How to pay off your student loans before payments resume

How to pay your federal student loans faster before the temporary forbearance period ends. (iStock)

The CARES Act brought financial relief to federal student loan borrowers in the form of a temporary forbearance on payments and interest rate reduction. Those benefits, set to expire at the end of September, were extended through the end of 2020 by the White House.

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President Trump's executive order means you have more time to benefit from student loan relief. The repayment moratorium is also an opportunity to consider ways you may be able to pay off your student loans before payments resume (and while interest rates are still set to 0%).

Here are three easy ways to pay off student loans fast:

  1. Keep making monthly payments to your loans if you can
  2. Refinance your student loans
  3. Research repayment options

1. Keep making monthly payments to your loans if you can

Though student loan repayment technically isn't required right now for eligible federal loans, continuing to pay could work in your favor.

"If a borrower's federal student loans are eligible for the payment pause and interest waiver, any payments they make will go entirely to the principal," said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at SavingforCollege.com.

The more money you can pay now before interest rates revert, the more of a dent you could make in your loan balance.

If you plan to send extra money toward your federal student loan balance now, spell out what you want to your loan servicer, Kantrowitz said. Specifically, make sure your loan servicer is aware that you want any extra payments applied to the loan principal only. And if you have both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, specify which ones the extra should go toward.

Again, the executive order did not suspend payments for private student loan holders. If you have a private student loan, it should be business as usual. Some private lenders may offer you a forbearance period, which allows you to temporarily postpone payments — but interest will continue to accrue. So, if you are able, you should also continue making monthly payments on private student loans, too.

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2. Refinance your student loans

Student loan refinancing means taking out new loans to pay off existing ones. For instance, you could refinance a federal student loan into a private student loan, or refinance existing private loans.

There are benefits to student loan refinancing, including:

  • Finding a better loan rate
  • Making student loan repayment easier

Better loan rates: One of the main benefits of student loan refinancing has to do with interest rates. Depending on your current loan rates, you may be able to refinance into a new loan at a lower rate. Or, if you have a variable interest rate loan, you could refinance to a fixed interest rate and vice versa.

If you can refinance student loans to a lower APR, that translates to more savings on student loan interest. It could also reduce your monthly payment. With student loan refinancing rates low across the board, now could be a good time to compare rates from multiple lenders using an online tool like Credible.

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Reducing your interest rates by a full percentage point or more could make it worth your while, Kantrowitz said. Student loan refinancing may also be worth considering if you have commercially-held Family Federal Education Loans or older loans with higher fixed interest rates, Kantrowitz said.

Just remember to consider what your new monthly payment for refinanced loans might be. Using an online repayment calculator can help you estimate the cost to determine if student loan refinancing makes sense. You can also find prequalified rates on Credible's website.

Student loan repayment: Refinancing can make student loan repayment easier and potentially save you money. The better your credit score and credit history, the lower the interest rates you could qualify for.

But there's also one major downside to consider: You could lose federal student loan benefits

Federal loan benefits: "Refinancing federal student loans into private student loans is not a good idea," Kantrowitz said. Doing so means you'd lose certain benefits, such as deferment and forbearance periods as well as income-driven repayment plan options.

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3. Research repayment options

Aside from continuing to pay your student loans and refinancing, consider what else you can do to pay off your loans faster, including:

  • Contacting your employer
  • Switching repayment plans
  • Automatic payments

Contacting your employer: You may want to look into whether your employer offers any type of student loan assistance, such as tuition reimbursement or student loan forgiveness. It's possible you may have some education-related employee benefits you're not aware of that could help with student loan repayment.

Switching repayment plans: If you'll still be paying your federal loans once the repayment moratorium ends in 2021, consider whether your current repayment plan is the right one. If you've been on an income-driven repayment plan, for example, switching to a standard repayment plan could help you clear your loans in less time. This assumes, however, that you can afford a higher monthly payment.

Automatic payments: And don't forget to take advantage of benefits that could save you money, such as an interest rate discount for making automatic payments. If you enrolled in autopay previously for federal students, make sure you're still enrolled once student loan relief ends to continue receiving the discount, Kantrowitz said.

Trump's executive order is an opportunity to consider how you want to handle student loan repayments going forward. Making extra payments toward your loans or student loan refinancing can help you make the most of the repayment moratorium.

Remember, however, that student loan relief only applies to federal student loan borrowers. If you have private student loans, refinancing now while rates are low could help you save money. Consider using an online tool like Credible to compare student loan refinancing rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score.

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