Casey Doten, Financial Aid Administrator – Purdue University
I knew going into college that I’d have to take out student loans to help finance my degree. While getting myself $48,600 into student loan debt was less than ideal for me, I was able to earn my degree. However thanks to the miracle of interest, my student loan debt had increased from the $48,600 that I had borrowed to $54,800 by the time that I began repayment.
The scary part? That $54,000 could have been even higher. Thankfully I had a couple of things going in my favor that helped to prevent that. A good portion of my federal loans are subsidized and did not accrue interest during school. I also had a loan which required me to make quarterly payments to help keep the interest from adding up (unfortunately these payments always hit me at the worst times in college). Had I not had either of those two factors, my loan debt would have been $59,900 when I finally started repayment.
So how have I gone about tackling this $54,800 debt? Being honest, it hasn’t been perfectly approached at all times but after a few initial mistakes I’ve come up with a plan and am paying it off as quickly as I can.
Making mistakes early on
During my grace period of six months between graduation and my first payments becoming due, I had saved up a little money working two part-time jobs, but I never put anything toward my loans. As my grace period ended, I was able to get a full-time job along with working ten or so hours a week on the side.
So in November my repayment officially began. I had always heard people say “If you can afford to pay a little extra on your student loans, you should do it”. Getting rid of my student loans was a priority for me, so even though I wasn’t exactly swimming in money I paid extra on my loans. If my payment was $115 for a loan, I’d pay $150. The problem is that my approach of paying a little extra on every loan per month was one of the least efficient ways possible.
Pay more on loans with higher interest rates
What I should have been doing was approaching my repayment with a real plan rather than just tossing a few extra bucks at it.
I learned about the avalanche and snowball debt payment methods from some friends and after some research realized I could take my loans head-on with a plan. I started paying the minimum on every one of my loans except the one with the highest interest rate where I put all that extra money I had previously spread out between the other loans.
Using this avalanche method, I paid on the highest interest loan and then when that was finished up I took that money and started paying it to the next highest interest loan. This approach helps me pay the least amount of total interest possible.
Understand options & repayment plans
Despite the fact that I’ve been able to meet my monthly loan payments, I realized decided to enroll in an income based repayment plan. This brought my monthly payments on my federal loans down from over $300 to around $70 each month. Why did I choose an income based repayment plan when I wasn’t having troubles making my repayment? I found out that having a lower amount due each month could both help my repayment plan and allow me to be more flexible in my finances.
For my repayment, it allowed me to pay less on several of my loans and kept interest from my subsidized loans from accruing (the interest can be covered for up to three years). I took the $230 I wasn’t obligated to pay to all of my loans and rolled it into the extra I had already been putting toward my highest interest loan.
The other perk was that it gave me a lot more financial flexibility, so if unexpected events popped up I could just pay the minimum on my loans and use the money I would have paid to cover whatever emergency happened.
Luckily I never ended up needing this and I have been able to double down on my avalanche repayment and target my highest interest loan with the money I would have been paying otherwise been spreading out to my other loans.
Make payments right away… or make them automatic
Before I started making my loan payments, I felt like I was making just enough money to get by. I didn’t believe I could find $600 per month just for student loans, let alone money to pay ahead. The secret that I found was to make my student loan payments right away once I got paid. Rather than having to worry about what is left to make my loan payments, I prioritized them and made the extra payments part of my mandatory bill paying routine at the beginning of each month. I also found out that one of my private loans and my federal loans offered a small interest rate reduction for enrolling in automatic payments, which I promptly enrolled in to reduce the total interest I would pay over the loans’ lifetimes.
Roll over other debts
During my first year and a half of repayment, two things events had an effect on my debt: my college beater Jeep died on my commute to work forcing me to buy a different vehicle, and I got proposed to my then-girlfriend, now wife. This gave me another $450 per month in payments to make between the car and ring. This squeezed my personal budget to as thin as it could possibly get, but I still made sure to prioritize getting these payments in right away after getting paid. I realized I that I could make this new budget work, so after paying both off I took $350 of that and rolled it into my student loan payments helping me accelerate my impending pay-off even further.
Where I’m at Today
As of this moment, I still have $42,246.38 left to go. I’ve made great progress but I’m still paying over $200 every month on interest alone. It can be depressing to realize how much I’m losing every month to interest, but I know that my current life wouldn’t be possible without the degree I earned and the experiences I had. Rather than concentrating on how far I have to go, I prefer to reflect on how amazing it feels to know that I’ve paid my loans down more than $12,500 in student loan debt in 27 months in addition to over $9,000 between my car and wife’s engagement ring. The end might not be near but that doesn’t stop me from taking one step at a time toward being student debt free.