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11 Superb Student Loan Debt Hacks

11 Superb Student Loan Debt Hacks

Blink.

Did that take the better part of a second? There, student loan debt just grew by $2,726. According to Marketwatch, that around three-thousand dollar number, accumulating every second, is part of about $1.3 trillion dollars graduates now owe for their college educations.

The debt can be a lifelong leech. What would life be like without it? This is the question millions of people are asking. We pursue a career because we’re passionate about something. But plenty of us also pursue a career, and get a degree, because we want to make good money. Paradoxically, this pursuit of good money means we owe more than ever before.

Don’t despair. This is a chance to tackle a very real problem, a problem shared by 40 million Americans and counting. You’re not alone here. Plenty of us feel this is out of control. Think of taking control as a continuing education process. You’ve got to own the debt, corral it, and work with it until it’s out of your life.

1. Organize daily finances

It will be easier to sort this out if all of your daily finances are in order. Here are the steps:

Organize by using free services – Mint and Personal Capital are both tools for putting all of your accounts, including bank accounts, investment accounts, and student loan accounts, onto a single dashboard where you can see them

Do autopay – Your budget should be setup so your loan repayment is part of basic expenses that don’t change; tell your bank to autopay basic expenses online each month and make sure you deposit enough from each check to cover the autopayment. Setup overdraft protection in case something goes wrong, set up auto-debit directly with your lender, and receive a twenty-five cent discount on your interest payment

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Audit yourself – At tax time each year, check your accounts thoroughly to make sure nothing is amiss

2. Look into loan forgiveness

You may be eligible for loan forgiveness. Here are the types:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness – To qualify for PSLF, you must work for a non-profit, the government, or “a private company that provides public services”; also, your loan has to be from the federal Direct Loan Program, and you have to have already made 120 payments; check out the hack on income-based payment plans for info on how you can pay nothing per month but have it qualify as payment

State forgiveness – 45 states offer forgiveness; the majority of these programs also require you to have a job in public service. Go here to find information state-by-state

Perkins Loan cancellation – This also applies to public service individuals who received a Perkins Loan; in particular, teachers who work in any of the teacher shortage areas, or at low-income schools, qualify. For the full list on who’s eligible and the amount that could be forgiven, go here.

Military Forgiveness – Military personnel qualify for the PSLF, the Perkins cancellation, the National Defense Student Loan Discharge, and the Veteran’s Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge, as well as a number of deferments and repayment programs

3. Check out a DIY payment guide

This guide offers advice on the following:

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Why making larger payments makes sense – simply paying $200 more than the minimum payment per month saves you $2,400 on interest, and you pay off the loan 4 years earlier

The value of the right mindset – listing the reasons why you want to live frugally, in order to pay off your debt quickly, will help prepare you for the challenge of tightening the belt

How to create a spending plan – looking at your last three months of bank statements will help give you an idea of your average expenses

How to track spending – you can create a spreadsheet with each expenditure listed, and phone- reminders of when to make payments

Creating an emergency fund – start with $1000 and then try to save 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses

Taking on an extra gig – the gig economy offers a ton of options, such as driving for Uber, and according to Fabio Rosati of Upwork, this economy contributes “more than $700 billion to our national economy”. Why not take advantage of the options?

Creating your repayment plan – The National Student Loan Data System will pull up all your loan services, and from there you can decide on a “Snowball Method” or an “Avalanche Method” of repayment

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Looking at alternative repayment plans – Loan consolidation, deferment, and forbearance are all options available to you

Getting a support system – having someone there to keep you accountable is priceless

Rewarding yourself – finding small ways to do this will help keep you on the payment path; after all, man cannot live on bread alone

4. Look into income-based plans

In December of 2015 the federal Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) program will go into effect. This program is more lenient than any of the income-based programs that have been available. Under this program, if you received a Direct Loan, you’ll pay no more than 10% of your discretionary income. “Discretionary” income is Adjusted Gross Income above 150% of the poverty level for your household.

If you absolutely have no job and no income, you’ll still qualify for this plan—unless you’ve defaulted on your loan. You could end up paying nothing per month if 10% of your income is nothing. But interest would still accrue.

You can also consolidate your Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and Perkins Loan into a Direct Consolidated Loan, which would then be eligible for REPAYE.

5. Look into consolidation  

A caveat: you can’t consolidate private and public loans. Consolidating your state and federal loans will allow you to pay less per month, but once again there’s the issue of interest adding up as you’re making minimum payments. Still, consolidation will simplify the situation, giving you one payment at a set interest rate. And thanks to REPAYE, that payment could be very low, which will help a great deal if you’re strapped for cash right now.

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6. Deduct your interest  

Look at the information your lender has sent you. Anything helps, and you can reduce your taxable income by up to $2,500 if you’ve been paying on the interest for your loans. If you qualify for deferment or forbearance (meaning you wouldn’t have to pay on the principal of your loan for a certain period of time), try scraping together money to pay on the interest, and then look into deducting what you pay from your taxes.

7. Volunteer for Zerobound

Here, you can sign up to volunteer and get crowdsourced money to go towards paying your student loans. SponsorChange is another site of this same nature. Make sure to familiarize yourself completely with these opportunities before you take them.

8. Volunteer elsewhere

AmeriCorps, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), Peace Corps, Teach for America, and National Health Service Corps offer forms of student loan forgiveness or reimbursements.

9. Try a student-friendly cash-back credit card

Be careful with a credit card; it’s the same as taking on more loans. But if you are confident in your budgeting skills, a card such as UPromise is specifically designed to give you good cash-back rewards from your purchases, which can then go directly toward paying off your debt. You’re going to be making purchases anyhow, and this is a chance to make money from them. But you have to be highly disciplined.

10. Consider refinancing

Right now this will lower your interest rate. But once again, be careful. Refinancing will put you in private loan territory, where none of the options (listed above) for a federal or state loan apply. Don’t refinance unless you’ve got a good job, are sure you can meet the principal on your loan, and are simply looking to pay less interest. But be aware that interest rate could go up.

11. Be aware of the discounts

There are direct-debit discounts, on-time payment discounts, graduation credits, and a degree of forgiveness available from certain lenders. The Department of Education also offers two types of discounts.  

Featured photo credit: Light brigading via flickr.com

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on July 4, 2019

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless.

Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent free online education awaits on the following 25 sites.

1. Coursera

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    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education, and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups.

    2. Khan Academy

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      Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

      Among the more well known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly useable, which may make it easier to keep learning goals.

      3. Open Culture Online Courses

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        If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos and podcasts from universities around the world. The site features a lot of material found only on universities private sites, all in easy to browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses, without having to visit and search each university’s own site.

        Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales and many state universities around the United States. A very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

        4. Udemy 

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          Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

          Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top quality content. This is another site however, that mixes free and paid content.

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          5. Academic Earth

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            Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources, and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

            Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

            6. edX

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              Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics.

              7. Alison

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                Unlike the previous sites on this lists, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

                It’s a great option if users need certification for their learning as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

                8. iTunesU Free Courses

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                  A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod, or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

                  Desktop users can access  iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

                  Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos, and paid content.

                  ITunesU does include courses on a pretty wide scope of topics, but does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

                  9. Stanford Online

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                    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

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                    Stanford Online is a great site for high quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school.

                    10. Harvard Extension

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                      Like Stanford Online, Harvard Extension features free online education courses from Harvard only. This is another excellent source for top notch course material, though the course variety is less rich than multi-school sites.

                      Additionally, Harvard Extension allows you to search for courses by professional certificate. This makes it much easier if your online education goal includes certification.

                      11. Open Yale Courses

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                        Open Yale Courses echoes Harvard Extension and Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses, but learn better by watching than by reading.

                        12. UC Berkeley Class Central

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                          Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

                          13. MIT OpenCourseWare

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                            Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, plus includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

                            14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

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                              Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list, however, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics. But for the topics that are covered impressive, in-depth material is available.

                              15. Codecademy

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                                Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

                                The courses at Codecademy are well written and easy to follow and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, plus organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

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                                16. Code

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                                  Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

                                  In addition to kid friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics and Javascript.

                                  Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

                                  17. University of London Podcasts

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                                    The podcast page on the University of London website is another great source for free education. While the courses are limited to podcasts, the site features podcasts from it’s own campus, as well as eleven universities in and around London. This gives learners a wide base of topics and lectures, but still ensures in-depth material.

                                    18. University of Oxford Podcasts

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                                      Similar to the University of London, the University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

                                      The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. Another good site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

                                      19. BBC Podcasts

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                                        For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly, and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

                                        Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

                                        20. TED-Ed

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                                          Another great destination for more general learning is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all encompassing, motivational web series, comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

                                          Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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                                          21. LessonPaths

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                                            LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

                                            22. Memrise

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                                              Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

                                              Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

                                              23. National Geographic Kids

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                                                The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keeps kids interested on this site.

                                                National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

                                                24. Fun Brain

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                                                  Fun Brain is another good option for kids who want to learn online, but focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

                                                  Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

                                                  25. Whyville

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                                                    Similar to the sites for kids free online education is Whyville a destination for preteen online learning. The site includes a variety of social features, with a focus on learning materials geared for young teens.

                                                    Whyville also mixes in educational games, to make the site a well rounded option for kids too old for simple games, but too young for heavy reading based material.

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                                                    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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