What are the best ways to get out of student loan debt?
Surely, college loan borrowers want to know, given the fact that the average student loan balance was $25,297 at the end of 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Education
Yet past hunkering down and working years to pay off college loans, often dealing with monthly loan bills of several hundred dollars, there are other proven ways to repay college loan debt.
You just have to be diligent and creative. Using the following ideas and programs will get you rolling.
1. Loan Forgiveness Programs
College loan borrowers who work in the public sector can qualify for multiple federal student loan forgiveness programs.
First up is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which opens the door to loan forgiveness for public service career professionals. Eligibility is fairly straightforward – you need to be a public sector worker (federal, state or municipality) who has made on-time monthly student loan payments for 10 years, using a qualified loan repayment plan.
In the meantime, that employee must work full-time for a government organization, or tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, or other qualified non-profit organization.
Clearing all of the above hurdles isn’t easy. The vast majority of federal loan forgiveness applications are turned down because borrowers missed a single payment or didn’t work for the right organization.
Still, it’s worth a shot. Find out more at StudentAid.gov.
2. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
Teachers have an easier path toward student loan forgiveness via the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, another program run by the U.S. Department of Education.
The program is aimed primarily at public school teachers, especially those who teach in low-income community schools for at least five years in a row.
This program likely won’t result in all of your federal student loan debt being eliminated, but it’s fairly common to see public school teachers shed between $5,000 and $17,500 in student loans, dependent on the subject of study taught (science and mathematics teachers qualify for larger loan forgiveness amounts.
Find out more at StudentEd.gov.
2. Federal Loan Cancellation
If you’ve taken out a Federal Perkins Loan, one of the most widely-student loan programs, you may be able to qualify for Perkins Loan cancellation. (Federal Perkins Loans account for $6.1 billion in loans and are used by two million borrowers, although the loan program has since closed, as of September 30, 2020.)
First in line for Perkins Loan cancellation are higher-risk professionals – think U.S. military members, firefighters, police and other first responders, nurses and overseas volunteers working with or for federal government organizations like the Peace Corps. But anyone who has taken out a Perkins Loan can qualify and significantly reduce their student loan debt in the process.
Doing so isn’t easy. For starters, you’d have to take out a federal Perkins Loan before the program expired last September. You’ll also need to get specific permission to apply for the federal loan forgiveness program from either your college or university or the student loan servicer.
Also, if you are granted forgiveness from a Perkins Loan, don’t expect it to happen immediately. The Department of Education prefers a more gradual approach, steadily reducing your student loan burden over five years.
Find out more at StudentEd.gov.
3. Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment Plans
If you’re out in the working world but aren’t making a huge paycheck, you may be able to adjust your monthly student loan payment to be in line with your monthly income.
That’s where income-driven repayment plans can help. These programs, otherwise known as IDR plans, are made available to federal student loan borrowers who are either falling behind on their loans, can’t pay their loans at all, or can only pay a portion of their student loans because they don’t make enough money every month to cover the entire bill.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, IDR loan plans are readily available to cash-starved federal student loan borrowers.
“If your federal student loan payments are high compared to your income, you may want to repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan,” the Dept. of Education states on its IDR web page. “Most federal student loans are eligible for at least one income-driven repayment plan. If your income is low enough, your payment could be as low as $0 per month.”
Income-Driven Repayment plans come in the following four models:
- Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)
- Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)
- Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan)
- Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)
Apply at StudentAid.gov. If you can prove your income isn’t sufficient enough to cover your student loan payments, you may qualify for a big repayment break, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.
4. Employer-Based Student Loan Payment Plans
Companies diverse as Fidelity Investments, Hulu, and Penguin RandomHouse – and many more - are helping staffers with student loans pay down that debt.
More companies are seeing the value of offering student loan repayment assistance as a workplace benefit, which often comes in the form of 401(k)-like plans where employers match an employee’s loan repayment dollar for dollar. Studies show that younger workers – the type of employee most likely to have student loan debt – want to work for companies that offer student loan payment assistance.
That makes employer-based student loan payment plans the ultimate supply and demand product, so expect more companies to start offering such plans, if only to attract new talent and keep up with the competition, benefits-wise.
By and large, the longer an employee works for the company, the larger the financial sum that employee will get for his or her student assistance. Check with your company human resources or benefits officer for a heads-up on any student loan assistance you can get from your company.
5. Old-Fashioned Side Hustle in a Gig-Economy Age
Back in the Great Depression, parents kept their families afloat by taking on any job they could – mothers sewed garments or cleaning houses and apartments, while fathers drove cabs and picked fruit and vegetables to make an extra buck or two.
The same mindset should drive student loan borrowers to pay down their student loans as quickly as possible. With the ascension of technology and the gig economy, take side-jobs like driving for Uber UBER or Lyft LYFT, become a virtual assistant, work part-time at Starbucks SBUX, or take a bartending course and pour beers and wine at a local watering hole and make a few extra bucks in the process.
These aren’t “forever” jobs (although if you like them you can surely keep doing them) and they can help you raise more cash to pay down your student loan, which is the name of the game for college loan borrowers.
The Takeaway on Paying Down Your Student Loans as Quickly as Possible
If you take the attitude that “I’m going to pay these student loans off as aggressively as I can,” all of the above strategies can play a big role in getting that job done sooner rather than later.
The task will take time and effort, and require no shortage of discipline. But once you get going, and your student loan account balance keeps falling, you’ll likely get momentum and accelerate those efforts until your student loan is paid off completely.
Ultimately, that’s a financial life lesson you’ll not only be proud of, you can also pass that lesson on to others in your life, and help them master the fine art of paying down your student loans.