You’ve been out of school for some time now, and the specter of student loan debt is hounding your every step. Like any sane person, you want this debt gone, but seems impossible to do it with any haste. But getting out of debt is not only vital but possible to do sooner than you may think. It will require changes to your lifestyle and some hard choices, but it will all be worth it for a debt, and stress, free future.

Why Should I Worry About It Now? I’ve Got Time

Sure, you’ve got time, and that’s the problem. This debt will be with you for years if not decades, and the longer you wait the more you pay. Student loan debt starts out big so it can have an effect on your life well into your later years.

For Your Future

Your debt affects your credit score and the lower that is the harder it is to take out a different loan. This may not mean much to you at the moment, but if you are paying this debt off for 20 years you’ll be feeling the pressure when you want to buy a house, a car, get married, have kids and things like that. You don’t want to be going back to school with debt; you’d be turning a mountain into a volcano. Leaving debt for later means spending more of your future income for temporary relief.

For Your Health

Debt has been shown to increase stress significantly. The anxiety caused by owing more than you can pay or compromising because of loan payments can cause you all sorts of problems. Stress is a risk factor for a variety of health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and more.

For Your Family

If that isn’t enough, your debt can also impact those closest to you. Married couples going through financial hardship experience higher divorce rates, and the same can be said for other long-term relationships. What’s worse, children who are raised in a family with financial troubles are much more likely to develop mental illness. So if for no other reason, it’s time to learn how to get out of debt for your loved ones, present or future.

Tips on How to Get Out of Debt for the Student

There is no one thing you can do to get free of debt. It will take many of these steps and likely more. But, this is a good place to start. Just like debt piling up, success breeds success and your victories will feed into each other.

1. Commit

This is an obvious step to take, but it has to be said. You need to commit fully to eliminating debt and to all of the lifestyle changes that entails. You will be challenged, because it is difficult, and that is why you need to start off with a strong commitment.

Consider making a promise to a friend or family member so they can help hold you accountable for your spending habits and financial decisions. Alternatively, draw up a personal contract pledging to make some changes, and sign it. Leave it in plain sight so you will frequently be reminded.

2. Track Expenses

If you are going to figure out how to get rid of student loan debt, you’ll need to see where your money is going first so you can reallocate it. Draw up a budget so that you can track your monthly expenditures. There are plenty of apps out there to help, or you could even just use a simple spreadsheet.

Lay out all of your expenses, debt payments included and compare it to your monthly income. Ideally, your expenses like food, gas or entertainment should only equal to half of your monthly take-home pay. Any more than that and it’s time to trim. Look for places to stop paying for things you don’t need and pay less for the things you do. Which brings us to…

3. Change Habits

It’s time to make a new you. The old you got the present you into this mess so they have to go. The new you will spend money more conscientiously; they will always find ways to spend less. The less you manage to spend, the more you can put towards paying off school debt, the faster you will be out of debt and no longer accruing interest.

Go to the gym? Work out at home or outside instead. Friends pressure you to go out on weekends? Resist, and suggest cheaper nights in. Eating out every day? Buy in bulk and prepare your meals ahead of time. Got unlimited data on your phone? Then stop paying for voice and text. The little things will add up to a lot of money saved. Each one is an ax stroke to fell the tree of student debt.

Another thing you can do is set aside any windfalls or sudden, unexpected wealth. Gifts, raises or bonuses should be seen as opportunities to reduce debt, not excuses to increase spending. Every extra bit you put towards your loans adds months or even years to your debt-free life.

4. Don’t Commit the Cardinal Sin of Debt

Whatever you do, do not pay the minimum monthly payment. Of course, you may not have this option depending on your financial situation. But, if you can, avoid paying just the minimum payment like the plague. It’s exactly what the lenders want you to do because it keeps you in debt and them flush with your cash.

Paying the minimum amount on your loans every month all but ensures that you’ll be paying a lot more in the long run. Just because you are given 20 or 30 years to pay it off, doesn’t mean you should. Every month that you pay means more interest. Although rare, it is possible to end up with more debt than you started with, especially with big loans like if you are paying off medical school debt.

5. Don’t Add to the Pile

Debt is your enemy, don’t invite more enemies into your home. Adding more kinds of debt to your already significant student debt is not the best way to tackle it. You might lose control of both and find yourself over your head.

To that end avoid taking out more loans and steer clear of credit cards where possible. If it comes down to it, prevent moments of weakness by cutting up your credit cards, freezing them in blocks of ice, or calling the credit card companies to put temporary holds on them. It sounds drastic, but settling for half-measures isn’t how to get out of debt. Decisive action is.

6. Get Help from the Government

When you have done all that you can on your end, it’s time to get help. It may not seem like it at times, but the government does want to help students with their debt. If you have a federal loan or even a private loan, there may be things they can do to help you. You could see your monthly payments reduced, your interest rate dip, and more. Here’s a short list of some of the ways the federal government can help.

  • Consolidate: With Federal Direct Loan, the government takes on all of the different loans that you took out, and takes a single monthly payment from you. Often, the interest rate is lower, but this is balanced out by longer payment plans.
  • Income-Driven: If you qualify, you can be switched to an income-driven plan. This means that your monthly payments are adjusted to your level of income. So, if you lose your job or have your income decreased in any way, your loans won’t swallow what you have left.
  • Forgiveness or Cancellation: In special circumstances, the government will forgive a federal loan or at least part of it. They do this usually for people who serve the government in ways like joining the armed forces, working as a school teacher or joining the Peace Corps. Disability and other tragedies may also call for some debt cancellation.
  • Deference or Forbearance: The last resort, but better than the alternative. These options put your debt on hold for a time so you don’t have to pay it right now. It will start up again later when, hopefully, you are making more money. However, in many cases, interest will continue to compound so you are still paying for that time.

Don’t Stop Believing

Confidence in yourself and your commitment will carry you to a debt-free future. It’s easiest to fail when you grow frustrated with your frugal lifestyle and stop seeing the point in it all. There’s no shame in losing hope every once in a while when faced with a decade or more of debt, but keep an eye on the future. Don’t stop working towards your financial dreams and don’t ever stop thinking about how to get out of debt. New future you will thank you.

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