How to pay off student loans in 10 years or less

Making extra payments, enrolling in the Standard Repayment Plan for federal loans, or refinancing can help you pay off student loans sooner.

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Multiple strategies can help you pay off student loans in as little as a decade. (Shutterstock)

It can feel like it’ll take a lifetime to pay off your student loans, especially if you have a six-figure student loan balance. But several repayment options can help you pay off your student loans in 10 years or less.

Getting rid of student loan debt early in your professional life can help you save on interest and free up cash to achieve other financial goals, like saving for retirement, purchasing a home, or taking a dream vacation.

If you’re ready to refinance your student loans, visit Credible to compare student loan refinance rates from multiple lenders in minutes.

Ways to pay off student loans in 10 years

If your goal is to get out of debt as soon as possible, consider the following options, which will help you repay your student loans within 10 years.

Enroll in the Standard Repayment Plan

The Standard Repayment Plan is the default repayment plan for federal student loans — it’s designed to help borrowers pay off their student loans in up to 10 years. You’re eligible for this repayment plan if you have the following types of federal loans from the Direct Loan Program or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Unsubsidized and Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • FFEL PLUS Loans
  • FFEL Consolidation Loans

Once you’ve graduated and your federal student loan repayment period kicks in, you can choose a repayment plan. If you don’t choose a plan, you’ll automatically be enrolled in the Standard Repayment Plan.

If you have private student loans, there’s no standard repayment term. These terms generally range from five to 20 years, depending on the lender.


Is the Standard Repayment Plan right for you?

The answer to this question depends on your personal budget. A major advantage of this plan is that it has fixed monthly payments, which can be easier to budget for. Also, choosing the 10-year repayment plan over a longer repayment term could help you save money on interest and be debt-free sooner.

But the disadvantage of the Standard Repayment Plan is that your student loan payments could be high, depending on your loan balance.

If the monthly payment for the Standard Repayment Plan doesn’t fit your budget, it might be better for you to choose a more affordable repayment plan. And if you can’t afford your monthly payment at all, consider looking into deferment or contacting your loan servicer to make payment arrangements.

Explore student loan forgiveness

If you have a federal loan, you may qualify for a student loan forgiveness program. To qualify, you typically have to work for a government or not-for-profit organization and make a set amount of payments. Two of the most popular student loan forgiveness programs are Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program that offers student loan forgiveness to borrowers who work full-time in the not-for-profit or government sector. To qualify, you must have a Direct Loan or consolidate your federal loans into a Direct Loan and make payments under an IDR plan.

You’re required to make 120 qualifying student loan payments. As long as you make those payments consecutively, this option can get you out of debt in 10 years. Afterward, any remaining loan balance you have will be forgiven.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program that offers student loan forgiveness of up to $17,500 on Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans to full-time teachers. With this limit in place, this program may not get you out of debt entirely, but it can go a long way toward helping you become debt-free. 

To qualify for this program, you must be a teacher who has worked in a low-income area for five full and consecutive years at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency. After those five years, you may qualify for loan forgiveness.

You must also meet the following requirements:

  • You have a bachelor’s degree.
  • You’ve been fully certified to teach in your state.
  • You haven’t had licensure or certification requirements waived.
  • The loans you’re seeking forgiveness for were made before your five years of qualifying teaching service ended.

To see if your place of employment qualifies, see the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory.


Make extra payments

Another way to pay off your student loans sooner is to make an extra payment. If you make biweekly payments, you’ll make one extra payment a year, which could help you save on interest. Even if you can’t afford to make one extra payment, every dollar counts when you’re attacking student debt.

For example, let’s say you have a $50,000 student loan with a 10-year loan term, a 6.8% interest rate, and monthly payments of $575. If you paid an extra $40 a month, you’d save $1,864 in interest and would pay off your loan almost a year sooner. To get an estimate of how much you could save, use a student loan repayment calculator.

Here are three things you can do to free up extra cash to put toward your payments:

  • Make a budget. To determine whether you can afford to make extra payments, create a budget. You can create one in Excel or by using a pen and paper. Make a list of all your expenses and income. Next, review your budget to see if there’s anywhere you can cut costs.
  • Get a side hustle. If you love meeting new people and have a car, you could drive for a ride-sharing company on nights and weekends. Do you love to write? Consider applying for a freelance writing gig. 
  • Get a roommate. Your housing cost is probably your highest expense. If you have an extra bedroom in your home or apartment, consider getting a roommate. If your housing cost is $1,200 per month, you can save $600 a month by splitting it two ways.

With Credible, you can compare student loan refinance rates from various lenders, all in one place.

Ways to manage costs when you can’t pay off student loans in 10 years

If it’s simply not possible for you to pay off your student loans in 10 years, consider the following options to make your payments more manageable.

Use an income-driven repayment plan

An income-driven repayment (IDR) plan bases your monthly student loan payment on your income and family size. The Department of Education offers four IDR plans for eligible federal student loan borrowers. Although the repayment periods for these plans are much longer than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, they can be a good option if they make your payments more affordable. Plus, once your repayment period is up under each plan, any remaining loan balance will be forgiven.

The four IDR plans are:

  • Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan) — The PAYE Plan repayment period is 20 years. Your monthly payment is generally 10% of your discretionary income.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan) — With this repayment plan, your repayment term is 20 years if you’re paying off undergraduate loans and 25 years if you’re paying off graduate loans. As with the PAYE Plan, your monthly payment is typically 10% of your discretionary income.
  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan) — This repayment plan lasts 20 years if you had no outstanding balance on a Direct Loan or FFEL Program Loan when you took out a Direct Loan on or after July 1, 2014. The repayment period is 25 years if you had a loan balance at that time. Your monthly payment is generally 10% of your discretionary income if you’re a new borrower, or 15% if you’re not a new borrower.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan) — The ICR Plan lasts 25 years. To qualify, you must have an eligible Direct Loan. Your monthly payment is the lesser of 20% of your discretionary income or what you’d pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years.

Refinance into a shorter term

When you refinance your student loans, you take out a private loan to repay your existing federal or private student loan(s), or both. If you have a good credit score and solid income, you might qualify for an interest rate that’s lower than your current one. So, if you’re earning more money now than you were when you originally took out your student loans, or your credit score has improved since then, refinancing can get you a much better interest rate. If your credit score isn’t great, you may need a cosigner to help you qualify for the best rates.

By refinancing into a shorter term, you’ll pay off your student loans faster (even if it still takes longer than 10 years) and save a lot of money in interest over the life of your loan.

For example, just refinancing a 20-year loan into a 15-year loan could save you $12,880 in interest — even if your interest rate doesn’t change. While your monthly payment will be $68 more, you’ll end up paying less for your student loan overall, and you’ll be debt-free sooner.

But before you refinance federal student loans into a private loan, keep in mind that doing so will cause you to lose federal benefits, like loan forgiveness or forbearance. On the other hand, if you only have private student loans, refinancing may be the best option for you.

Credible lets you compare student loan refinance rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit.