If you've recently graduated college and started full-time employment, you will start entering the repayment phase of your student loans. Even though payments on many student loans were paused during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is wise to make sure that you are ready for when student loan payments unpause.
Hopefully you were able to minimize your use of student loans for living expenses while you were in college. Now it's time to take a look at how to handle your living expenses as you start to repay your student loans.
The good news is that there are plenty of options to fit your student loan payments into your ongoing budget. The important part is to make sure that you are proactive and reasonable about how you will handle your basic living expenses during your student loan repayment.
Incorporating Student Loan Repayment Into Your Budget
The first thing that you will want to do as you start to repay your student loans is incorporate them into your monthly budget. If you don't have a budget yet, make it a goal to create a budget and stick to it. While the word budget often has a negative connotation with many people, a budget is actually only a tool to help you save money on things that aren't important to you so that you still have money left for the things that are important.
There are many different ways to create a budget, but the simplest budget is just a tally of your income and your expenses (usually on a monthly basis). Make sure that your student loan repayment amount is included in your budget, and adjust as needed. It's important to note that besides crunching your spreadsheet, you need to also figure out the reason WHY you want a budget. Without your emotional buy-in, it will be very hard if not impossible to stick to your budget over time.
Lower Your Loan Payment
If you have a higher student loan balance than your annual salary, there are still a few options that you might be able to take advantage of. There are legal ways to lower your student loan payment amount, and many of them are available to many borrowers.
Federal student loan borrowers have income-based repayment strategies like extended repayment, graduated repayment and income-based plans. Plus, if you're going for student loan forgiveness, you need to be on an income-driven repayment plan.
Borrowers with private student loans don't have as many options, but refinancing your student loans may help lower your monthly payments.
Find Ways To Save On Major Expenses
If you've been working with your budget for a few months and you're finding it a bit tighter than you want, it may be time to take a more detailed look. You may find that there are a few things that you considered "must haves" when you first made a budget that you might be able to cut now.
Creating a budget is not meant to be a one-time "set it and forget it" — instead, it's something that should change as you go through life.
Besides just cutting things out of your budget, we have a list of 15 ways that you can save more money each month. This includes things like eliminating bank fees, using credit card rewards judiciously, getting organized and other tricks that you might be able to use to help stay within your budget.
Make sure you check out that list to see if there's anything there that might be able to help.
Increase Your Income
Besides cutting your expenses, you can also focus on increasing your income.
Of course one of the best ways to increase your total income is to maximize your earnings from your full-time job, but that's not the only way to increase your income.
You might consider investing in yourself by becoming an entrepreneur. You can also take advantage of a variety of side hustles to bring in additional income. The great thing that comes with increasing your income when you already have a budget is that you know exactly where that extra income can be best used.
What NOT To Do During Student Loan Repayment
Following the advice above can give you a leg up on handling your regular living expenses while also making your student loan payments. The one thing that you'll want to make sure to NOT do is ignore your student loan payments or the impact that they might have on your monthly budget. Sticking your head in the sand is likely to lead to an undesirable financial situation.
Many graduates get their college degree and find themselves in a position where the student loan debt they owe feels overwhelming. If that describes your situation, don't despair and don't ignore the problem.
Instead, talk to your friends, family and trusted advisors and make a plan. This could include looking for ways to increase your income, cut your expenses, modify or refinance your existing debt or all of the above.
Adding a student loan repayment to your monthly budget may make things a little tight, especially if your monthly budget was already tight. But the same budgeting concepts that set you up for financial success still apply.
Chart and track your income and expenses, and remember that a budget is a marathon, not a sprint. Involve your friends and family in your journey to pay off debt, and you'll find yourself there in no time.
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 on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
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.
Editor: Clint Proctor