Managing Student Loan Debt on a Budget

Student loan debt amassed by graduates is soaring and shows no sign of slowing down, unfortunately. In 2017, the New York Federal Reserve reported student debt to have reached an astonishing $1.3 trillion.

Graduated students just starting their careers, or who haven’t begun yet, can find themselves in positions where their debt payments are due, but their budgets are having trouble accommodating them. Those already in their career paths, but who decided to further their education or make a change, can also experience difficulty making loan repayments.

With all of that said, managing student loan debt on a budget isn’t impossible. Let’s look at some tips below that you can help build your pay-off plan.

Assess the Terms of Each Loan

Depending on the school you attended, the degree you obtained, and how long you were in school, you probably took out multiple student loans throughout your college stint. Each loan will likely have different terms: APR % rates will be different, fees/penalties vary, and the grace periods you have before beginning to pay off your loan will differ.

It’s essential to get to know what comprises each loan, as this will help you determine the best way to integrate your loan payback into your current budget constraints.

Build Your Budget

Once you have a good understanding of where your loans stand, you’ll need to assess your budget and how much money you have left after paying current bills and purchasing necessities.

If you find that you don’t have any room in your current budget for repayment of your student debt look at where you can cut spending costs. Some ways to lower bills and spending in an already tight budget are:

  • Cut electricity costs by making sure lights and electronics are always turned off when not in use.
  • Contact your utility company and see if they have any low-income reduced cost plans that you may qualify for.
  • Carpool with neighbors or coworkers to work to save on gas.
  • Cook most of your meals at home instead of dining out.
  • Brew your coffee/tea at home and limit coffee shop purchases.

Decide Which Loans to Tackle First

While it’s vital to satisfy monthly repayment requirements on all of your loans, it’s also important to design a budget to accommodate paying off said loans. There are two popular methods to pay off debt quickly; both approaches can work well to eliminate your student loans as soon as possible.

  • Snowball Method – Using this debt pay-off method, and while continuing to pay the monthly minimum requirements on each loan, you select the loan that has the lowest amount and begin applying any extra amount in your budget towards that loan. Once that loan is paid off, you take the money you are saving from paying off that loan and apply it towards paying off your next lowest loan.
  • Avalanche Method – The Avalanche method is very similar in construct to the Snowball method, but instead of beginning with the smallest loan, you would tackle the loan with the highest APR% first. This can effectively eliminate your highest monthly payment quickly and save you a lot of money in interest.

Get Your Federal Loans Revised

If after assessing your budget and making cuts where possible you still cannot find room to repay your Federal student loans, consider contacting your loan officer and requesting a loan term revision or to see if you can qualify for a different payment plan.

Some options to check into are:

  • Income Contingent Loan – With this plan, payments are capped at no more than 20% of your income, then after 25 years, your remaining loan can be forgiven.
  • Graduated Repayment – This loan type will start you off with the lowest monthly payment possible, but will gradually increase every two years so that you can still meet your loan requirements.
  • Pay As Your Earn – This can be a harder loan plan to be approved for and is for qualified low-income applicants only. However, if you are approved, your monthly loan payments would make up no more than 10% of your income.

If your loans are not Federal loans, or if you need help revising your loans, consider contacting your private lender and requesting your payments be deferred pending affordability or employment.

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