man looking at paper

Image source: Getty Images

It's easy to think of student debt as a young person's problem, but these days, it's not uncommon to carry student loans throughout various stages of your life. If you've been managing your monthly loan payments, you may not be in a particular rush to eliminate that debt completely. But if the following scenarios apply to you, it pays to knock out that debt as soon as you can.

1. You're planning to take time out from the workforce

People take career breaks for many reasons. Maybe you're having a baby and plan to stay home for a number of years to raise your child. Or maybe you have a close family member who's fallen ill, and you've decided to become his or her caregiver. Either way, if you're going to be leaving the workforce for an extended period of time, you'd be wise to try to pay off your student debt before your household income takes a major drop. Once that happens, you might struggle to make those monthly payments, at which point you risk damaging your credit score and suffering financially because of it. 

2. You're planning to buy a home in the near future

It's certainly possible to purchase a home while continuing to pay off student debt. But your chances of getting a mortgage increase when you don't have a large amount of existing debt in your name. Mortgage lenders look at what's known as your debt-to-income ratio when deciding whether you qualify for a home loan. That ratio, as the name implies, measures the level of debt you're carrying relative to the amount of money you earn. If you're able to knock out your remaining student loan balance, that ratio will decrease, thereby increasing your chances of mortgage approval. 

3. You're nearing retirement

Unless you're planning to work past retirement age, once your career comes to an end, you'll move over to a fixed income that will be based on your personal savings, pension (if you have one), and Social Security. That's why it's a good idea to enter retirement debt-free. The more debt you have monopolizing your limited income, the greater your chances of struggling financially, or failing to keep up with your bills. 

The latter is something to keep in mind if your student loan payments are substantial. If you still have student loan payments in retirement and you're not making them on time, the government could garnish your Social Security income, and that's a scenario you don't want to face. 

How to pay off student debt quickly

If you're looking to knock out your student loans at a rapid speed, there are a few things you can do to attain that goal. First, see about refinancing your loans if the current interest rate attached to them is outlandish. If you took out federal loans for college, this shouldn't be the case, but if you borrowed privately, it might be. 

It especially pays to look into refinancing if your credit score has improved since you took out your loans, as you might qualify for a lower rate. That said, if you're almost done paying your student loans, refinancing isn't the best idea, since the fees you'll pay to do so probably won't be worth the monthly savings. 

If refinancing isn't for you, you can still pay off that debt faster by examining your budget and cutting back on expenses temporarily. For example, if you normally spend $500 a month on restaurants, clothing, and leisure, curbing that habit could bring you that much closer to knocking out your student loans. 

You might also look at getting a temporary second job if you're up against the clock and need your student debt eliminated in a hurry. Finally, if you really want to pay off your student debt quickly, take every extra dollar you get, whether it's from gifts, a tax refund, or a bonus at work, and use it to chip away at your balance. 

For some people, carrying student loans is no big deal. But if you're approaching a major life milestone like taking a career break, buying a home, or retiring, then it really pays to do so without the weight of educational debt dragging you down.