College attendance and cost has dramatically increased over the years. It’s no surprise student debt has piled up as well. Finding a job, following your budget, saving for retirement, buying a home, and planning fun experiences is a difficult balancing act after graduating college. In this article we will cover different strategies to pay down debt and key actions you can take to get rid of student loans.
Know what type of loans you have.
Most students will have both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The government will pay the interest on a subsidized loan while you are in school. If you have unsubsidized loans, the interest will start accruing during your school years. This can result in a much bigger debt balance than you realize when you get out of school. If you do have unsubsidized loans, it can be a good idea to try and pay the interest along the way if you can balance work and school.
Does refinancing make sense?
Student loan interest rates can be as high as 7% or 8%. If you have good credit and refinancing can save you money in interest over the life of the loan, consolidating your debt may be a good option. This could simplify your debt obligation to one payment and potentially could lower your monthly amount due. The government also has different options like pay as you earn or income-based payment options where you pay more as your income increases. That said, be careful about refinancing Federal loans into private loans as you could lose some of the favorable re-payment options you have with Federal loans. Sometimes, depending on your circumstances, these re-payment options could outweigh the lower interest rate you may get by refinancing. Be sure to confirm your options of consolidating vs. refinancing.
Make extra payments
If you have extra cash flow or receive a tax refund, bonus or raise it may make sense to make an extra payment on your student loans. If you do decide to pay more towards your student loans, make sure it goes to the balance of your loan, not next month’s payment. We generally recommend paying off your highest interest rate debt first, so if you have credit card debt or other loans at higher interest rates try focusing on paying down those balances first.
Know your repayment options
Certain career paths or programs could qualify you for student loan forgiveness. Do your research before you stop paying or decide to defer your loans. The government has strict qualifications for loan forgiveness, so make sure you qualify and receive loan forgiveness before you stop making payments.
Consider a 529 plan
With the SECURE Act passing at the end of 2019, there were changes made to 529 plan rules. $10,000 per lifetime can be used from a 529 to pay down student debt. However, make sure to check your state laws. Some states don’t have a state tax deduction for 529 contributions and some states won’t let you use 529 funds towards student loans.
Always stay on top of your student debt and know your options. If you have questions or need help contact Sharkey, Howes & Javer for a free consultation with one of our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals.