By, Attorney Ginger Kelly, November 9, 2017
According to US News, about half of all Massachusetts workers have some sort of bachelor’s degree. That means high rates of student debt plague our state. But even worse, according to the Boston Globe, over 50% of college students in Boston drop out of college. That leaves even more people strapped by student loan debt without a degree.
When the national average for student loan debt almost reaches the $38,000 mark, it’s no wonder why student debt is becoming truly a national crisis. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. For some college grads, the best strategy is to be aggressive with paying back student loans.
For one college grad, Meghan from Boston, who paid back her student debt within five years, it was all about prioritizing. “It’s possible if you want it badly enough,” she said. Meghan itemized her debt wish list and named her reasons for wanting to be debt free. Writing down your reasons helps to keep you on your journey. Being able to refer back to those reasons helps to overcome challenges and to remember why you’re making sacrifices.
Another college grad, Jason, felt overwhelmed while trying to pay the minimum on his $45,000 student loans. So he took a different path and got serious about paying down his student debt. He reviewed every portion of his bank account, tightened spending, worked two jobs, and established a “done with debt” deadline. This helped Jason pay off his student loan debt in less than a year. Jason said that he kept spending very low and worked hard at his corporate job and also side job to pay off debt.
Aggressive payment plans are fine for some, but for those with small children and other priorities, aggressively paying off student loan debt is not always practical or attainable. Never the less, a few tips for grads may be helpful, while keeping in mind that every situation is quite different.
Start saving during the grace period: Use the grace period to review repayment options and figure out what is most affordable for your situation.
Choose a short repayment plan: Try to choose the shortest repayment plan you can afford, if you can do this without eating cat food and borrowing your sister’s car constantly. Although extended payment plans have lower monthly payments, the total interest will more than double for doubling the time.
Pay off expensive loans first, with one caveat: Some financial gurus believe that prioritizing paying off loans with the highest interest rate first is a good idea. But because not all situations are the same, this may not be the best strategy for getting out of debt quickly. Each situation is different. More on this to follow.
Trade your service for your debt: Certain programs, such as AmeriCorps, erase part or even all of a federal student loan. A year of service at AmeriCorps can pay for around $5,645 of your loan. Honestly, I know of no one who paid off their student loans by volunteering in AmeriCorps, but it’s an idea that’s out there.
Keep close contact with your lender: Be sure to tell your lender if you plan on moving or changing your phone number or email address. If they need to contact you but you are unavailable, this could add to your costs. Running the risk of missing payments or other important information is not an option.
Enroll in an ACH direct payment withdrawal option: Enrolling in ACH direct payment withdrawals will not only keep you from missing your payments, it allows for a .25% interest reduction rate for all federal loans and most private loans.
Those are the tips most financial gurus tell us. However, most folks aren’t going to pay off their student debt by volunteering in AmeriCorps. But it’s an option. Most folks don’t work for in a low paying public service job, nor do they want to. Public service is only an option, not the only path.
Most people, graduates especially, have different types of debt and families with children. People in this category may choose to reduce or pay off their overall debt and just pay the minimum on lower-interest student loan debt until it makes sense to pay this off with a more aggressive student loan payment plan in the future.
*More about paying off expensive loans first: Although this makes perfectly good sense in some situations, the reality of life is that this is not always the best plan. Alternatively, it’s may be a better idea to lower your debt using a different strategy, like zero interest transfer options.
To start on the path to a zero interest transfer option, begin by paying down higher balance debt first and watch your credit scores climb. Then, find one or two zero interest transfer options to get rid of expensive debt and provide more time to pay off overall debt. For a little more in-depth discussion about balance transfer options read, “When balance transfers make good sense” by Attorney Ginger Kelly.
But it’s not always all about paying down student loans; becoming debt free and more comfortable in your own financial shoes is really about analyzing the total debt you have and working a strategy that makes good sense from a credit bureau point of view.
Total debt to income is what really hurts a person’s ability to feel more confident, secure and to enjoy life a little better. If you want to make a change for the better, maybe get out of your parent’s basement quicker, work on your student loans after trying these strategies. Notice, I did not say simple strategies. They aren’t simple and take time. So be patient. Patience is a virtue, so they say.
1. Lower your total debt to credit ratio: Prioritize personal and consumer loans (like credit cards) to lower your total percent of used to unused credit and really make your credit scores soar. Doing this will lower your total debt to available credit ratio. Having higher percentages of unused credit for all your debt will lower your debt threshold and increase your credit scores. Higher credit scores are what you need to get lower high interest rates or no interest credit card introductory rates with low fee balance transfer options. This plan is not instantaneous (like most good things), but over a year or less many college grads, and people in general, can increase their credit scores 50 to 100 points or more. But wait. Besting your best credit scores isn’t all there is to it.
2. Don’t close old credit card accounts. Then, never ever close old credit card accounts. Keep them, at least for a long while until your 100% confident it makes no sense to have better credit scores. Closing old accounts will damage your credit scores. Damaging credit scores while paying off debt can take you back to square one. Keep old credit cards and move on to the next step.
3. Find zero or low interest balance transfer cards, and use them. With a credit score of 700 or better, don’t run out and finance a new car but rather, find the best lower interest or no interest balance transfer cards by looking, very hard, online. Do the research and find the best deals and then transfer balances from higher interest credit cards to lower or zero balance cards.
Many times, frugal websites like Andy Prescot’s “The Art of Being Cheep”
help with the initial research. Nerdwallet.com and MagnifyMoney.com are also helpful websites. Magnify Money has a great chart on the best balance transfer credit cards and an idea of what kind of credit scores you need to get them.
4. Use the zero balance time to aggressively pay down all revolving debt. With a zero or low interest credit card introductory rate, take this time to aggressively pay down all your credit cards. This will help your credit to grow.
5. Now it’s time to say good bye to student loans. At this point, with better than average credit scores, you have placed yourself in the best position possible to become more pro-active regarding paying down student loan debt. Student debt tends to be the lowest interest debt most people have. So why not make the most of the bargain and aggressively pay down this type of debt last and not first. Manage your debt before you debt manages you.
If there is no way to pay down your debt or debt is managing you, or even killing you, talk to a good consumer debt lawyer or bankruptcy lawyer immediately. Sometimes, they can advise you on which debt to pay first or not and whether or not bankruptcy is an option to explore. Most offer free first consultations.
My advice to people is to find at least three lawyers who offer free first consultations. Visit all three and compare. Pick the lawyer that makes the best sense to you, one that you can talk to, and then stick with that lawyer. Not all lawyers are perfect, remember this. But finding a good adviser who can help you manage your finances and deal with overwhelming consumer and student loan debt is like finding gold when you least expect it.
ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture. To find out more, visit, http://www.attorneykelly.com or call us at (508) 784-1444.
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Copyright © 2017 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.