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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 7 best ways to pay off your student loans faster.


What Are the Average Student Loan Debt Statistics in America?

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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 pertain to students who started repaying as of 2019 and are provided by Student Loan Hero.

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 7 steps to start enjoying life without the burden of student loans quicker.


1. Assess What You Owe

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Take a step back and turn a critical eye on your loan repayment amount, terms, and your current finances. This is the first major 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 to the lender on top of the principal, is charged to every loan.

How Long Do You Have to Repay the Loan? 

The standard repayment plan takes 10 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 fast, in a way that will 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

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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 10 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 10 years.

Enter the 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 certain 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 10, to see how you stack up.


3. Stick to Your Budget

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This cannot be stated enough: keep all of 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 towards 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 completely.

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

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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 important 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 fast.

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

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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, while 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 largest 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?

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

What About Refinancing? 

Refinancing is typically a great 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 that has 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.


7. Put Extra Money Towards Loan Payments

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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.

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 towards your loan repayment.

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

Pay Raises 

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

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

Nab a 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 programming, writer, editor, accountant, etc.

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


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, all while we develop our credit score.

Keep in mind our core tips: 

  1. Assess
  2. Plan
  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 10 years. You can do it in seven or even five, with the right plan and persistence.

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