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8 ways to get serious about paying off student loan debt

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If you have student loans or know someone who does, you may be familiar with the relief offered by the federal government since 2020 for monthly loan payments.

Temporary student loan forbearance allowed borrowers to stop payments on certain types of student loans, with zero interest accrued. With those provisions now ending May 1, 2022, you may be searching for a strategy for reducing your college debt.

The time is now to be aggressive about paying off your student loans. These tips can help.

1. Understand your student loan debt

It starts with knowing how much you owe and what interest rate you’re paying—especially if you have multiple loans from many sources. Many borrowers are afraid to study the reality of those numbers, but it’s the best way to understand what you’re facing.

Also, know the type of loans you have. One of the key differences between federal student loans and private ones is that some repayment options and forgiveness options only apply to loans from the government rather than from banks or credit unions.

It can take between 10 and 30 years to pay off your student loans, depending on the amount you owe, interest rate, your income and repayment plan. Anything you can do now to reduce your debt can help free up funds for future goals.

2. Evaluate your budget to pay off loans faster

When looking for ways to pay down debt, study your monthly budget. Working remotely or changing jobs may have had an impact on both your income and your expenses. See what you can eliminate from spending and add the amount to your monthly loan payment.

Consider having a portion of your paycheck deposited directly in a bank account exclusively for your loan payments to avoid spending those funds on other expenses or entertainment. Then, set up automatic payments to avoid late fees on loan payments.

Evaluate your budget regularly. As time passes, your circumstances may provide ways to reduce or even eliminate your student loan debt.

Read more: Budgeting basics: 4 Tips to gain control of your money.

3. Consider refinancing your student loans

Another option to consider is refinancing your federal and/or private student loans. It may allow you to lock in a lower interest rate, a new repayment term or both. To qualify, you’ll need to have good credit and proof of employment, among other requirements.

There could be trade-offs to refinancing, especially with federal student loans. For example, while you may qualify for a lower interest rate with a private loan, refinancing your federal loans will result in losing any federal repayment and forgiveness options. That’s why it’s important to fully understand your student loan debt before making refinancing decisions.

Learn about Thrivent Credit Union’s refinance options.

4. Use pay raises, bonuses and refunds for student loan repayment

Cash gifts, tax refunds, work bonuses and pay raises can be cause for celebration. And while you may be tempted to splurge, consider putting the extra funds toward your school loans instead. These windfalls—combined with the regular payments you’re already making—can help you zap debt that much faster.

5. Check your eligibility for student loan repayment plans

Federal loan repayment plans may reduce your monthly payment, but lower payments typically result in higher overall interest. If you choose a plan other than the standard 10-year repayment plan, the total cost of your loan will increase.

Some income-driven plans have qualification requirements borrowers must meet based on income and outstanding eligible student loan debt. Contact your student loan servicer to get started, or learn more at studentaid.gov.

6. Find out if you’re eligible for student loan forgiveness

Federal programs for student loan forgiveness have recently been expanded to include more borrowers as restrictions have loosened. If you have previously been denied, it may be worth your effort to reapply with the new guidelines.

Options for student loan forgiveness, which can eliminate part or all of your debt, include:

There are many requirements for loan forgiveness. Generally, federal student loans may be eligible, but not private student loans. Learn more at the Federal Student Aid website.

7. Deduct interest paid on student loans from your taxes

You may be able to deduct interest paid on student loans up to $2,500 from your 2021 federal income taxes. The student loan interest tax deduction is for borrowers, including parents, and could reduce your taxable income for the year.

You do not need to itemize deductions, but your adjusted gross income must be less than $70,000 for single filers and $140,000 for married filing jointly. The deduction begins to phase out above those income thresholds.

Consult a tax advisor or review IRS guidelines to see if you qualify.

8. Talk to a financial advisor about the best option for you

Your student loans are just part of your overall financial picture. Establishing a relationship with a financial advisor can help you examine your current situation and prioritize your expenses in order to accomplish your goals. Guidance from an advisor can help you move forward with confidence.

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Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

Deposit and lending services are offered by Thrivent Credit Union, the marketing name for Thrivent Federal Credit Union, a member-owned not-for-profit financial cooperative that is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration and doing business in accordance with the Federal Fair Lending Laws. Insurance, securities, investment advisory and trust and investment management accounts and services offered by Thrivent, the marketing name for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, or its affiliates are not deposits or obligations of Thrivent Federal Credit Union, are not guaranteed by Thrivent Federal Credit Union or any bank, are not insured by the NCUA, FDIC or any other federal government agency, and involve investment risk, including possible loss of the principal amount invested. Must qualify for membership in TCU.
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