Today’s college students, whether traditional or non-traditional, are often balancing a multitude of responsibilities in addition to schooling. The paychecks they bring in from work pay for housing, utilities, food, clothing and other necessities for themselves and their families, but what about when they graduate? On top of the basic necessities of life, college students are faced with mounting student loan debt – an added expense that has many students wondering, “Is college worth the investment?”
In the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2016, The Federal Reserve reported of the individuals who owe money on their education, 94 percent owe on student loans. Additionally, of those with student loans, the average amount of debt is $32,731. That is enough money for a new car or a down payment on a house!
“Make sure you are building an emergency cash fund. Expect the unexpected to happen.” – Professor Miyamoto
As daunting as that number may seem, there is still much value in pursuing a college education – more opportunities for advancement, better pay within your field, personal satisfaction and more. While the initial investment is high, the benefits of earning a degree will pay off in the long run. However, there are a few things you can do to better prepare yourself for when it is time to pay back your student loans.
Arnold Miyamoto, adjunct professor of finance at Hodges University, explains, “Make sure you are building an emergency cash fund. We all need this. You might unexpectedly blow out a tire and find you need to buy four tires, not just one. You might lose your job, unexpected medical expenses, etc. Expect the unexpected to happen.”
What you don’t want to happen is for the money you set aside for your student loan payment to go to an unexpected emergency. Missing one or two payments can adversely affect your credit score.
In addition, Miyamoto reiterates the importance of knowing if the particular loan is tax deductible. “Up to $2,500 in student loan interest is tax deductible. If they are not itemizing, probably not,” he said. “Students need to identify if they have any loans that do not qualify for the tax deduction. These loans after-tax could easily cost the most. While the interest rate is important, understanding whether a) they can take the deduction or b) whether the loan qualifies for that deduction is important.”
“Even increasing your payments by $20 per month can substantially decrease the amount of time that you have to be paying on your student loans.” – Noah Lamb
So, to ease your mind in determining how you will pay off the years of schooling you’ve dedicated yourself to, we’ve compiled some valuable tips to help you pay off your student loans in an effective and timely manner.
- Review your cost of living
Determine your spending habits (necessity versus discretionary) and make a list of how much you bring in versus how much you spend. “There are so many ‘things’ we all purchase without really thinking about, such as that premium sports package for our cable or that brand new cell phone we just had to have. Those ‘things’ start to add up and can make a huge difference in the repayment of student loans,” said Lamb. “If you sit down and really examine the items that are a necessity in comparison to the frivolous items being purchased, you can most likely reduce some of those frivolous things and put that towards your student loan payments.”
- Make the minimum payment
Noah Lamb, director of student financial services at Hodges, even suggests making more than the minimum payment, if possible. “Even increasing your payments by $20 per month can substantially decrease the amount of time that you have to be paying on your student loans. This can also help with your credit score,” he explained.
Additionally, there are benefits to making additional payments, especially if they are made before the due date. “If you make a loan payment before it is due, more will go to principal than interest than it would otherwise,” Miyamoto said.
- Apply extra funds to loan payments
Whether it is a raise, bonus, tax refund or selling a big ticket item in your household, use the additional money to put toward your loan payment. While it might be nice to use for a vacation or that nice boat you’ve been eyeing, it will be better to put it toward the debt you’ve accrued. Once you’ve paid off your debt, you can then begin to think about that Caribbean vacation.
- Consolidate and refinance
If you have federal student loans, consolidating or refinancing may help reduce the interest rate on your loan. If you discover either option is not for you, Miyamoto suggests focusing on the loans with higher interest rates first.
Remember, it is important not to panic when faced with the realization of student loans. It is estimated that 70 percent of students graduate with student loan debt, so you’re not alone. Lamb, who works closely with students inquiring about various student loans options, explains that in addition to student loans, there are a number of other ways students can fund their education.
“My number one suggestion to any student wanting to go to college is to begin saving for college as early as possible. One of the things I did not do prior to graduating high school or even afterward was beginning a savings account for my educational expenses. I wish I had done so because I most likely wouldn’t have as much student loan debt as I currently do,” he said.
Other useful ways to pay for college include:
- Applying for scholarships and grants – While you may not be able to fully fund your education, this “free” money will certainly help in having to take out less in student loans.
- Tuition reimbursement – Not all employers offer tuition reimbursement; however, it is worth asking if you are a working student.
Knowing there are various options available for funding your education can lessen the stress that comes with going back to school. Although a private institution like Hodges has an increased tuition rate than public universities in the area, the personalized service from faculty and staff, as well as the family-oriented atmosphere makes Hodges worth the investment.
Even if you see that student loans are inevitable, Lamb provides reassurance, saying, “We are here to help guide you in the best ways to reduce your student loan debt and find ways to get your student loan debt paid off as quickly as possible.”
*Students interested in learning more about how to pay off student loan debt may visit the following links for more information: