Here at TFD, between the dozens of emails, submissions, pitches, and questions we receive every day, there is no topic that comes up more frequently (and with more barely-concealed panic) than student loans. Most of TFD readers — and team members — are dealing with student loans repayment to some degree or another, and whether you are looking at a mountain of debt or a relatively small amount, how (and when) we pay our loans can often define much of our ~millennial money experience~. Put simply, navigating debt repayment can be really scary, and really intimidating. It’s easy to feel like this big, sad financial cloud that is hanging over our generation, making an already-tough economy and job market all that much harder to navigate.
But paying student loans, if handled the right way, can be the first big steps to taking control of our financial habits. It’s not just about the money, it’s about proving to ourselves that we can figure something huge out, and make decisions for our Future Selves (instead of our buzzed, post-brunch selves). And to help more TFD readers take their loan-paying destiny into their own hands, we partnered up with Student Loan Hero to answer their most pressing questions about how to plan their finances.
Student Loan Hero is a free, easy-to-use and unbiased program that helps you manage and plan your student loan repayment. It has calculators, tools, and tons of information, and like that budget app you might already have on your phone, it keeps you accountable for the details and numbers you’re likely to forget. Student Loan Hero’s founder Andy — who was inspired to found the company after paying off his own $100,000 student debt — was kind enough to personally answer three loan-related questions from TFD readers (you guys sent in about 30 of them!). We’re sharing them with you here, starting with Shelby, who is already frugal as f*ck but needs to know how to double down on her good habits.
Hi Chelsea (& Andy),
By the end of 2016, I will have paid off my first student loan – a very small student loan that I only received for one year of college, but it feels really, really good to get that taken care of.
The part that doesn’t feel so good is the additional $30,000 still to pay off. Especially when I look at my paycheck; which is a minimum wage, part-time paycheck.
This is my situation: I’m two years out of college, living in the city with one year of working at a non-profit company under my belt. Like I said, I’m only working part-time (just under the max 30 hours a week) and paid minimum wage but I love working here. I could look for another or a second job but I really don’t want to take time away the job I already have. My ambition is to be promoted and stay on here – if I happen to stay on for 10+ years, I would be eligible for loan forgiveness!
The question is, what can I do about my student loans while I wait for a position to open up in my company/for the ten years to pass? Forgive the French, but I’m already frugal as fuck. I live in a studio efficiency with a kitchen that used to be a closet, I walk to work and everywhere else every day rather than pay for a bus fare, I use coupons while grocery shopping, I take a lunch-pail to work with me, my clothes are all secondhand, and it has been months since I’ve splurged on a $8 bottle of wine. I’m just not sure what else I can do. I am on an income-based repayment plan for the big loan and have been making the minimum payments on it while I focused on the smaller loan but once that is paid off by December 2016, I will need to direct my attention to the $30,000 remaining.
Okay…this email contains a lot about my situation. Thanks for reading my rantings. 2016 has been a huge year of learning to be financially savvy (like setting up a retirement plan, and re-evaluating my life plans). I am grateful and happy for what I’ve accomplished. But it’s a lot of day-to-day, month-to-month living. I want to be able to travel again, and take classes…and I want to buy a house here in the city someday. I know that a promotion + continued frugal living will help but there has to be something I can actively do while I wait for that opportunity!
Glad to hear you’re on the right track and actively managing your student loans! That, along with your concentration on being frugal, means you’re headed in the right direction. Take a moment to recognize your hard work and discipline here!
Now to the key issue: I understand you’re concerned about a second job and worried about this taking away from your current position. But the truth is, your income is the problem here.
Like you said, there’s not much to do in terms of trimming since you’re already living on the cheap. In this case, the only other real option is to earn more. Finding a way to earn extra money on the side is likely the best way to tackle your loan payments right now.
You mentioned you’re only working about 30 hours a week. While it might feel intimidating, it is very doable to get a second job and add some income to put towards your loans – without compromising your ability to kick ass in your current position.
Keep things simple and start small. Can you find a side hustle idea that lets you work an extra 5-10 hours per week? You could pick up a side job with flexible hours or night/weekend shifts, such as babysitting, driving, or bartending.
There might even be some earning opportunities in your career field. These could help you build experience and make you a more attractive candidate for a full-time gig with your current employer.
Just keep in mind that your situation isn’t permanent! Plus, you can always adjust how much you work and scale back on your side job if needed. Hopefully, you can then transition to a full-time position and work towards loan forgiveness.
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