NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Some 1.9 million students will be earning their bachelor degrees this month, according to Student Loan Hero, a New York City college debt payment service. Unfortunately, they're on the hook for an average $33,000 in student debt.
And most new grads oblivious to their loan obligations and "completely unaware of how much they owe [and] how many different loans and servicers they need to repay," says Andrew Josuweit, CEO of the company.
According to college grads who've knocked off their student loans, though, "unaware" is a recipe for failure. For them, the best strategy is to be aggressive.
"I've been paying back my student loans for the last three years, and am on track to have them paid off in the next two years," says Erin Millard Brand, community manager at Wherewithal.com, a savings and investing website. "It's possible to do if you want your student loan debt gone badly enough. It's all about prioritizing, staying focused and earning more."
Brand took a novel approach for debt payoff inspiration: She "itemized" her debt wish list. "Name your reasons for wanting to be debt free," she advises. "Your reasons will keep you going on this journey. There are a lot of ups and downs, and being able to refer back to those reasons will help you overcome challenges and remember why you're making sacrifices."
For Adrienne Dorison, a 2012 college graduate from the University of Georgia, the path to a debt-free life was more of a revelation — and a challenge to herself. "I had over $45,000 of student debt," Dorison says. "I thought it would take me about 25 years to pay this all off — that's what my repayment plan told me. I was paying the bare minimum and even that felt overwhelming because it was almost as much as my rent payment at the time. But last October, I got very serious about getting rid of the debt as quickly as I could. I didn't want to have it hanging over me for longer than it needed to."
"I'm happy to say that just over six months later … I finished paying off the debt," she says. "All of it."
Dorison reviewed every digit in her bank account, tightened spending, worked two jobs and established a "done with debt" deadline, then stuck to it. "I kept spending very low and worked hard at my corporate job and side job to pay off the debt," she says.
Hard work is one thing, but experts say there are a few additional "to do" items that should be included on any college debt repayment list. Jo Webber, CEO and founder of the digital teen wallet Oink, offers a few items of her own for grads:
Start saving during the grace period: Use the grace period to review repayment options and figure out what is most affordable for your circumstances.
Choose a short repayment plan: Try to choose the shortest repayment plan you can afford. Although extended payment plans have lower monthly payments, the total interest will more than double for doubling the time.
Pay off expensive loans first: Consider prioritizing paying off loans with the highest interest rate first.
Serve your way out of debt: Certain programs, such as AmeriCorps, erase part or even all of a federal student loan. A year of service at AmeriCorps can pay for around $5,645 of your loan.
Look into loan forgiveness: There are various programs that offer loan forgiveness, depending on the field of work as well type of employer. Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a federal program that forgives student debt after 10 years of qualifying payments for people in government, nonprofit and public service jobs.
Stay in touch with your lender: Be sure to tell your lender if you plan on moving or changing your phone number or email address. If they need to contact you but you are unavailable, this could add to your costs.
Also, make sure your contact info (address, email address, phone number) is updated, Josuweit says. "Many college grads move out of the dorms or to a new city after graduation and stop using their school-provided email addresses," he says. "They run the risk of missing payments or other important information if it's being sent to the wrong address."
Josuweit also advises enrolling in ACH direct payment withdrawal. "Not only will that prevent you from missing payments, you also receive a 0.25% interest rate reduction for federal loans, and many private loans as well," he says.
— Written by Brian O'Connell for MainStreet