More than 40 million adults in the U.S. are now saddled with student debt, and for many of them the amount they owe can seem like an inescapable abyss. Total U.S. student debt hit $1.2 trillion in 2014, up 84 percent since 2008, according to Experian. But there’s good news: There are proven ways to chip away at student loan debt at a much faster pace than banks and financial companies plot for you. And, there’s a way to do it and still have enough money left over to spring for that grande latte.
Here are five ways to fast-track your student debt:
1. Automate your monthly payments.
Some lenders offer discounts and/or interest rate deductions to borrowers who make their monthly loan payments automatically. These payments are taken out of your bank account via the direct debit system without any intervention. “Not only do automatic payments yield auto-debit discounts,” says David Levy, editor at Las Vegas-based Edvisors and co-author of Filing the FAFSA and Twisdoms, but they also help borrowers avoid late fees and/or missed payments.” He says you can visit your lender’s website, register to manage your account online, and enroll for the auto debit discount. Note that your account must be current and that the standard interest rate reduction for auto debit is between 0.25 and 0.50 percentage points, according to Levy. “The payment amounts will remain the same,” he notes, “but the loan amortization will be positively impacted given the interest savings over the life of the loan.” In plain English, that means you’ll fork over less money in the long run.
2. Set up your own crowdfunding campaign.
Sure, it sounds crazy, but who says crowdfunding is only for startup companies? According to Levy, a growing number of students are using sites like GoFundMe to raise money for college. You can apply the same strategy post-graduation. As of Nov. 3, GoFundMe had over 56,000 results for student loan-related campaigns that have garnered between $1,700 and $8,900. “Recent grads can ask family, friends, or even complete strangers to help accomplish financial goals with the right messaging and a clear, compelling understanding of how the money will be used,” Levy explains, “and how the recent grad may choose to ‘pay it forward’ in the future.” In a similar vein, sites like zerobound let active volunteers use pledge campaigns to ask donors to help pay down their student loans, with all funds going right to the loan provider.
3. Make biweekly payments.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of making monthly student loan payments, but making two payments a month will reduce your outstanding principal amount even faster. “Ask for an automated, biweekly payment plan to get the biggest benefit,” says financial attorney Leslie Tayne, author of Life & Debt and founder of Tayne Law Group in Melville, New York. If your lender doesn’t provide this option, mail an “extra” paper or online check (via your bank’s online bill pay function) every month. Include a note stating that the check be applied to the loan’s principal amount. Tayne, who has worked with clients who were just finishing up their own student loan payments while taking out loans for their children, says this simple move will reduce the amount of interest you’re paying while reducing the time needed to pay off your loans.
4. Pretend you didn’t get that raise.
Sometime in the course of paying down your student loan debt, you’ll get a raise. Instead of adding that extra money to your cash stockpile, “simply pretend that you didn’t even get it,” advises Robert R. Johnson, president and CEO at The American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pa. “Take that money and apply it your loan—without even thinking about it.” This strategy is easier than “cutting back” or changing your current lifestyle to accommodate larger or multiple monthly payments, says Johnson, and you can use it “every time you get a raise to eradicate your student loan debt faster than expected.”
5. Ask your employer to pitch in.
Many companies are waking up to the sheer magnitude of the $1.2 trillion U.S. student debt load, and they’re stepping up to the plate to help. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, for example, is offering $1,200 a year to associates and senior associates who’ve worked for the company an average of one to six years. For up to six years, PwC helps to pay down college loans—a windfall that could add up to about $10,000 (one-third of the typical student’s $29,000 student loan debt) and shorten the loan payoff period by up to three years, according to the company. See if your employer offers some type of student loan debt relief, or if it’s willing to implement a program for 2016. “The tax benefits, goodwill, and employee loyalty associated with these types of programs,” says Tayne, “should be enough to get employers thinking about them.”