Our friends at SoFi offer incredible student loan options for you, scholars. Originally published post here.
If you want to take control of your student loans in 2015, we’ve got 15 easy and impactful ways to do it.
1. Set up automatic payments
If you haven’t already set up an ACH transfer with your student loan servicer, this is a good place to start. Not only does it minimize the chances of missing a payment (and hurting your credit score in the process), most lenders offer a .25% interest rate discount for doing so.
2. Tack on an extra $20
Or $50, or $100, or whatever you can spare. Prepaying (or paying more than the minimum) is one of the best ways to accelerate loan repayment, and it saves you money on interest, to boot. Just make sure your servicer is putting that extra cash toward loan principal instead of earmarking it for future payments.
3. Make bi-weekly payments
Did you know that paying every other week instead of monthly adds up to an extra month’s worth of paymentseach year? Which can save you a significant amount of money on interest and finish off your loans faster? No? Well, now you do.
Note – many loan servicers aren’t able to process automatic bi-weekly payments, but if that’s the case you can do an automatic monthly payment with the servicer and send a check intra-month (which you may be able to automate from your bank).
4. Keep forbearance to a minimum
Forbearance can be a lifesaver when you absolutely need it, but it’s more of a “break glass in case of emergency” thing versus an “I think I’ll go to Spain instead of paying my loan this month” thing. In most cases, interest continues to accrue while your loans are on hold, which ends up costing you more in the long run (maybe even enough for a trip to Spain).
5. Learn your loan lingo
Boring, right? But here’s the thing – if you don’t know how “interest capitalization” works or what the difference between student loan consolidation and refinancing is, it’s tough to make informed (and cost-saving) choices about your loans. Don’t worry – our handy student loan cheat sheet gives you the basics and nothing but.
6. Get organized
If you have multiple loans with multiple servicers, keeping track of everything can be a nightmare. Instead of wrestling with statements every time you want to see the big picture, spend an afternoon getting all your loan information uploaded into a spreadsheet or handy digital tool. When everything is in one place, it’s easier to see what you’re dealing with and make changes if necessary.
7. Do the math
Interest can seem like an abstract notion when you first take out loans, but it can add up to thousands or even tens of thousands over the life of your loan. Take a minute to compute your projected interest cost if you continue down your current path. No algebra required here – there are tons of tools and calculators out there that will do the math for you.
8. Revisit your options
If that “do the math” exercise was a jarring experience, you’re probably looking for a way to reduce the amount of money you’re spending on interest. The good news is that you do have options – prepaying, changing repayment plans and refinancing are three of them. Take some time to learn more about how these actions could affect your bottom line.
9. Consider refinancing
The two best ways to save money on student loans are to prepay (which we’ve already covered) and/or refinance your loans at a lower interest rate. Refinancing is usually an option to explore after you’ve left school, increased your income and improved your credit. The lower your new rate is, the more you’ll save on interest – for example, the average SoFi refinance borrower saves $11,783.*
10. Take care of your credit
Credit score is a big factor in determining refinance rate (and crucial to achieving other financial objectives), so take good care of it and it will take good care of you. In order to do that, it’s helpful to understand how your student loans play a part – for example, knowing how refinancing, consolidating and or/prepaying your loans could affect your credit. Get the facts on student loans and credit score here.
11. Break down your goals
Rather than getting lost in the big picture, turn your overarching objective (i.e. pay off 50% of student loans in 2015) into smaller, more manageable goals (i.e. pay an extra $200 per month). Make the goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and time-bound), and keep them front and center – for example, if you want to cut down on spending in order to better fund your student loan goal, you could write your desired payoff date on the back of your credit card where you’re sure to see it every time you make a purchase.
12. Get on the same page as your partner
With one in five U.S. households currently on the hook for education debt, more and more couples have to learn how to tackle student loans together – without tanking the relationship. Take some time to come up with a plan for the year, and decide how you’ll celebrate your collective successes along the way.
13. Figure out federal loans
When you’re considering your options, don’t forget to include federal loans in your analysis. There’s a common misconception that federal loans can’t be refinanced, but in fact a handful of lenders (including SoFi) do just that – in fact the majority of SoFi’s oustanding debt is made up of refinanced federal loans. While there are things to consider before refinancing federal loans with a private lender, it can be an attractive, cost-saving option for many borrowers with high interest rate Direct unsubsidized and PLUS loans.
14. Ask for forgiveness
One of the above-mentioned federal loan refinancing considerations is whether any of your loans might be eligible for forgiveness (these benefits don’t transfer to private lenders through the refinance process). The most common federal loan forgiveness programs are for borrowers in the military, those who work in public service or education, or those who utilize one of the government’s income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE). If there’s a possibility your loan slate could be wiped clean this way, it’s worth looking into.
15. Enlist help
If you’re getting married or celebrating a big birthday this year, why not ask your loved ones for student loan payments instead of gifts? Registering for money (especially money for a good cause) is a lot less of a faux pas than it used to be. And if you don’t feel comfortable asking for cold hard cash, you can give people the option of using a student loan gift service so it feels less impersonal than writing a check.
*Savings calculation is based on SoFi borrowers who refinanced between 5/21/14 and 7/2/14. Prior to refinancing, these borrowers had on average a $71,000 loan balance, a rate of 7.07% and a lifetime payment of $99,239, assuming the standard Direct Loan term. After refinancing, these borrowers have an average lifetime payment of $87,456 based on a weighted average of new rates received across both types (fixed and variable) and all terms offered by SoFi with AutoPay. Savings calculation assumes borrowers make all payments in a timely manner and do not prepay.