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3 ways to reduce your student loan debt

Student loan debt may affect your outlook on life more than other types of debt. Learn how to pay it off, fast. (iStock)

Consumer debt is a major source of stress for millions of Americans and recent research suggests that student loans may cause more anxiety than other types of debt.

A recent study from a team at Bocconi University explored the relationship between the types of debt people have and their overall satisfaction in life, assessing people’s attitudes toward mortgage, credit card and student loan debt.

The study focused on more than 5,800 U.S. adults, comparing the type and amount of debt they had to their life satisfaction. It concluded that student loans are perceived as a heavier burden than other types of debt.

If you're also burdened by student loans then you'll want to come up with a plan to reduce your debt.

How can I decrease my student loan debt?

Since student loans can have a significant impact on your emotional wellbeing, you shouldn’t delay paying them off. Here are three strategies to help you relieve the burden of student loan debt:

  1. Refinance student loans
  2. Make extra payments if you can
  3. Follow the standard repayment plan

1. Refinance student loans

If you have multiple student loans, refinancing can:

  • Consolidate them into one private loan 
  • Shorten the loan’s term 
  • Save money on interest

The average student loan refinance rate for a 10-year fixed-rate loan is 3.89%, with a 5-year variable-rate loan averaging 3.26%. These rates are at a record low, making this a great time to refinance private student loans.

The best way to determine the rates you’re eligible for is to use an ​online student loan refinancing calculator​. You’ll get an estimate of monthly payments and see how much you could save over time. You can also use an online tool like ​Credible to compare student loan refinancing rates from multiple lenders at once without affecting your score.

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Refinancing may not be your best option for federal loans, as they come with low interest, grace periods and loan forgiveness. However, you could save thousands of dollars by refinancing private student loans, especially if you have a solid credit score and steady income.

2. Make extra payments if you can

Student loan lenders do not penalize you for making additional payments on your federal or private student loan balance. You can lower the principal and shorten the duration of your student loan by:

  1. Making extra payments throughout the month
  2. Paying more than the minimum on the due date

Before you make extra payments, contact your loan servicer to ensure they're applied the right way.

If you don’t specify that you’d like the payment to go towards your principal, they may apply it to next month’s bill, which won’t speed up your repayment plan. Whether you have an extra $20 laying around or $2,000, putting it towards your next student loan payment is a smart move with lasting effects.

If you have private loans or ineligible federal loans, take the time to shop around and compare refinancing lenders to see if you can save.

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3. Follow the standard repayment plan

The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is 10 years, with monthly payments based on that timeline.

Federal loans come with generous repayment plans that reduce your monthly payments by stretching out the length of your loan. If you’re facing financial hardship and struggling to keep up with payments, these income-based plans can be a lifesaver.

However, they may lengthen your loan’s term substantially, adding years to your plan and potentially increasing the interest you pay over time. These payment plans aren’t always worth it, leaving you weighed down by student loan debt for longer than you need to be.

If you’re serious about paying off your education loan as quickly as possible and can afford the monthly payments, stick to the standard repayment plan.

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The bottom line

Paying off your school loans can be incredibly freeing, allowing you to pursue your interests without being bogged down by student debt. With the strategies above, you can knock out your student loans quickly.

If you have federal student loans, try to stick to the standard repayment plan. Only adjust your loan term if it’s absolutely necessary and make extra payments whenever you can.

If your student loans are private, refinancing may be your best bet. You can save money and time on your student loan repayment plan, managing all of your loans in one place. Take a few minutes to use an online tool like ​Credible to compare student loan refinancing rates from multiple lenders at once without lowering your credit score.

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