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5 Tips For Paying Off Your Student Loans in 4 Years or Less

Source: Flickr / Md saad andalib.

No one wants to begin their adult working life saddled with college loan debt – yet that is precisely the situation in which many graduates find themselves these days. If the thought of paying back four years' worth of loans over the next two decades makes your head spin, take heart. Others have been in your situation, and have managed to rid themselves of onerous student debt in only a few years.

Here is some of the best advice culled from a handful of stories from college graduates who were able to take control of a daunting financial situation and emerge victorious – and debt-free – in an amazingly short span of time.

Tip No. 1: Know your enemy
Apparently, it's astoundingly easy to graduate from college and have only the most rudimentary knowledge about your student loans. The first step in tackling this problem is to learn the exact nature of your debt. One young woman who repaid $90,000 in loans noted that her first step in the process was going to the National Student Loan Data System and assessing her loan profile. All the success stories began by knowing intimately the terms of their student loan portfolio.

Tip No. 2: Decide to pay off the debt early – no matter what
Making the decision to pay down student debt aggressively was pivotal, an active decision made by all who succeeded in becoming debt-free. To get to that point, one described moving back with her parents, while another shared stories of biking to work to save bus fare. The tenacity required to stick with the plan through thick and thin was a common thread in these stories.

Tip No. 3: Prioritize your debt
Once these people knew their debt situation, they were able to see that they had several loans, not just one, and that some had higher interest rates than others. Each set up a plan to pay off these loans, starting with the one with the highest rate of interest. Most also had credit card debt, which was also prioritized and paid off.

Tip No. 4: Set up a budget, and stick to it
This part is of paramount importance, and goes hand-in-hand with Tip No. 2. Having the will to dedicate themselves to becoming debt-free led to taking a good, hard look at their personal finances, which almost all admitted were a mess. One young woman learned about budgeting from a personal finance workshop, and ruthlessly squeezed extras out of her monthly expenses. She paid off a combined student loan and credit card debt of nearly $25,000 in less than four years.

Tip No. 5: Keep track of your loan profile, and contact the servicer promptly if problems arise
Don't expect your loan servicer or lender to get everything right – check your paperwork often, and call if you see an issue. The determined college graduate who noticed that her extra payments were being applied to future payments, rather than principal, made a point of straightening out these errors right away.

Another noted that she didn't feel the burden lift from her shoulders until she received the letter from her lender saying that the debt had been repaid – so make sure that you also receive such a letter, and hold on to it. After all the hard work you'll have accomplished by following the advice of these savvy individuals, you might even want to have it framed.

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Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (14)

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  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 3:35 PM, lthornton79 wrote:

    I've seen lots of these "tips for paying off student loan debt" that include paying off the highest interest loans first. That's actually not possible if they're all with the same servicer. For instance, all my loans are with Nelnet and I called them to discuss this very tactic. They do not allow only one loan to be paid off at a time. Whatever money you send them, no matter how you designate it, will be applied equally among all the loans.

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 6:27 PM, devoish wrote:

    Great tips. From the article you linked to, you left out getting a job that pays 60% more than the median income for college grads, ($70k vs $45k)plus finding 15 hours a week of side work that pays anywhere from babysitting to $300 for two hours time.

    Best wishes,


  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 11:22 PM, Borismcbin wrote:

    I paid off my student loans in full the day I graduated. And I went to school full time for seven years. The key is to borrow as little as possible and save as much as possible from a summer job. Really easy if you do it that way but most people are not so disciplined.

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2014, at 8:02 AM, ernaldo wrote:


  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2014, at 12:22 PM, hewojydej wrote:

    You eliminate your student loan debt the same way you eliminate any other debt from your life - start spending less money. I would start looking at insurance costs (car) as they are a real killer in this country. You don't need an expensive policy from a place like GEICO, those guys charge way too much and most likely you will just be supporting their TV ads. Get a basic policy for around $25/month (check Insurance Panda for this) and then pocket the rest... our even better - use it to pay off your student loan debt.... or whatever other debt u have.

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2014, at 12:59 PM, Riggerwo wrote:

    Tip #1 : Should be do not take out student loans in the first place!

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2014, at 7:07 PM, nitsud21 wrote:

    hmmm. Check this out fools. My loans are at 1.1%, any money I save now, I immediately recieve 22% in tax savings on (if I put it in a 401K or IRA), not to mention market returns. Why would I pay that back early?

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2014, at 5:45 PM, Strider100 wrote:

    This may be hard for some but if a four year degree is the goal, Give up your vehicle. It hurts the social life but all the expense can help toward tuition.Ride a bike, walk, innovate! It was worth if for me.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 12:17 PM, zzzzztab wrote:


    Rudimentary or common knowledge, not

    tips as the headline claimed to be.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 12:55 PM, xetn wrote:

    The best tip is not to obtain student loans in the first place. Instead use junior colleges for your first two years and then state colleges for the remainder where the tuition burden is much less.

    I paid cash for my total education without any loans or grants.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 1:02 PM, BruceS78 wrote:

    A big problem with student loans is the loan servicer. Its simply amazing that Wells Fargo could handle extra payments with no problem but when they got rid of their student loans, the new servicer couldn't handle any extra payments without a letter telling them that it was an extra payment. Too many servicers will do anything to screw up the extra payment and you have to work hard to keep them on the straight and narrow. This is area of the financial industry that could use some tough regulatory enforcement.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 9:06 AM, XXF wrote:

    I was personally pretty successful paying off my student loans when I graduated, but I do find these comments about loan services to be hitting home. My loans were serviced by FedLoan Servicing and they missapplied two of my payments, which resulted in 3 20 to 30 minute phone calls and a string of emails to get the problems fixed. They really do not have their act together at those places.

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Amanda Alix

Foolish financial writer since early 2012, striving to demystify the intriguing field of finance -- which, contrary to popular opinion, is truly what makes the world go 'round.

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