Student loans are an inescapable fact of life for a significant chunk of Americans — 44 million, to be specific. These borrowers each owe an average of $37,000 in federal loans, and it’s overwhelming them. During the Obama administration, for example, about 8.7 million people defaulted on their student loans; that’s roughly one default every 29 seconds.
While a recent New York Times report found an increasing number of cash-strapped graduates are successfully getting their private loan debt erased, most won’t be that lucky. For everybody else looking to make a measurable dent in their educational debt, good financial practices, like finding the right repayment plan, combined with a bit of creative maneuvering is essential.
PUT POCKET CHANGE TO WORK
As the saying goes, every little bit counts. That’s the theory behind the ChangEd, an app that helps you incrementally — and painlessly — pay down debt by rounding up everyday purchases to the nearest dollar and depositing the spare change into an FDIC-insured account. For instance, buy a cold-brew coffee for $4.50, and ChangeEd will take the extra 50 cents and save it to your account. Every time your account hits $100, they’ll send a payment to the debt of your choice.
PARTNER UP WHEN SHOPPING
Before your next grocery or pharmacy run, check to see if your loan is eligible for Sallie Mae’s Upromise, which applies a cash-back bonus of up to 5 percent on certain purchases to help you pay down student debt. Big name retailers like Kohl’s, Walmart and Groupon participate, as do many travel sites and restaurants. “Upromise lets you earn rebates not just for college savings before college, but also for repaying student loans after college,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy for college-search and scholarship site Cappex.
There’s also EvoShare, which offers a similar system — shop at one of the site’s partner retailers, and you’ll earn a percentage back toward your student loan balances (or toward retirement savings, once you’ve paid off your student loans). “You can’t cash out,” says Miranda Marquit, a financial expert with Student Loan Hero. “It either has to go toward retirement or paying down your student loans.
SWITCH THE WAY YOU PAY
Here’s a solution that doesn’t require you to spend money to save it. By simply splitting your monthly payment in two, you could shave more than an entire year off the life of your loan. That’s because there are two months in the year in which you’d be making three half-payments, totaling up to one extra payment a year — and that can mean big savings over time. And if your loan has a variable interest rate, you’ll save even more — because half your payments will be processed early, you’ll lower the daily balance that’s subjected to interest charges.
MASTER THE ART OF NEGOTIATION
Over the last several years, a few large employers — and a handful of smaller ones, too — started offering student loan repayment as a perk to attract talent, says Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor. “These companies will contribute anywhere from $500 to $10,000 a year toward their employee’s student debt.”
While only an estimated 4 percent of employers currently offer student loan benefits, it doesn’t mean you can’t bring it up yourself when considering a job offer. Many new hires are able to successfully lobby for a higher salary or more paid time off; it stands to reason that student loan reimbursement wouldn’t be off the table either.
GET IN WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Since it was signed into law a decade ago, the public service loan forgiveness program (PSLF) has allowed thousands of borrowers to find debt relief from federal loans. If you work for the government or a nonprofit, or hold a service-oriented position like teaching, nursing or law enforcement, the remaining balance on your student loans will be forgiven after 10 years on the job. Though the future of PSLF is in doubt under the current administration, for now it still stands as a wonderful way to rid yourself of debt while contributing to the greater good.
Bottom line: If you look around, there’s sure to be a strategy that will help you pay off your debt in less time. “There are solutions for all people with student loans,” says Brandon Yahn, founder of Student Loans Guy. “They just need to know what their options are and how to find them.”
Homepage photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.