your student loans. If you don’t tell your money ahead of time exactly how you want it to be spent, it’s amazing how quickly it can sprout wings each month and fly away.
For many people, living according to a budget can feel like getting a raise. That’s the power of being purposeful about your spending.
As you get better with your budget and continue to reduce expenses, you’ll be able to throw more and more money at your student loans. And you can do the same thing whenever you receive unexpected money through gifts or bonuses.
3. Find an Employer with Student Loan Repayment Assistance
Sound too good to be true? You may be surprised to find out that this one of the hottest new employee benefits.
Typically, employees have to pay tax on any assistance that they receive, but even this may change in the future. Some companies are pushing the IRS to allow 401k employer matching contributions for employees who direct a certain amount of their paycheck toward student loan repayments.
4. Take Up to a $2,500 Tax Deduction
The value of this deduction begins to reduce if you are a single filer making over $65,000 and is phased out completely if you make $80,000 or more ($135,000 and $165,000 if you file a joint return).
5. Work a Side Hustle
Even an extra $250-500 could make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes you to pay down your student loans.
- Could you grab a weekend job?
- Could you drive Uber or Lyft during your free time?
- Could you deliver pizza at night?
Sound a little crazy? Maybe. But if a few years of “crazy” today helps you reach a long future filled with financial peace and freedom, it’s well worth it.
Paying off student debt will not only improve your financial health, but your physical, mental, and emotional health as well.
For these reasons, I can guarantee you that once you’ve reached the student debt freedom finish line, you won’t regret all the hard work that it took you to get there!
A family pastor by day, Clint spends his nights writing about how students and young professionals can win with money on his personal finance website, The Wallet Wise Guy.