Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. That’s why Bustle launched Grown-A$$ Finances, a series that gets real about what millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your money should feel empowering, not intimidating. Today's topic: Managing your student loans.
Your twenties are supposed to be the time of your life but, if you're like most millennials, they’re a decade filled with struggle. The struggle to find a job that will put your degree to good use. The struggle to find a great apartment at a reasonable price with roommates that don’t make you want to scream and throw things. And, perhaps most of all, the struggle to repay your student loans.
Student loans put a serious cramp in your ability to set off on adventurous long weekends and hang out with your friends at places slightly more upscale than that local dive bar with the great drink specials.
So, why not do something about it? Here are three ways that you can get your student loan payments on track and spend more time enjoying life rather than simply worrying about how you’ll pay all your bills this month.
The first thing that you need to do is make sure that you know exactly how much you owe each loan servicer and how much you need to pay each month. Consider making a simple spreadsheet detailing the type of student loan, payment due date, interest rate type, interest rate amount, and estimated monthly payment. Then, use this spreadsheet to identify which loans you should prioritize. You should pay off your student loans with the highest interest rates first. In most cases, private student loans should be paid off before federal student loans. Getting this information together in the beginning will save you from stress, interest, and confusion down the road.
Next, sign-up for auto-pay. You don’t want to accidentally be late on a payment since that could hurt your credit and lead to penalties. The best way to ensure that you never do that is to sign up for auto-pay. With auto-pay, the payments automatically come out of your checking account every month. One of the benefits of auto-pay is that you usually get a 0.25 percent discount on your interest rate for signing up. That adds up!
Another thing you should consider is whether you want to apply for an income-driven repayment plan on your federal student loans. These plans allow you to pay anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent of your disposable income towards your loan every month. Depending on how much you make, that could significantly reduce your monthly payments, but it could mean that you pay more in interest over the life of your loans. Another benefit of income-driven plans is that after 20 to 25 years of on-time payments your student loans are forgiven.
Refinancing your student loans allows you to potentially get a lower interest rate on your student debt. That will help you reduce your monthly payment and pay less in interest over the life of your loan. When you refinance your loan, you can also choose a different term for the loan and either extend your term or shorten it. The term is simply the amount of time, in years, that you will take to repay your student debt.
Extending your repayment term will reduce your monthly payment, but will mean that you pay more interest over time. Shortening the length of your loan could still reduce your monthly payment because of the decreased interest rate, but not significantly. You would, however, pay less interest over the life of your loan. Both fixed and variable interest rates are available and terms range from five to 20 years.
While many people think that it's more difficult to qualify for student loan refinancing than to get a ticket to the musical Hamilton, it’s actually relatively realistic if you have a good job and a good credit score. In our research we found that the average approved applicant has a 757 FICO credit score, and 57 percent of applicants are approved. Also, a co-signer could help you qualify for refinancing if you aren’t approved on your own. In addition, a co-signer would lower your interest rate by about 0.15 percent. But your co-signer should know that there are a number of risks associated with co-signing student debt.
While you can refinance and consolidate both your private and federal student loans, it's often suggested to be careful when refinancing your federal loans because doing so would mean that you would lose important protections like the ability to apply for income-driven repayment plans in the future.
Finally, another great way to repay your student loans more quickly and be debt-free sooner is to pay a little bit more than the minimum payment every month. Most student loans don't have pre-payment fees and therefore you won't face a penalty for paying off your loans early. Just make sure that the extra payments are going towards the principle of the loan and not future payments.
By paying a little extra every month, you can save significantly on interest over the life of your loan and shorten the length of your loan. You can even set up a small weekly payment on a recurring basis. Setup a recurring weekly $10 payment on-top of your normal monthly payment. While you might not notice that extra $25 or $50 a month in your budget, you'll definitely notice when you're debt-free before most of your friends. You can use this calculator to see how paying more than the minimum will save you money over the long term.
These three tips are simple ways to repay your student loans more quickly and ensure that you spend less time worrying about your student loan debt and more time building your career, dreaming about the future, and making amazing memories with your friends.
Nate Matherson is the co-founder & CEO of LendEDU. He started LendEDU in August 2014 while a student at the University of Delaware. LendEDU was created to help other students save money on their student loans, as Nate himself is still working to repay over $55k in student loan debt. Nate has offered student loan commentary to popular news websites such as CBS News, Yahoo! Finance, Washington Post, CNBC, American Banker, and others.
Check out the “Grown-A$$ Finances” stream in the Bustle App for more tips and tricks on how to save and spend your money.