Paying Off Student Loans


Michael Brown Updated: May 17, 2019

Debt can feel like a weight pressing down on you, but ignoring it doesn’t make things any better. To chart a path out of debt, the first step is figuring out how much you owe. Most people have a vague idea of how many loans they have, but many avoid facing the total head on.

The only way to get control over your finances is to take a full inventory. Add up all of your student loans, credit card balances, car loan balances, lines of credit, overdue bills, and other debts. The grand total can come as a shock, but once you know exactly what you’re dealing with, you have several avenues to explore -- increasing your income, cutting back your spending, and decreasing the sum that you owe.

The last is the one that people overlook most often. But some debts, like medical bills, can be negotiated down. High-interest credit card balances can often be transferred to a new card with a 0% introductory APR. And student loans can often be refinanced or consolidated, saving thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

8 Tips to Help You Pay Off Student Loans Faster

Paying off student loans isn’t easy, but the following strategies can help you get out from under your debt faster.

1. Refinance for a better rate

Don’t pay more interest than necessary. Refinancing or consolidating your loans could cut hundreds of dollars off of your monthly payments and save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. Most federal student loans charge everyone the same percentage, a one-size-fits-all interest rate that is often higher than what private lenders offer, because it has to account for high-risk applicants who are more likely to default or not finish their degrees. People who have built up their credit in the years since graduation are often better off getting a new loan on their own merits. A recent review by the National Student Loan Union found that people who refinanced saved an average of $259 a month and $19,231 over the life of the loan. Some borrowers saved more, and some less, depending on the size of their debt and their credit histories. But the average amounts were pretty staggering.

2. Make extra payments any time you can

With most lenders, there is no penalty for paying early. So any time you have extra money – for example, if you get a tax refund, a bonus at work, or have a month with a third paycheck – it’s smart to make an extra loan payment. Someone with $35,000 of student loans and an interest rate of 6.8% would typically have to pay about $400 a month for 10 years to get out of debt. Adding an extra $100 a month would cut the payoff time by about 2½ years and save $3,583 in interest.

To get the most benefit from your extra payments, be sure to put them toward your highest interest loans first. Start by logging in to the Federal Student Aid website to find out your federal loan interest rates. If you have private loans, contact your student loan servicer to find out your rates. Rank them accordingly and put extra money toward the highest rate loans first.

3. Make a 3- to 5-year plan

It’s easier to make budget sacrifices when you know that it’s temporary. Focus on the end date of your loan, and consider doing things like living with a roommate or keeping an older vehicle until then. Returning to the nest, eating Ramen noodles, and embracing the college lifestyle for a bit longer might not sound that appealing, but committing to your goal will make it all worthwhile.

4. Set up autopay

You’re less likely to overspend if you schedule your loan payments to be debited as soon as you get paid. You won’t miss the money as much if you “take it off the top” and don’t see it in your account. Also, most lenders will give you a 0.25% interest rate discount when you sign up for automatic debit.

5. Explore freelance and “side hustle” opportunities

Doing freelance or part-time work can help keep debt down during and after college. Whether it’s photography, dog-walking, web design, or catering – anything you can do to earn extra money will get you out of debt faster. Sites like Upwork, iFreelance, and Project4hire have a wide range of short-term and long-term projects. You can also participate in the sharing economy with companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and TaskRabitt. Earning an extra $500 a month could cut your payoff time by 5 years or more, depending on how much you owe.

6. Use the buddy system

The buddy system is not just helpful for exercising or losing weight. A lot of people find paying off student loans easier if they have an “accountability partner” who shares the same goals. Things like shopping or going to happy hours can sabotage your financial plans. A buddy can help you stay motivated to cook at home, pursue extra income, decorate with “upcycled” thrift finds, travel cheaply, and avoid splurges. With a little creativity, it can also be fun. You can also read debt success stories and subscribe to couponing and savings blogs.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise

If you’ve been at your job for a while, you’ve been giving 100 percent, and especially if you have an annual review coming up, consider asking for a raise. Start by keeping track of ways you’ve helped your company save money or make money. Do some research about salaries in your industry and how yours compares. A week or so before your review, schedule time with your boss to discuss your goals with the company and make your case for a raise. They might say no. But if they say yes, you will get a bigger paycheck.

8. Monitor your credit score

Paying your student loans on time each month helps you establish a good credit history. It’s smart to monitor your FICO score for a variety of reasons like buying a car or home, and protecting yourself against identity theft. But as your score rises, you also might qualify for lower interest rates on your outstanding balance – particularly once your score gets above 700. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report every 12 months. You can check yours at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

One step you shouldn’t skip

Of all the things you can do to pay off your loans faster, refinancing could be the most impactful. As a result of new competition in the student lending industry, it’s easier than ever for people to review the terms of their student loans and see if they could be getting a better deal. With most lenders, it takes less than 15 minutes to find out how much you could save by refinancing. That’s 15 minutes to potentially save tens of thousands of dollars.

There are many banks that offer student loan refinancing, but based on our research and reviews, we consider these to be the best. Find out how much you can save today with these leading lenders:
#1 - Nitro Recommended View More Details

Earnest empowers people with the financial captial they need to live better lives.

  • APR: 1.99% - 6.99%
  • Minimum credit score: 650
  • Refinance up to $500K
View More Details
Visit Earnest View Loan Disclosure

Using technology, data, and design to build affordable products, Earnest's lending products are built for a new generation seeking to reach life's milestones. The company understands every applicant's unique financial story to offer the lowest possible rates and radically flexible loan options for living life.

  • Commitment-free 2 minute rate check
  • Client Happiness can be reached via in app messaging, email, and phone 
  • No fees for origination, prepayment, or loan disbursement
  • Flexible terms let you pick your exact monthly payment or switch between fixed and variable rates
  • Skip a payment and make it up later
  • Online dashboard is designed to make it easy to apply for and manage your loan

Click here to apply with Earnest and to see how much you can save.

#2 View More Details

Operates in all 50 states; 2nd largest student loan refinancing lender

  • APR: 1.99% - 7.02%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • No refinancing amount maximum
View More Details
Visit Laurel Road View Loan Disclosure

Laurel Road is a national online lender with customers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Many of our non-bank competitors are not able to lend in all 50 states.Laurel Road has grown to be the second largest player in the student loan refinancing space in large part because of our reputation as the go-to low rate provider.

Laurel Road Student Loan Refinance Review

  • National reach - Online lender that is available in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
  • No fees & the lowest rates in the space - Laurel Road is the most transparent about the rates they provide customers, and offer the lowest rates where it counts. Our customers will save more than $20,000 over the life of their loans on average. 
  • Customer service reputation - Laurel Road's customer service representatives are no rookies. With 19 years of experience on average, Laurel Road’s Customer Service team delivers an experience that is best in the industry. They work to build meaningful, life-long relationships with our valued customers to improve their overall financial wellness.
  • The stability & security of a bank - They are a division of Darien Rowayton Bank, a stable and secure FDIC-insured bank, regulated by the FDIC and the Connecticut Department of Banking.

Get your personalized, pre-approved rates in less than 5 minutes.

#3 View More Details

For every loan they fund, they contribute to the education of a child in need

  • APR: 2.02% - 6.45%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Refinance up to $500K
View More Details
Visit CommonBond View Loan Disclosure

CommonBond was founded in 2011 by three MBA graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who wanted to help their peers escape from high-interest student loan debt. Its original focus was on grad students, but it has since expanded to cover undergrads as well.

Of all the companies we reviewed, CommonBond has some of the best customer service. The company prides itself on being easy to reach by email, phone, or live chat. It offers networking events, expert panels, insider newsletters, and even has a program help borrowers who lose their jobs to find new ones. CommonBond also makes you feel good about choosing to refinance with them by donating money to an education nonprofit for each loan they write.

CommonBond Student Loan Refinance review

  • Unemployment protections - If you lose your job or decide to go back to school, you can delay your payments for up to 24 months.
  • Social promise - For every loan they fund, they also contribute to the education of a child in need.
  • Hybrid loan option - Offerings include a 10-year hybrid loan with fixed interest for the first five years, and variable interest for the final five.
  • Referral bonus - For every friend you refer who refinances their loans with CommonBond, you’ll earn a $200 cash bonus.
  • Qualification - Borrowers must have graduated at least 2 years prior if they want to apply without a co-signer. And borrowers in 6 states – Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, and Vermont – cannot currently refinance through CommonBond.

Get a personalized review of your refinancing options with CommonBond today.

#4 View More Details

Credible is an online marketplace that provides borrowers with competitive, personalized loan offers from multiple, vetted lenders in real time.

  • Free to use, no hidden fees
  • Minimum credit score: 650
  • No refinancing maximum amount
View More Details
Visit Credible View Loan Disclosure

Credible is a multi-lender marketplace that empowers consumers to discover student loan refinancing options that are the best fit for their unique circumstances. Our integrations with leading lenders and credit bureaus allow consumers to quickly compare accurate, personalized loan options ― without putting their personal information at risk or affecting their credit score. The Credible marketplace provides an unrivaled customer experience, as reflected by over 2,000 positive Trustpilot reviews and a TrustScore of 9.5/10. Credible is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

For more information, click here to apply now with Credible.

  • Compare prequalified rates from multiple, vetted lenders in 2 minutes.
  • Refinance federal, private and ParentPLUS loans.
  • San Francisco-based customer support 7 days a week.
  • Checking your rates won't affect your credit score.
  • Get your final offer in as little as 1 business day.
  • Credible’s partner lenders do not charge prepayment penalties, loan application fees, or origination fees.
  • Free to use, no hidden fees: Requesting rates can take just minutes and costs you nothing.
#5 View More Details

Works with 300+ community lenders for higher approval chances

  • APR: 1.90% - 8.65%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Refinance up to $300K
View More Details
Visit LendKey View Loan Disclosure

Connecting student borrowers to a network of over 300 community lenders with low interest rates. By partnering with these lenders, LendKey is able to give consumers direct access to the best rates available from the most borrower friendly institutions. As the servicer of all loans obtained through its platform, you can rest easy knowing your personal information will be safe and that the best customer service team will be ready to answer your questions from application until your final payment.

LendKey Student Loan Refinance review

  • Lightning fast rate check - 2-minute rate check with no impact on your credit score
  • More lenders, more options - see the best offers from over 300+ community lenders for higher approval chances
  • Life of loan relationship - With LendKey, your personal information will never be sent or passed on to third parties. Their customer service team is with you from the moment you land on their website until you've completely repaid your loan.
  • Unmatched benefits- Community lenders put people over profits and offer unique benefits like cosigner release after 12 on-time payments, interest only repayment options to keep monthly payments low, the largest unemployment protection period in the market, and more.

Get a personalized quote from LendKey now.

#6 View More Details

Many ELFI customers save hundreds per month month and thousands over the length of the loan term.

  • APR: 2.39% - 6.69%
  • Minimum credit score: 680
  • No refinancing maximum amount
View More Details
Visit ElFi View Loan Disclosure

Education Loan Finance is designed to assist borrowers through consolidating outstanding education loans into one single loan that effectively lowers your costs of education and/or makes repayment very simple. Education Loan Finance - backed by the strength of SouthEast Bank - combines the benefits of traditional education loan refinancing with the superior products, service, and support found in the private market.

Education Loan Finance (ElFi) review

Check out their low rates today to see how much you can save.

  • Get Your Rate. With Education Loan Finance's Find My Rate tool, you can complete a short application to receive a preliminary quote on your eligible rates and terms, all without affecting your credit score.
  • Apply in Minutes. Education Loan Finance's online application is fast and simple.
  • Outstanding Personalized Service. Our Personalized Loan Advisors specialize in student loan refinancing and help busy professionals find the option that's right for them.
  • Student Lending Experience: Education Loan Finance isn't a start-up company - we have a longstanding history and expertise in serving student loan borrowers.

Attractive Bonus and Referral Programs:

  • Education Loan Finance Fast Track Bonus**: Education Loan Finance's application process is streamlined and simple, and you can earn a $200 bonus just for closing your loan within 30 days of your initial application.
  • Education Loan Finance Referral Program**: Earn $400 for each new Education Loan Finance Client referred by you!
#7 View More Details

Special offers for medical resident and fellow refinance products

  • APR: 2.43% - 7.60%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • No Maximum when refinancing
View More Details
Visit Splash View Loan Disclosure

Splash Financial is a leader in student loan refinancing with new rates as low as 3.25% fixed APR which can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loans. No application or origination fees and no prepayment penalties. Splash Financial is in all 50 states and is intensely focused on customer service. Splash Financial is also one of the few companies that offers a great medical resident and fellow refinance product. You can check your rate with Splash in just minutes.

  • Low interest rates – especially for graduate students
  • No application or origination fees. No prepayment penalties.
  • Co-signer release program - you can apply for a cosigner release form your loan after 12 months of on-time payments
  • Specialty product for doctors in training with low monthly payment

Click here to see more of Splash's offerings and to see how you can save money.

#8 View More Details

Offers unemployment protection and career/coaching/networking

  • APR: 2.31% - 7.36%
  • Minimum credit score: 650
  • Refinance up to 100% of student debt
View More Details
Visit SoFi View Loan Disclosure

SoFi, which stands for “Social Finance,” was created by a group of Stanford business students who found themselves with a mountain of debt after graduation. They set out to change the student loan industry and help borrowers like themselves to get lower interest rates. SoFi has some of the lowest interest rates and, unlike the other lenders we reviewed, it has no maximum amount you can finance. However, Nevada residents can’t currently refinance with SoFi. Minimum loan balances are higher in Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania due to state laws. Additional state restrictions may apply.

SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Review

  • Low interest rates - For well-qualified borrowers, SoFi offers some of the lowest rates we have found.
  • Strong customer service - It has more than 350 customer service reps available to help applicants through process.
  • Career coaching and networking - Perks include career services representatives who can help you find a job or negotiate a higher salary. SoFi also hosts networking events, happy hours and educational lectures on topics like buying a home in major cities around the country.
  • Unemployment protection - Borrowers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own may apply for Unemployment Protection. If approved, SoFi will suspend their monthly SoFi loan payments and provide job placement assistance during the forbearance period. These benefits are offered in three month increments, and are capped at 12 months, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. Note that interest will still accrue while loans are in forbearance.

Find out what interest rate SoFi can offer you here.

I reduced my student loan payment by $152 per month, by refinancing thru Nitro

Save Money Now