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How to create a hard-hitting plan to get rid of those student loans for good.

3 minute read

Twelve years ago, my $46,000 student loan debt seemed impossible to pay off. Even now, after making regular payments and a little extra occasionally, I still owe around $30,000. That’s after paying more than $30,000, most of that amount going to interest, over the last decade.

I share my embarrassing story, the result of many poor financial decisions, as an example of how significantly even a low interest rate of 6 percent can increase a debt. There’s no time to spiral into debt shame, though. I’ve decided to get rid of this albatross around my neck and pay it off within the next three years.

If you have a student loan debt that seems insurmountable, and you’re making only the required monthly payment, you’ll be paying a lot of money for a long, long time. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are 7 tips for getting rid of your student loan debt ahead of schedule.

1. Set a target payoff date

If I make the required payments, my loan will be paid off in about eight years, after I pay thousands of dollars more in interest. That’s why I’m aiming to knock this loan out in three years, no matter how difficult that may be. Set a goal for your own loan payoff date, and you’ll be motivated to pay it down faster.

2. Check into refinancing or a private loan.

Ask your loan servicer about getting a lower interest rate. For additional information on refinancing options, see’s student loan refinancing page and refinance tool.

3. Make payments count

Contact your student loan service provider to understand exactly how payments are applied. Generally, any amount you pay over the required payment goes directly toward the principal but it never hurts to make sure. If you have more than one loan, target payments toward a higher-interest loan to pay it off faster. Or, you may find it motivating to eliminate a smaller loan first. Either way, keep making interest payments on the other loan(s) so those balances don’t increase.

4. Swear off forbearances

No matter how tight money is, keep making payments and skip the forbearance route. With a forbearance, your loan servicer allows you to miss payments but interest continues to accrue. I put my consolidated loans into forbearance off and on for years before I started paying regularly. That’s why my loan balance shot up from $35,000 to $46,000.

5. Prepare to sacrifice

To make progress, you’ll have to adjust your spending. For example, I’m choosing to pay $1,000 that I would rather spend for a vacation this year on my student loan. I’ll prepare a lot of rice and noodle dishes at home to save on groceries. I’ve cut cable TV and will keep my paid-off car. Here are a few more suggestions to free up money.

  • Find a roommate. You’ll cut utilities and rent or mortgage payments in half. Then put that money you saved toward your student loan.
  • Find a side hustle. You can get an extra gig. Pet sit, mow lawns, drive with Uber or pull weeds in your neighbors’ gardens, whatever you need to do to earn extra cash. You could pay all that money toward your student loan at least every two weeks to keep interest down and get to the principal.
  • Cut back on luxuries. Give up the gym membership and go for walks or work out at home. Sell your expensive car (if you can make a profit) and pay cash for an older model. Then put the former payment amount toward your student loan. Whatever you cut, pay that amount of money toward your student loan.

6. Keep a detailed record

Keep track in a spreadsheet or notebook of each payment, the principal amount before and after payments and how much went toward interest. Record the new balance after every payment. This will help you see how effectively your payments are lowering the principal balance.

7. Set your mind to paying off the entire debt

If you don’t believe it’s possible to pay off your student loan debt, you’ll make excuses and rationalize that everyone’s got student loan debt. Then in ten years, you’ll still owe a ton of money. So, set a payoff date goal and promise yourself that even when you run into challenges, you’ll figure out how to keep chipping away at your student loan debt until it’s finally gone.

Then you can graduate to a financial future focused on saving money instead of fretting about debt.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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