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Tips For Paying Off $200K in Student Loans Without Losing Your Mind
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If you’re dealing with $200K of student loan debt or more, you might be feeling completely overwhelmed. While debt of this magnitude certainly takes time to pay off, it is possible to manage with the right strategies.
Here are 11 approaches that could help you deal with your student loan burden and work your way to a zero balance.
How to pay off $200,000 in student loans
- 1. Start by taking stock
- 2. Learn about your repayment options
- 3. Come up with your debt repayment plan of attack
- 4. Design a budget and stick to it
- 5. Automate savings for a debt payoff fund
- 6. Search for ways to increase your income
- 7. Resist the temptation of lifestyle inflation
- 8. Pay more than the minimum each month
- 9. Consider consolidating to simplify repayment
- 10. Refinance your student loans for lower rates
- 11. Explore loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs
- Plus: Final thoughts on conquering $200K in student loan debt
Before you can deal with your massive student loan debt, you first must make some order from the chaos. Get organized by tracking down your loans and writing them all down.
“You need to know exactly how much you owe and who you owe it to,” said Christian Barnes, a financial coach for Do Better Financial. “Make a list of each loan, the interest rate, minimum payment and the lender.”
Record your payment due dates so you know when your student loan bills are due. By getting this bird’s-eye view of your loans, you’ll feel more empowered to do something about them.
Once you’ve taken inventory of your student loans, your next step is to explore your repayment options. If you’ve got federal student loans, you have access to income-driven plans, graduated repayment, extended repayment, consolidation and other options.
Income-driven plans end in loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, which could be worth the wait if you don’t have the means to pay off your debt sooner. At the same time, you’ll end up paying a lot of interest over the life of your loan.
What’s more, changing your repayment plan can trigger interest capitalization, meaning your interest gets added to your principal amount — so make sure you understand the pros and cons of any repayment plan before making a change.
With private student loans, you’re typically stuck with the plan you agreed to when you borrowed unless you refinance for new terms. Some private lenders also offer deferment if you run into financial hardship.
If you can swing it, you can always make extra payments without penalty, regardless of your repayment plan.
“The debt snowball method is what I used and suggest to clients,” Barnes said. “Write your debts down smallest to largest, make minimum payments on everything, throw any extra money at the smallest debt until it’s gone, then rinse and repeat for each debt as needed. Seeing the debts drop as you go keeps you motivated for the long haul.”
While the debt snowball method can keep you motivated, you might prefer the debt avalanche method, which involves targeting loans with the highest interest rate first. The choice is yours, but when it comes to how to pay off $200K in student loans, taking a systematic approach can help you stay on track.
Designing a budget is a key step when paying off a large amount of debt. Take a look at your income and expenses, then set realistic savings and debt payoff goals.
Whether you use a budget-tracking app, an Excel spreadsheet or a piece of paper, tracking your spending will help you feel more in control of your money.
“Managed money goes farther,” Barnes said. “You get to tell your money what to do instead of wondering where it went.”
Saving money is challenging, which is why Yaz Purnell, student loan borrower and founder of personal finance site The Wallet Moth, recommends automatically setting aside a certain percentage of your income into a savings account specifically earmarked for debt payoff.
“Get a separate savings account from your day-to-day account and start sending a percentage of your income to that separate account the same day you get paid, every month,” Purnell said. “Depending on your circumstances, you could afford 10% of your income, just 1% for now or even 20% if you make real sacrifices on your spending elsewhere.”
Thanks to the automatic transfers on payday, you can’t spend the cash before you save it, and you’ll accrue a healthy debt fund to pay off your student loans.
Scrimping and saving will only take you so far if you’re working on a limited budget. Finding ways to increase your income will help put your financial goals within reach.
“Making regular payments is a great start, but if you don’t want this payoff plan to take 10 to 15 years, you’ll need to get creative,” Barnes said. “That could mean a second job or side hustle, selling stuff or choosing different living arrangements (staying with parents, renting a room, etc.).”
Whether you find a new job, ask for a raise at your current one, work a side hustle or start your own business, adding some supplemental income could help you chip away at your student loan balance even faster.
When you start making more money, it’s tempting to upgrade everything in your life. But if you increase your rent, car payments and other expenses, you’ll find yourself back at square one.
So even if you’re making a lot of money after earning your dental, law, medical or another degree, try to keep living like a student for a few more years. This sacrifice will be worth it if you can get out from under the shadow of six-figure student loan debt.
Although your repayment plan might span a certain time frame, you can pay off your loan faster. If you can swing it, pay more than you have to, whether on a monthly basis or once in a while.
These extra payments will speed up debt repayment and save you money on interest. For extra motivation, check out this student loan prepayment calculator to see how much you could save by throwing extra cash at your debt.
The average student held 3.7 student loans in 2018, according to Experian, and you might have even more if you borrowed for both college and graduate school. If you’re juggling multiple federal student loans, consider consolidating to simplify repayment.
Through direct loan consolidation, you combine federal loans into one. Your interest rate will be the weighted average of your previous rates rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.
You’ll only have to track one bill for your federal loans each month, which could make your loan situation less confusing — just be careful about adding interest to your balance, since consolidation could be considered a capitalization event.
One of the best ways to save money on student loans is through refinancing. When you refinance, you could get a lower interest rate, which could save you thousands on such a big amount of debt.
Plus, you get the chance to choose new repayment terms, typically between five and 20 years. If you have strong credit and income (or can apply with a cosigner who does), you could be a strong candidate for student loan refinancing.
Refinancing multiple loans into one also helps you simplify debt payoff. Just be cautious about refinancing federal student loans, since this move turns them private and cuts off access to federal repayment plans and forgiveness programs.
Student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs are also worth exploring, especially if you’re drawn to work in a nonprofit or high-need area. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgives federal loans after 10 years of working in a nonprofit or government agency (note, however, that the future of this program isn’t 100% guaranteed).
Private and state-run loan repayment assistance programs are also available for various professionals, with many of them offering significant awards after just two or three years of service. Unlike PSLF, many of these programs will help with private student loans as well as federal ones.
Finally, some employers offer student loan matching benefits, which could help you get rid of your debt faster. If you’re seeking a job, consider applying at companies that will help you pay off your debt.
Although $200,000 in student loan debt is an astronomical amount, paying it off isn’t impossible, especially if you’ve earned a valuable degree that will lead to a high-paying job or student loan forgiveness.
But you need to come up with a plan for conquering your debt, and you might have to keep your spending seriously low for several years while you prioritize debt payoff. Keeping a positive and proactive mindset will also help you achieve your goals.
“The most common debt payoff misconception is that people think getting out of debt is all about math, but it’s really about momentum,” Barnes said. “When you have a mountain of student loans, the most important thing you can do is find ways not to give up on the journey.”
So keep on keeping on, and remember there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. By exploring various strategies of debt repayment, refinancing and forgiveness, you can find the ones that work best for you.