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7 Tactics for Knocking Out Student Loan Debt

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As a graduate, you’ve probably stumbled across a few hard truths about post-college life.  You can’t emerge from your cozy bed at noon and be considered a functional member of society. There’s no school-sponsored taxi to drive you home after you’ve knocked back a few too many at happy hour. And, sadly, your annual income is equivalent to the amount you owe on your student loans. Ouch.

While you really should show up to work on time and limit the number of tequila shots you share with your boss, you don’t have to suffer through your student loans.

1. Do a little sacrificing

The word “sacrifice” doesn’t mean you’re miserable.  It simply means you’re trading something of lower value for something more valuable.  While you’re still adjusting to adult life, continue to live like a student.  Use that ratty bus pass, keep your cheap apartment, eat at home, and watch your bar budget.

2. Work that BA

Student loan debt is something that becomes increasingly less valuable (and, therefore, more expensive) the longer you carry it.  The education your loan paid for is obsolete within six months of graduation.  Taking 25 years to pay off a loan that hasn’t enhanced your income is like spending 25 years paying off a car that’s stopped running.

To make your degree useful, treat it as leverage. Negotiate for a higher starting salary. If you’ve already started, then leverage your education in your annual review.  Ask your employer if he’d pay your student loans in lieu of a raise.  Many will consider keeping a valuable employee on by providing loan repayment as a benefit.  (For this to actually work, you have to be a rock star.  You can’t half-ass it and expect any favors.)

3. Tap Uncle Sam

If you landed a job with the government after graduation, the Office of Personnel Management can help you.  A portion of your loans can be paid off by the government, up to $10K per year.  (Ahh, that’s where our tax dollars go!)

Even if you don’t work for the feds, they can still help.  The federal Income-Based Repayment program allows borrowers to pay loans back according to what’s affordable, rather than what’s owed.  The government realizes that engineering majors and ceramics majors don’t make the same income after graduation.

4. Seize tax breaks

You may be eligible to deduct up to $2,500 on the interest you’ve paid on your student loans.  The result is a smaller tax bill.  Guess where that “extra” money can go?  Yep, to your student loans.

5. Get your side hustle on

Find ways to generate income through businesses, online content generation, or affiliate marketing.  These methods allow you to earn money while you’re sleeping or working at your full-time job.  You can manage more than you can ever do.  A second job will suck up whatever free time you have left to achieve your other goals.

Find extra income from prize money, completing surveys, being a secret shopper, completing errands or chores, or spending below “budget.” You can do this by pretending you’re paid twice a month, rather than bi-weekly.  Budget for 24 checks, and you’ll have 2 extra checks per year to devote to your loans.  Mind games are essential to paying off student loans.

6. Go ahead and make extra payments

Once you find extra money, make additional payments.  Whether you can afford an extra $20 or $200, paying down your principal eliminates interest later.  (And let’s be honest, an extra $20 now means you’ll get to eat steak sometime this decade.)

7. Be realistic

If it’s easier to structure a settlement that allows you to rid yourself of it once and for all, then pursue it.  Make sure any settlement includes a letter stating that you paid on time, as agreed.  Ensure that all three credit bureaus get a copy.

Another option is to claim hardship status if things have been difficult for you – divorce, car accident, etc.– so your temporary problems don’t compound into long-term problems.  Hardship status can get your debt reduced or eliminated altogether, particularly if you’re dealing with a lengthy illness.  Locate the Statement of Financial Status on the Department of Education’s website to get started.

Post-college life is full of hard knocks – but student loan debt doesn’t have to be one of them.  Pay your loans off to cut them out of your life.  Once you do, you have my permission to toast your achievement with a shot with the boss.

Chris J. Snook has spent over 11 years as an author, entrepreneur, and venture catalyst and has spent the last 5 years in the investment community incubating media startups as the Managing Partner of TLEC Ventures. He co-authored the international best-selling books, “Wealth Matters 2007 and 2011” (2nd Edition) and “Burnout: How to Transform Frustration to Fortune in 2005.”

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://twitter.com/SimpleTuition SimpleTuition

    Everyone should check out this free service for students, PayBackSmarter.com. It lets you explore all your loan repayment options in one place, which makes it easy to see how long it’ll take you to get out of debt and how much it’s going to cost you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandeep-Dey/100001106678293 Sandeep Dey

    Very informative article .. check out this innovative scholarship for students – Microscholarships.com enable young adults to earn scholarships based on current efforts and current commitments; not based on past performances and test scores.
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  • http://twitter.com/chrisjsnook Chris J Snook

    Thanks for the comments and resources and I am glad you enjoyed the article

  • Nick Ward-Bopp

    Good article.. Another idea for saving $ after college is to do a rehab-for-rent project. This is when a person works on a home or building in exchange for free rent and utilities.. you can see more at http://www.jarboeinitiative.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Helen-Faith/733584593 Helen Faith

    Thanks for your article–there are some very good tips here. However, I disagree with this statement from point #2: “The education your loan paid for is obsolete within six months of graduation.” I see this as an oversimplification. A BA is forever, and it will boost your employability and pay indefinitely. Furthermore, the perserverence, critical thinking skills, and basic writing and reasoning skills built in college last a lifetime and fundamentally transform your life and by extension, the lives of your family members. However, if you get a degree and don’t get a job that uses your skills and abilities adequately within the first 6 months, I can see how it may not pay off in the way you might expect.

    I’m also a bit confused by point #7. There are some very rare instances in which federal student loan debt can be forgiven, such as total and permanent disability. But I’m not aware of a situation in which a divorce or general financial setback could result in loan forgiveness. A borrower in that situation could qualify for a temporary suspension of payments through a deferment of forbearance, but the principal of the loan would still exist, and in most cases the principal will also accrue interest during the deferment or forbearance period. Perhaps you could clarify and/or substantiate your point.

    Again, thanks–it’s always refreshing to have an honest conversation about managing student loan debt.

    • http://twitter.com/chrisjsnook Chris J Snook

      Helen, thanks for the detailed commentary. You are correct the #2 is a generalization, but the point being made is merely to cause the student to be or their parents to consider the true value and potential ROI of a four year program right out of high school. I have a friend who is spending either $43k-$53k this coming year to send a child to either TCU or SMU and the reality is that it is highly unlikely that the general education requirements that eat up the first two years of that degree will ever be used again, yet will come with a price tag of close to $100k. The specialized knowledge, degree designation, and critical thinking skills are certainly filled with some inherent value, but the reality is that the marketplace they will enter upon leaving school will be evolving faster than the educational curriculum. A perfect example is a computer science teacher from SUNY I met recently at a BMW dealership while getting serviced, who asked me what I was doing on facebook and linkedin while waiting for my car, and then proceeded to tell me in two weeks after the break he would be teaching a new class on Social Media and was trying to bone up since he didn’t know much about it. Is that worth 5-figures per year? Again its merely designed to get people critically thinking about the decisions they are making in this regard, not be a blanket recommendation. Regarding #7 I am talking about structuring settlements on other consumer debt if need be so that you can clear your plate and focus on paying off the student loan and other non-expungable debts with the added savings. Thanks again.

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  • http://tonyescobar.org/ Tony Escobar

    This was somewhat helpful. Thanks!

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