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10 Strategies to Reduce And Repay Your College Debt

10 Strategies to Reduce And Repay Your College Debt

When I finished college, I was lucky to find a great job in my field in less than a year. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had a lot of college debt. I had attended a wonderful, but pricey university. Because I was in an academically challenging program, there were several semesters where I opted to live on loans rather than working. That’s something I now look back on with regret.

I can now happily say that I am debt-free (at least as far as college loans go). It took a while to make it happen, and I learned a few tough lessons along the way. If I had to go back and do things over again, there are definitely some decisions I would reconsider.

Knowing what I know now, here are 10 strategies I would like to pass on to current and prospective college students to help you avoid my mistakes:

1. Apply For Scholarships

I was fortunate enough to receive a small scholarship through a foundation that my father’s employer started. It definitely helped. I wish that I had sought out more scholarship opportunities. Unfortunately, at the time I assumed that these were limited to academic superstars and athletes.

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What I know now is that there are thousands upon thousands of dollars in untapped scholarship funds. These funds are rewarded by a variety of groups and organizations. They are given to students who a pursuing specific career paths, who are able to write convincing essays, who have a history of community service – even students who are exceptionally tall. Do your research and you will likely find at least a handful of scholarships you qualify for to apply to.

Here are some sources to consider:

  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Fraternal organizations and charities
  • Your employer and your parents’ employers
  • Associations and trade unions in your field of choice
  • College and high school alumni associations

2. Seriously Consider Work-Study

This is where I made a big mistake. I didn’t want to work a part-time job off-campus because the standard 20 to 25 hours per week was just too much for my demanding schedule. However, if I had taken a work-study job for twelve to sixteen hours each week, I could have cut the amount of student loan funds that I allocated to personal, living expenses by about half. Considering the high amount of interest that student loan debt accrues, that can be pretty significant.

3. Trade Service for Tuition or Loan Forgiveness

In addition to offering scholarships, some companies will reward students, especially employees, with college funds if they participate in a minimal number of customer service hours. Students who are willing to really commit a significant chunk of time to serving others can participate in government programs that offer tuition payments or loan forgiveness in return for service. However, it is important to note that many of these programs require 10 to 12 months or more of service. Examples of service opportunities include: AmeriCorps, Fema Corps, Peace Corps, and Teach For America.

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4. Look Into More Interest-Friendly Options

Private student loans can be expensive. This is especially true because most college students have not established the credit-worthiness or accumulated assets that they can leverage to negotiate loans at better terms. One thing to consider is asking your parents or another supportive family member to help you to finance your education by co-signing or taking out loans in their names. For example, a personal loan that your parents secure with a certificate of deposit at their hometown bank may be half the interest of an unsecured student loan from a large bank.

5. Avoid For-Profit Schools

The two best ways to deal with student debt is to simply pay less tuition and attend a school with a great post-graduate employment rate. One of the best ways to make this happen is to steer clear of for-profit schools in favor of public and private colleges and universities. You will pay significantly lower tuition rates and increase your chances of obtaining a good job post-grad. If you choose to, you will also increase the likelihood that you will be accepted into a decent graduate program.

6. Cut Back on Spending and Delay Major Purchases

Once you have finished school, it is time to sit down and create a five-year financial plan. If you have a lot of debt coming out of school, this plan should focus on reducing spending and being conservative when it comes to taking on new debt.

It is also important to prioritize ensuring that your student loan payments are made without fail. This way, if there is ever a significant financial emergency in the future, you are in a better position to renegotiate terms. For some graduates, this may mean finding alternative ways to deal with emergency expenses. According to First Choice Title Pawn, there are easy ways to get quick cash in the case of emergencies, while still keeping up with your other financial obligations.

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7. Consider Community Colleges and Public Universities

If you are unsure about your major or the career you want to pursue, are you sure you want to go into thousands of dollars in debt to attend a private university? Many students opt to do this and end up owing banks and the federal government lots of money.

If you do have your heart set on attending a private college or your future goals require that you attend a four-year college, take a look at commuter schools and community colleges anyway. You may be able to earn credits during summer sessions by taking a couple of classes at the local community college that you can apply towards your degree.

8. Start Paying Down The Debt Immediately

Many students don’t realize this, but you don’t have to wait until graduation to begin making payments. Even small payments made while you are still in school can help you to reduce your overall debt. This is good information to pass onto your parents as well, if they have committed to helping you pay down your debt.

9. Pay More Than The Minimum Payment Each Month

If it helps, think of your student loan payments like you would a mortgage payment. If you only pay the minimum, the terms of your loan could stretch for decades. However, if you double your payments, or make a second payment each month, you can significantly reduce the length of your loan. Just keep in mind that all loans vary, and ask your lender for information on their specific policies.

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10. Consider Career Paths That Earn Loan Forgiveness

If you are interested in a career that serves others, you may be qualified for full or partial student loan forgiveness. Students entering fields such as nursing, social work, and public education can often have their debt reduced or even eliminated altogether. Just be aware that there are restrictions. For example, a teacher willing to work for five years in the public school system is more likely to qualify than a teacher who goes to work for an elite private school.

Student loan debt is a real problem. It significantly impacts the quality of life of many college graduates, and has also become a matter of political concern. By using the tips outlined above, you may be able to reduce or even avoid taking on too much crushing debt.

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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