When I made up my mind to pursue a graduate degree, I promised myself that I would not graduate with a huge student loan payment hanging over my head. I was able to pay for most of master’s degree with student fellowships; however, when an employment opportunity that I could not pass up beckoned during my final year, I gave up my fellowship, and took out a student loan. Seven years later, I’m happy to report that my loan will be paid in full in just a couple of months. Here’s how I did it:
1. I Borrowed Only What I Needed
Too few students learn the trick to paying down student loans until it’s too late. That trick is to be a careful borrower. For two semesters of graduate school, I could have borrowed upwards of $20,000. I borrowed only $8000 – still a considerable amount of money – just enough to cover my tuition costs. I worked to pay off the rest of my expenses.
2. I Started Planning for Repayment Before I Had to Pay
Although my student loan was relatively small, at least in the world of student debt, it was huge to me. The thought of being in debt when I graduated made me nervous, so I started putting a little money in savings each week to pay toward my debt. It was a piddling amount – $10-$20 dollars per week, much of it in pocket change – but by the time the semester and my six-month grace period were up, I had a head start on my repayment.
3. I Started Small
Student loans are more flexible than most other loans, giving you several repayment options. I took the lowest payment offered to me. That may seem contradictory, if my goal was to repay as quickly as possible. My reasoning was this: making a smaller payment made my debt seem less frightening. And, as I moved up the pay scale employment-wise, I was always free to pay more toward my debt.
4. I Made Repayment a Priority
When my grace period was almost up, I did two things: one, I had direct deposits from employer authorized for the savings account I’d set up for my loan repayment, and two, I signed up for direct debit for the amount of my student loan. I saved on interest by opting for the direct debit, and by paying for my student loan before I even saw my paycheck, I didn’t have the opportunity to spend the money that was supposed to go toward my debt.
5. I Worked Two Jobs
And sometimes three. Whatever it took to pay off my debts. Yes, it was hard, but it was also worth it.
Student loans are increasingly an integral part of the higher education experience. Repaying them won’t be easy, but the sooner you start planning for repayment, the more prepared you’ll be when you get that first loan payment notice in the mail.
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