Most careers require some sort of formal education or degree, but college is expensive. Unless you have access to enough liquid assets to pay cash for tuition, books, and living expenses, you will probably have to go into debt to earn your degree. Although student debt can feel crushing, you can overcome it. Here are some expert tips for reducing and paying off education loans.

Reduce Debt From the Beginning

The best way to combat student debt is to avoid getting into it in the first place. While it may not be possible to avoid taking out any loans for your education, you can keep them to a minimum with a few simple strategies.

1. Lower Education Costs

Getting a university degree is expensive, especially if you have to add living costs, textbooks, and lab fees on top of tuition. Students in the U.S. can reduce the cost of education in several ways, including grants, scholarships, and tuition assistance/GI Bill benefits for military service

In general, grants and scholarships don’t need to be repaid, though you may need to retain a certain GPA to stay eligible. You have to meet specific financial requirements to qualify for federal financial aid in the U.S. 

2. Increase Your Savings or Income

If you already have a savings account you can dip into, college expenses are generally considered a good use of those funds. Even a minor amount of savings can make a big difference, especially when you factor in how much less interest you’ll pay on a smaller loan.

If you don’t have much money saved up, you may want to delay college by a year or two. Taking a gap year to work can provide many benefits, including the chance to work and save some money. You can also use the time to figure out what you’re passionate about so you can choose the best major and career path. If you don’t want to take any time off, consider working part-time while you go to school.

3. Delay Your Master’s Degree

If you already have your bachelor’s degree and are thinking of going for a master’s, you may want to reconsider the timing. While it can be tempting to start grad school right away, there’s a good chance you’ll have to take on more debt. 

A good alternative is finding a job in your field. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement for upper-level degrees, and you can complete a master’s through night courses or online programs.

4. Consider a Different School

You can lower the cost of your education by choosing an affordable university. Another option is to complete some of your credits at a community college before transferring to a four-year school. 

When you’re looking at colleges and universities, don’t forget to check which ones have their own grants or scholarships for students. Some institutions may even have opportunities for international students.

5. Reduce Living Expenses

Living on your own can be costly, whether you choose an on-campus dorm or a local apartment building. Besides rent, you may need to cover utilities, transportation, and food. You can lower the cost of these expenses by living with family members, sharing an apartment with roommates, or serving as a resident advisor in a dormitory.

Eliminate Debt Faster

Even with good planning, it may not be possible to eliminate all student debt. But there are several things you can do to pay it off as fast as possible. 

6. Try the Snowball Plan

Student debt is especially challenging if you also have other loans to pay back. Some financial experts recommend the “snowball” method, which involves tackling one debt at a time. 

The idea is to pick one debt (usually the one with the lowest balance or the highest interest rate) and focus on paying it off as fast as possible. Once you’ve cleared that debt, you take the money from its monthly payment and use it to tackle the next debt on the list. By continuing this process, you can pay off each debt faster by applying the monthly payments from all the loans you’ve already cleared. 

7. Focus on the Principal

The snowball method can work well if you have many different loans to pay off, but what if you only have your student debt? Another repayment option is to make additional principal-only payments on top of the monthly minimums.

This method can be psychologically satisfying because the entire amount of a principal-only payment goes toward the balance on the loan. Paying the principal down faster is doubly beneficial – by lowering the balance, you also reduce the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan.

8. Set Up Automatic Payments

If you have trouble remembering to make payments on your student debt every month, you may want to consider setting up an automatic payment plan. This is a convenient option that minimizes the risk of missing a payment. 

Setting up an auto-debit payment is especially advantageous if your debt is a U.S. federal student loan. An automatic payment plan may qualify you for an interest rate reduction of 0.25%.

Careful Planning and Good Budgeting Can Help You Master Student Debt

Student debt can feel overwhelming, but you can overcome it. Ideally, you should reduce the amount of money you have to borrow in the first place. Saving, reducing your living expenses, working part-time, and applying for scholarships are all excellent strategies for minimizing the amount of debt you need to take on for your education. 

If you have student loans or other debts, you can eliminate them faster with the snowball method or principal-only payments. With a realistic pay-off plan and good budgeting skills, you can get out from under your student debt as quickly as possible.

Author Bio:

Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn’t crafting content, she’s usually reading, baking, or playing video games.