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How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans?

Paying off student loans is a rite of passage. It transforms us from our carefree student selves to full-fledged adults. Like other transitions in life, it’s not a journey without a few bumps in the road.

You may be looking into student loans to start financing your college courses. Maybe you’re a current student relying on loans to complete your education. Or perhaps you’re a former student currently paying off your student loan debt.

If so, you’re probably wondering: how long does it take to pay off student loans?

We want to pay off our student loans as soon as possible. Follow this guide to learn the seven best ways to pay off your student loans in a shorter amount of time.


What Are the Average Student Loan Debt Statistics in America?

The average student loan debt in America offers some startling statistics. Americans owe more than $1.64 trillion in federal student loans and private student loan debt.

This amount affects roughly 44.7 million borrowers. The average borrower owes a whopping $32,731.

As if that’s not enough — monthly student loan payments range from an average of about $200-$299. And as for interest rates, they can run as high as 14.24%.

These figures come from Student Loan Hero and pertain to students who started repaying as of 2019.

The Typical Student Loan Scenario

Not everyone qualifies for a coveted federal student loan. Federal lenders typically carry the lowest interest rates. There are minimum GPA and enrollment requirements that prohibit some students from receiving these loans. Cumbersome paperwork and proof of “financial necessity” limit other students.

If you don’t qualify for federal Pell grants or Stafford loans, you can inquire into the personal financial aid sector. With a cosigner who has good credit, these loan interest rates are usually manageable.

Regardless of which loan you take out, the repayment terms are where you have to pay close attention.

The Main Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan Options

Federal education loans are the most common form of financial aid for students. These typically come with a Standard Repayment term, but there are other alternatives you can choose instead.

Before you jump into the one with the lowest monthly payment, make sure you know what you’re getting into. A plan that sounds too good to be true probably is!

Financially, the smartest thing to do is to have a plan to pay off your loans efficiently and expediently. That will be different for every borrower, so look over the breakdown of each plan’s summary:

  • Standard repayment plan: As with a mortgage payment, this is a fixed amount you will owe on your loan each month. No matter what the loan amount is, there is a minimum payment of $50 monthly. The typical term for this loan is ten years, but you can pay it off sooner.
  • Extended repayment plan: This is like the standard repayment plan in that there is a monthly fixed amount due. However, the length of the loan extends anywhere from 12 to 30 years, making the monthly payment smaller. Even though the terms are longer, it’s a smart investment for the lender. More years of monthly payments mean you’ll be paying on interest longer for a higher final amount owed.
  • Graduated repayment plan: As the name implies, this payment will gradually increase over time. It’s a smart idea for students who don’t have a guaranteed job right after graduation. The monthly payment amounts start out small and increase every two years. Because of the increased monthly payment due, this plan can get pricey. However, you’ll have time before each raised amount to get used to the payment. If you stick with the minimum amount due, you could be paying up to 30 years on the graduated repayment plan.
  • Income-contingent repayment plan: The word contingent means “dependent upon.” So an income-contingent plan is one in which the amount you pay monthly correlates with your income. As your annual income changes, so will your monthly amount due. This plan maxes out at 25 years, at which time you can write any remaining balance off. You should note, though, that you are responsible for taxes on that discharged amount.
  • Income-based repayment plan: This plan works like the income-contingent plan, except there’s a cap on monthly payment amounts. The percentage of your income that the payment is based on is lower, as well.
  • Income-sensitive repayment plan: Some lenders allow this plan instead of the income-contingent or based options. In the income-sensitive terms, your monthly payment adjusts to your monthly, not annual, income. This loan maxes at ten years.
  • The PAYE plan: The Pay as You Earn (PAYE) repayment plan. Your disposable income and the size of your family determine your monthly obligations. These amounts adjust annually but can’t be more than the Standard Repayment Plan would have been. They are forgiven after 20 years.
  • The REPAYE plan: The Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan, or REPAYE, bases monthly payments on 10% of your discretionary income. This payment plan recalculates each year and adjusts based on your income and family size. The loans are automatically forgiven after 20 years for undergraduate studies.

 

With those payment breakdowns in mind, you can make an informed decision as to which repayment terms you prefer.

Speaking of working after you graduate, read these 7 Tips from the Pros to Land a Job After Graduation.

What About Degree Program Student Debt?

As you may imagine, students who graduate with a professional degree take on even more debt.

For example:
  • Medical students’ average debt after graduation = $196,520
  • Pharmacy students’ average debt after graduation = $166,528
  • Dental students’ average debt after graduation = $285,184

 

Keep in mind that degree program graduates may land jobs that qualify for student loan forgiveness. A common example is nursing loan forgiveness programs.

These programs allow full-time public service workers to eliminate loan payments. We’ll explore this more in-depth later.

For the rest of us, other fantastic and doable steps can help us pay off our student loans faster.

Follow these seven steps to start enjoying life without the burden of student loans quicker.

1. Assess What You Owe in Student Loans

Take a step back and turn a critical eye on your loan repayment amount, terms, and your current finances. This is the first significant step in the repayment process.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when assessing what you owe.

Number of Loans

Do you only have one loan to repay? Or, do you have several that will enter repayment at the same time?

This will likely depend on your degree, if you had any scholarships, your school, etc.

What Are the Specific Terms of Each Loan?

Your loan will come with specific terms that tell you the amount you must pay back, the time frame for doing so, and its interest rate.

What Are the Interest Rates?

Interest, which is the amount of money you owe on top of the principal, is charged to every loan.

How Long Do You Have to Repay the Loan?

The standard repayment plan takes ten years. Your lender will charge you a certain monthly amount you must pay back within this time frame.

Of course, this article is about paying off your student loans quickly to help and not hurt your credit score. You’ll get a clearer picture of how this could work for you after assessing your student loan situation.


2. Develop A Plan of Attack for Repaying Your Loans

You’ve finished your higher education studies. You have landed a job. You’ve assessed your loan situation.

You might be wondering: what now?

With the great strides you’ve already made by securing a (hopefully) stable income with your job, it’s time to figure out a plan of attack.

This is how we decide our best means for taking down our student loan repayments effectively.

Create An Actionable Repayment Plan

  1. Develop a budget based on your income and current expenses.
  2. Figure out how much you can realistically pay off on your student loan(s).
  3. Go to your lender’s website, create an account, and set up autopay.

 

You may want to create a repayment plan spreadsheet or go old school and put pen to paper to ensure you stay organized. Start by writing out your monthly income.

Calculate your monthly expenses. This includes rent on your first apartment, bills, groceries, gym memberships, etc.

When you have this amount totaled, subtract it from your monthly income.

This remainder can feasibly be applied to your loans.

Say your loan repayment time frame is ten years, and you have $50, $100, $120, or whatever amount as the remainder.

You can apply this to your monthly loan repayment and repay your loan in under ten years.

Enter the Student Loan Calculator

student loan calculator

One of the most popular tools you can use to help crunch these numbers is a student loan calculator. You can find many different types just by searching for them in a search engine.

These handy little devices ask you to fill in specific figures. Your loan balance, interest rate, loan fees, term years, and minimum monthly payments will be considered.

They calculate the monthly payment needed to repay within the term years. It also calculates the number of payments you’ll make.

Also revealed will be the amount of interest and cumulative payments made. You can play around with these calculators to adjust the numbers.

For our purposes, you may try changing the term years.

This can give you a better picture of how much your monthly loan payments can be. Try entering seven or eight years, rather than ten, to see how you stack up.


3. Stick to Your Budget

We cannot state this enough: keep all your expenses within your budget. Doing so will keep you on track to pay off your student loans in less time.

You’ll never again have to wonder, “how long does it take to pay off student loans?”

Sticking to your budget may be the hardest part of the entire loan repayment process. You may think doing so will put a major damper on your social life.

But we have news for you …

Can I Still Have a Life While Budgeting?

Yes, of course! Depending on your income and the amount you have decided to put toward your loan.

You remain on budget by cutting back on unnecessary expenses.

Happy hour with friends, weekend trips to the movies, and regular meal deliveries from coveted local restaurants may have to go.

But sticking to a budget doesn’t mean ending your social life altogether.

  • Invite friends over for drinks at home.
  • Tackle delicious-looking recipes on your favorite blogs for restaurant-style meals at a fraction of the cost.
  • And subscribe to a cool movie streaming app to turn your living room into a private cinema all your own.

Making a few adjustments can save you tons of money monthly without eliminating all the fun. Opting to live with friends is another way to save money and have fun.


4. Pay More Than the Minimum Student Loan Payments

Paying more than the minimum on your monthly repayments is a surefire way to pay off private loans and federal loans faster.

The best and most obvious way to do this is by following rule #3 — sticking to your budget.

We have to remember another critical factor: interest builds up fast. Yes, you read that right. Growing interest payments are one of the best reasons to try to pay off your student loans quickly.

Ideally, faster than what’s outlined by the terms.

Paying more than the minimum means you’ll spend less money on interest. You’ll potentially save big bucks by the time your loan payments end.


5. Use the Debt Snowball Method to Stay Motivated

Strange name, proven results. The Debt Snowball Method is a respected debt-reduction system. It can make a difference in your student loan repayments.

It’s a method that applies to those who are paying more than one student loan.

Many college graduates may have a bachelor’s degree. Other student loan borrowers have a master’s degree or beyond, with loans taken out yearly at every step of your degree acquisition.

Start with the loan on which you owe the smallest balance. Pay its monthly minimum plus an extra amount as determined by your budget.

At the same time, you pay only the minimum on your loans with the most substantial payoff balances.

This method quickly eliminates your smaller-balanced loan. You then move on to the loan with the second-smallest balance, if you have more than two to pay off.

The Debt Snowball Method helps you see results quickly, and is wonderfully motivating.


6. Should I Try Loan Forgiveness or Refinancing Programs?

The answer to this question is a resounding maybe.

Let’s look at this question by dividing it into two parts.

The Pros and Cons of Student Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness. Just its name makes it seem like a magical cure-all to our student debt woes. But things are often too good to be true.

As mentioned, loan forgiveness may apply to public sector workers. This often includes teaching and nursing loan forgiveness programs.

Loan forgiveness is not instant, however. Public sector workers have to put in years of professional work before qualifying.

It can take anywhere from 5–25 years to qualify. And while you’re waiting, you still have to make your scheduled monthly payments.

Waiting for a loan forgiveness plan will cause your interest and balance to grow if — you qualify at all. It is truly something you need to think about before deciding if it’s right for you.

What About Student Loan Refinancing?

Refinancing is typically an excellent option for those with steady high incomes.

It’s an income-based solution. You take out a new loan with a small interest rate to pay off your student loans that have higher rates.

You end up saving money and can pay off your student loan faster than initially anticipated should you refinance.

Alternatively, you may choose to refinance your loan even if you don’t qualify for low-interest rate loans. In this case, you may borrow a loan with lower monthly payments but a lengthier payout amount.

This may seem tempting if you’re struggling to make your monthly payments. But it’s easy to see how this can adversely affect your finances. It will take you longer than initially expected to pay off your loans, meaning you’ll pay more in interest.

If you’re interested in refinancing your loans, check out lenders like CommonBond or Education Loan Finance. They could help you get an annual rate as low as 2.39%.

You might also check out one of the lenders below, who are all offering discounts to readers of The Home Blog. Click to fill out an application and see if you qualify:

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What Are the Consequences for Defaulting on my Student Loan?

With a $30,000, twenty-year loan sitting in front of you, the temptation to skip out on your payments may arise. Defaulting on your student loan has significant consequences you should be aware of before you make that decision.

  • Once a defaulted loan is declared, the lender can demand immediate payment of the full amount (acceleration).
  • The flexible benefits of a federal student loan, including deferments and forbearances, are not available to you any longer.
  • You can’t switch repayment plans anymore, and you can’t apply for further federal student aid in the future. The ability to move between repayment plans is a benefit intended to prevent the default from occurring.
  • The defaulted loan is reported to the credit bureau, resulting in a damaged credit rating. Poor credit can be expensive since you’ll end up with higher interest rates for anything you borrow on, taking years to repair.
  • Most importantly, student lenders can garnish your wages. When this occurs, by law, your employer must withhold part of your weekly pay and send it to the lender. This usually only happens after they take you to court for defaulting on your loan. Federal lenders can declare a “treasury offset,” in which they withhold your tax refunds or any future benefit payments. These sums apply toward your defaulted loan.

 

Be aware that defaulting on a student loan is serious. It will be an expensive choice if you have to appear in court and are guilty of the non-payment.

Besides the legally binding requirement of paying back your loan anyway, you’ll also have other fees tacked on. Court costs, attorneys’ fees, and any collection costs all add to your payoff amount.

You’ll lose the flexibility of working with the lender and possibly end up with a large portion of your check garnished. Your employer might feel sorry for you, but legally they’ll have to comply.

What to Do Instead of Defaulting on Your Loans

Since you’ll have to pay the loan off anyway, it makes sense to do it on friendly terms. If you are delinquent and in danger of default, don’t avoid the situation.

By contacting a federal student loan servicer, they’ll know you’re having problems paying. With income-contingent and income-sensitive plans, as well as other possible options, you can find an affordable one that works for you.

Defaulting on private student loans is not as harsh as when the federal financial aid steps in. But, it’s still an expensive road to find yourself on.

Delinquency happens to most of us. It’s not the end of the world as long as you communicate with the lender.

Before you slide from delinquency to defaulting, contact your loan provider to see how you can work together for better terms.


7. Put Extra Money Toward Loan Payments

You never know when a financial windfall may occur. Or you’ve been working extra hard and are making careful plans to earn those big bucks, in which case, congrats!

How Do I Earn More Money?

A fair question. Here are some common ways to earn money to make extra payments on that big ol’ student debt

1. Income Tax Refund Money

Yes, it’s tempting to take that refund and go on a beachside vacay with friends. But think about how much more satisfying it will be to put that cash toward your loan repayment.

You’ll pay it off faster and end up with more vacation money in the future.

2. Pay Raises

Increases in income are always a reason to celebrate. After the celebration ends, think about putting some extra money toward loan payments.

Even a little extra can make a huge difference in cutting back your repayment time.

3. Nab a Side Hustle

side hustle

The gig economy is thriving for a reason. It allows just about anyone to get part-time work instantly. And you can work whenever you like.

The most common gig jobs include:
  • Driving for rideshare companies
  • Delivering food from local eateries to hungry customers
  • Serving food and drinks at catered events
  • Working from home as a freelance programmer, writer, editor, accountant, etc.

 

Put that extra income toward your loan repayments. Once you do, enjoy a debt-free future — faster.

Related: The Five Career Setbacks to Avoid


Conclusion

The most difficult financial act we experience in adulthood is managing student loans. It necessitates a balance between hard work and smart planning.

But when done right, it can also be the most rewarding. The process can help us understand how to deal with finances while developing our credit score.

Keep in mind our core tips for repaying student loans:

  1. Assess what you owe
  2. Develop a plan of attack for loan repayment
  3. Budget to make your income work for you
  4. Pay above minimum
  5. Use debt snowball for motivation
  6. When in doubt, refinance or seek forgiveness
  7. Earn extra money to keep your momentum going.

 

The simple tips expressed above can bring our student debt under control. They can help us achieve other financial goals we set for ourselves.

So what’s the bottom line?

When we wonder: how long does it take to pay off student loans, it doesn’t have to be ten years. You can do it in seven or even five, with the right plan and persistence.

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