When you start your post-college career, you may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. Before you do that, you have important decisions to make. You’ll have to stretch your paycheck to cover your new lifestyle and associated expenses: a furnished home or apartment, vehicle, insurance, and hopefully a 401K contribution. If you are like 70% of college graduates, you also have student loans that need to be repaid.
In most situations, it’s going to be most beneficial to pay off your loans as quickly as possible so that you are paying less towards interest. The average college graduate’s starting salary, however often cannot allow for enough additional income to cover more than the regularly scheduled student loan payments. Most student loans have a six-month grace period so you can do some budgeting and planning first – if you need to. We don’t suggest using the grace period unless you find it necessary to organize your finances. During a deferment such as a grace period, the interest could still be accruing depending on the type of loan that you have.
If you determine that you may be better off establishing sound financial footing and a workable monthly budget before you begin repaying those daunting loans. Keep these tips in mind as you formulate a strategy for debt payoff.
Student Loans Have Advantages
Varying types of debt are governed by different laws and regulations. Banks often base interest rates for consumer credit loans on your established credit rating. Interest rates for auto loans or credit card debt tend to be higher than a mortgage or student loan interest. As you review your debt load and make a plan, remember: student loan debt comes with a few “advantages” that other types of debt don’t offer.
- Preferential tax treatment: With a new job, you will be paying taxes on your income. Student loan interest is deductible up to $2,500 and can be deducted from pre-tax income.
- Lower interest rates & perks: Federal student loans have lower interest rates and are sometimes subsidized by the government.
- Lender incentives: Private student loans may come with incentives from the lender that make them a better deal than other credit types. These include fee waivers, lower interest rates, and deferment options.
- Flexible payment plans: Options for lower payments and longer terms are available for both federal and private student debt.
- Build your credit score: You can build your credit score with student loan debt. Now, depending on whether you’re making on-time payments or not, you could negatively or positively affect your credit. If you chose to make small payments during deferments, or a grace period, and regular on-time payments you will be more likely to establish a favorable credit record and reduce the amount of interest you pay overall.
Programs to Help You With Student Loan Payments
There are few options for loan forgiveness with regular debt, but student loans offer opportunities to reduce or eliminate your debt. These may come with commitments and tax implications, so be sure you fully understand them if you decide to take advantage of these programs.
- Loan forgiveness: Federal student loans may be forgiven, but you’ll want to be sure that you’re following all of the requirements needed of the program. Be sure before choosing this option that the federal loans you have qualify for the program. Also, keep in mind there could be taxes due on the amount that is forgiven. Some student loan forgiveness programs include PAYE (Pay as You Earn) and REPAYE (Revised Pay as You Earn), Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
- Loan Consolidation: Multiple student loans can be consolidated into one payment with the interest rate determined by a weighted average of your current loans – interest rates. Combining multiple loans may be easier to manage on a modest starting salary. Consolidating federal loans usually doesn’t require a good credit score, either.
- Refinance, and you could achieve a lower interest rate: Lenders like Education Loan Finance specialize in student loan refinancing, and have options like variable interest rates and flexible terms. Refinancing your debt could make student loan debt easier to manage than other types of credit.
Pay Off High-Interest Debt First
Before you decide to pay off your student loans, think about the financial obligations you’ll be taking on. Instead of carrying a credit card balance or making low payments for an auto loan, it makes sense to continue your low student loan payments and pay off more expensive debt first or debt with a higher interest rate. In the long run, you’ll save money and build your credit score.
If you still have doubts about not paying off student debt first, consult a professional financial advisor for help prioritizing your goals and setting up a budget that lets you achieve them.