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How to Pay Off Student Loans Fast

If paying off your student loans feels impossible, I get it. I was right where you are, deep in student loan debt ($280,000 to be exact). And my husband and I wondered if we’d ever be able to pay it all off.

Our loans were a constant heaviness that followed us around. And I knew we would never have true financial peace until we buckled down and paid them off. But no one was coming to save us. We were going to have to save ourselves.

It took us about three years to pay off our student loans. And guess what? You can do it too!

I’m going to show you how to pay off your student loans fast—so you can ditch the debt and the stress! You ready?


Key Takeaways

  • The fastest way to pay off your student loans is to increase your monthly payment.
  • Decreasing your spending and increasing your income will help you pay more than your minimum payment.
  • Refinancing your student loans may help—but it’s not for everyone.
  • Income-driven repayment plans are not your best option.

How to Pay Off Your Student Loans Fast

Let’s set some expectations first. I don’t have a special magic trick or life hack to help you get rid of your student loans in 30 days flat. I can tell you right now, my student loan situation didn’t change overnight. It took a whole lot of hard work and sacrifice.

But man, it’s so worth it! And if you follow the steps I’m about to give you, you can and will ditch your student loans for good too! Let’s get into it.

  1. Pay more than the minimum payment.
  2. Get on a budget.
  3. Cut back your spending.
  4. Increase your income.
  5. Refinance your loans (only if it makes sense).
  6. Avoid income-driven repayment plans (IDRs).
  7. Don’t bank on student loan forgiveness.
  8. Make paying off your student loans a priority.

1. Pay more than the minimum payment.

The fastest way to pay off your student loans is to pay more than the minimum payment. Because trust me, you’re not going to get very far if you stick to the standard repayment plan.

Smaller payments keep you in debt longer. And if your payment doesn’t even cover the interest, your balance will grow—and I know you don’t want that!

If you’ve got multiple student loans (or any other kinds of debt) and you’re not sure how to go about increasing your monthly payment, use the debt snowball method. With the debt snowball, you focus on knocking out your smaller loans first, while paying minimum payments on your other debts.  

This method helps you stay motivated because you’ll feel like you’re actually making progress on your student loans. And most people who follow this plan pay off their debt in 18 to 24 months!

Go ahead and plug your student loan info into our Student Loan Payoff Calculator to see how much faster you can pay off your loans by making those extra payments.

Throwing a little bit (or a whole lot) extra at your loans each month makes a huge difference. For example:

  • Let’s say you have $38,000 of student loan debt (about the average for most borrowers).1 (That number could be made up of multiple loans, but for the sake of this example, we’ll say it’s all one loan.)
  • With a 5.8% interest rate (which is the average) and a 10-year loan term (again, pretty common), you’d be looking at a minimum monthly payment of around $418.2
  • At the end of 10 years, you’ll have paid a total of around $50,048—that’s $12,048 more than your original loan because of interest. Shoot!
  • But let’s say you decided to pay just 20% more than your minimum payment each month (about $84 extra). That would put your monthly payment at $502—which means you’d pay off your entire loan in about eight years and save $2,712 in interest (plus over two years of your life). Now, that’s more like it!
  • But listen, what if you paid over 20% more than your minimum payment each month? You’d pay off your loan even faster!

Heads up: When you pay more than your minimum monthly payment, your student loan servicer might just put that extra amount toward next month’s payment. That pushes the due date back, but you won’t actually pay off your loan any faster. So, tell your loan servicer to apply that extra amount to your current loan balance. And don’t let them try to talk you out of it—these are your student loans, and you decide how you pay them off!

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2. Get on a budget.

Budgeting is a total game changer. If you’re not already doing this, now’s the time to make a budget and stick to it. A zero-based monthly budget will show you exactly where your money is going and where you can cut back. (I’m looking at you, Postmates orders. Those food deliveries can add up calorically and financially!)

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Ready to get rid of your student loans once and for all? Get our guide.

When you stick to a budget, you’ll even find “extra” money you didn’t know you had, which is a way better plan than hoping to find $10 in an old winter coat (though I wouldn’t turn my nose up at some surprise cash in my pocket). Once you start throwing all that extra money at your student loans each month, you’ll start making progress in no time!

Pro tip: The easiest way to budget is with our free budgeting app, EveryDollar. You can even put a line item in your budget for each student loan you’re paying off. That way, you’ll actually see the progress as you keep crushing that student loan debt—and it’ll feel pretty sweet.

3. Cut back your spending.

Remember how I said paying off my student loans took some sacrifice? Here’s where it comes into play.

Look at your lifestyle. What extra stuff have you been paying for that you can do without? Bye bye, cable package. See ya, bougie subscription boxes. Ditch the $7 oat milk lattes and brew your own coffee at home. Eat your leftovers (they’re not that bad) or meal prep for the week instead of spending $10–20 on lunch.

Trust me—there are plenty of creative ways to save. It starts with being willing to make some temporary sacrifices for some long-term gains.

4. Increase your income.

If your biggest hang-up to paying off your student loans is not making enough money, it’s time to boost that income so you can boost that monthly payment!

Pick up a part-time job on the nights or weekends that will help you stack cash quickly. There are also a ton of side hustle options out there. When I was paying off debt, I sold baked goods, trained dogs, and gave music lessons. These side hustles can be a lot of work, but they don’t have to be forever.

But let me be clear: While side hustles helped me and my husband go further faster, raising our primary income is what really helped us make progress. So, if your main job doesn’t pay enough, fix that first. Do what you need to grow your salary—whether that’s asking for a raise, working overtime, or finding a better-paying job.

And don’t hit me with the “I don’t have time” excuse. If you have time to hang out with your friends, scroll Instagram, or watch Netflix, you have time to make more money. The sooner you kick that student loan debt out of your life, the sooner you can move on with your life.

5. Refinance your loans (only if it makes sense).

Refinancing takes your student loans (usually either private or a mix of federal and private) and turns them into a new loan—with a new interest rate and new repayment terms. Keep in mind, you can only refinance your student loans through a private lender.

With a refinance, the goal is to secure a better interest rate and better payment terms. But before you go running into the arms of an all-too-eager lender, know that refinancing is not the right move for everyone. And it really only makes sense if you’ve got private student loans with crazy high interest rates.

You should only refinance your student loans if:

  • It’s 100% free to refinance
  • You can get a lower interest rate
  • You can keep a fixed rate or trade your variable rate for a fixed rate
  • You don’t have to sign up for a longer repayment period
  • You don’t need a cosigner
  • You haven’t recently declared bankruptcy
  • It will actually motivate you to pay off your student loans faster

Remember, you’re refinancing to get a better rate and payment terms. If that’s not what you’re being offered, don’t refinance. It’s a bad deal. Make sure to do your homework and read the fine print, or you could end up deeper in the hole than you were before.

6. Avoid income-driven repayment plans (IDRs).

Just because your loan servicer is pushing you to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan (IDR)—especially Biden’s new SAVE plan—it doesn’t mean you should.

IDRs are student loan repayment plans that give you a super low monthly payment with the promise of having your loans forgiven later. But hear me when I say, these plans keep you stuck in a low-income job and keep you from making progress on paying off your loans.

Yeah, a lower student loan payment seems nice. But who wants to wait 20 years for the possibility of forgiveness? The truth is, that forgiveness could depend on who’s in office 20 years from now. Dragging out these loans for years (sometimes decades) is not an option­—it’s a prison sentence.

If you want to pay off your student loans fast, IDRs will only slow you waaay down. Again, your best bet is to pay as much as you can each month!

7. Don’t bank on student loan forgiveness.

I know people probably told you that taking out student loans was no big deal because you could just get them forgiven later. But guys, student loan forgiveness isn’t really the dream you think it is!

First off, the current forgiveness programs have so many hoops you have to jump through just to apply—like staying at a public service job for 10 years and making very specific payments every single month. And even after you check all the boxes, forgiveness isn’t guaranteed. Some people spend 20–25 years following a plan, only to be denied. Talk about disappointing!

For example: Do you know what the approval rate for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is? About 2%!3 And you want to put your hopes in 2%? I don’t know about you, but I’m not wasting my time with odds that low.

You’re better off having a job that pays well (that you actually like) so you can go ahead and pay off your student loans as fast as you can. That way, you won’t spend years of your life waiting to have your loans forgiven—only to be left hanging when it doesn’t happen.

Bottom line: Politicians make a lot of empty promises. It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House. You’re responsible for taking care of your money and your debts.

8. Make paying off your student loans a priority.

Look, I’m not here to beat you up because you took out student loans in the past. I did the same thing! But I do want you to experience the power of being debt-free!

There’s no need to drag out your student loan payments for the next five, 10 or even 20 years. When your money doesn’t have MOHELA’s name on it every month, you can do so much more with it. Instead of being held back by your student loans, you’re free to build the life you want.

Remember, the only magic formula in this is you and how hard you’re willing to work. But it’s totally worth it. You’re worth it. Keep fighting the good fight (and the bad debt!). See you later, student loans!

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Jade Warshaw

About the author

Jade Warshaw

Jade Warshaw is a personal finance coach, bestselling author of Money’s Not a Math Problem, and regular co-host on The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk radio show in America. Jade and her husband paid off nearly half a million dollars of debt, and now she’s a six-figure debt elimination expert who uses her journey to help others get out of debt and take control of their money. She’s appeared on CNBC, Fox News and Cheddar News and been featured in Fortune and POLITICO magazines. Through her social content, recent book, syndicated columns and speaking events, Jade is on a mission to change the typical American money mindset. Learn More.

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