Robert Farrington is a paid influencer for Citizens Bank, N.A. All opinions and/or advice are his own.
I’ve been writing about students loans for almost a decade, and I’ve learned a lot about student loan debt. Not only have I had my struggles with student loans, I’ve also seen the impact of student loan debt on countless people that I’ve helped through this site.
But what if we could turn back the clock and educate ourselves on student loans. What would we have done differently?
According to a recent Citizens Bank study, participants wished they had the following “do-overs”:
I personally would do at least three of these, and I want to share with you why. Hopefully, if you’re helping someone thinking about paying for college, you can share this with them.
And, if you’re already in repayment, at least one of these might help you now.
Understand The Options When Paying For College
The first thing I would have done differently is really understood the options when it came to paying for college. I remember how easy it was to get student loans and I didn’t think twice.
It was late in the school year, I had already chosen my college, and I received an email from my school’s financial aid office. It said “Congratulations, here’s your financial aid award.”
Without even thinking, I opened it, and went to accept my “award”. I didn’t really even realize that student loans were loans - I was thinking it was an award, or free money. However, it's important to note that student loans are considered as part of your financial aid award.
Once I clicked accept, I scrolled through some terms and conditions, and boom! I had student loans and was able to pay for college. Just like that - it took maybe 20 minutes and I was in debt without really understanding it.
If I would have really thought about and understood the options, I would have looked elsewhere to pay for college first.
I would have:
Luckily, I didn’t have to borrow much, but in hindsight, there were so many better ways to pay if I had known.
Prioritize Paying Off Student Loans As Fast As Possible
After I graduated from college, I had $44,810 in student loan debt. But you know what was on my mind after graduation? Buying myself a new car to reward all my hard work.
So, I went out and spent $35,000 on a new car (yes, new) to spoil myself for graduating college and getting a job.
Not only did I have my loan payments, but I also had a car payment costing me about $700 per month.
Luckily, one area of focus for me was always earning more money and side hustling. By focusing on the best side hustles, I was able to start earning an extra $2,000 per month, some of which went to my car and some which went to my student loans.
This extra cash, combined with the income from my job, enabled me to eliminate my loans in about 3 years.
If it wasn’t for that silly car loan, it could have been done even faster.
The lesson here is simple: live like a college student for a few extra years, focus on earning more, and prioritize paying off your loans. That little bit of extra patience goes a long way to setting yourself up for a financially successful future.
Refinance Student Loans To Get A Lower Interest Rate
Finally, if I had know I was going to prioritize paying off my loans and I was going to do it in 3 years, I would have refinanced my student loans to get a lower interest rate and save money while going through the process.
My loans were averaging about 6.8% interest, and given my credit score and income, I could have probably sliced that in half - saving me a bunch of money.
However, this only works because I was focused on paying off my student loans faster. If you’re taking advantage of an income-driven repayment plan, or are looking for loan forgiveness, refinancing doesn’t typically make sense.
If you fall into a similar category like me, and refinancing does make sense, make sure you shop around to find the best rates and terms. For example, Citizens Bank consistently has low rates and no origination fees, making it one of the leading choices to refinance student loans.
Plus, they offer an interest rate discount on your student loans - meaning you can save even more. You can get this interest rate discount in two parts:
- You can get 0.25% by signing up for the automatic payment discount by having your loan payments automatically deducted from your bank account
- You can get an additional 0.25% discount though their loyalty discount by having another qualifying account open at Citizens Bank
These two discounts can save you up to 0.50% in total! Read the full terms and conditions here.
Hindsight is always 20/20 when it comes to assessing your finances. We all wish we could go back and do things differently.
However, there are things that you can still likely change to improve your student loan situation. And, you probably know someone that might benefit from hearing or reading this advice before they make the paying-for-college decisions.
Share this with them and help them avoid the mistakes you made.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here and here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.