Most Americans can reasonably pay off their student loans with some sacrifice
Most student loan borrowers can take comfort in the fact that it is possible to pay off your student loans in a reasonable amount of time – it just takes some realistic math and a sacrifice for a few years.
When I say “most” I want to focus on the average borrower with student loans from his undergraduate degree – EducationData.org has compiled a number of useful data points on student loans. Though I’d prefer median amount instead of average, let’s start by picking a representative number for student loan borrowers. Again I’m not talking about dentists or doctors with $500K in student loans. That’s another discussion, though the principles that follow would work for them too.
“The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,113,” EducationData.org reports. “Including private loan debt, the average balance may be as high as $40,904” and “The average public university student borrows $30,030 to attain a bachelor’s degree.”
So let’s pick $35,000 as the amount of student loans a recent college graduate will have at age 22.
MORE: Don’t bail out irresponsible student loan borrowers
A good first step is to create a written budget that lists all of your expenses and income. These steps will also help you pay down any other debt, which is the ultimate goal, to be free of any loans to any person or company. You can find free budget resources through Ramsey Solutions. Feel free to email me too if you want me to take a look at your budget.
Once you have written that down, it’s simply a math problem – how much do you owe and how much can you make within 5 to 10 years to wipe it away? Once you break down the debt that way, suddenly the $35,000 you owe in student loans and the $15,000 you owe on your car seems manageable and doable.
For example, $50,000 in debt, with a conservative goal to pay off in seven years means you need to throw about $7,000 a year at it plus interest. Every extra dollar you throw at the principal reduces the amount you pay in interest. That works out to an extra $600 per month or $150 per week, give or take due to taxes.
Suddenly, your goal to pay off $50,000 in debt comes down to picking up 15 to 20 hours a week of a part-time job working at a restaurant or in retail. You might not be able to live in an apartment on your own at a nice complex with a pool and fitness center and pay $1500 for rent – it might mean having a few roommates or if you’re married, living in a single bedroom apartment for the first year or two. But you can free yourself from debt and continue on with your life after that.
Or maybe you have a skill you can use to make more money faster – I’ve found when I just start asking and telling people I’m open to side opportunities that someone has a project here or there.
The other benefit of working extra while you pay down debt is that it saves you money – no temptation to spend $200 on food, drink and entertainment if you have to work all day Friday and Saturday (keep Sunday holy).
Do not feel bad if you’ve never thought about your debt this way — media and political commentators rarely break the problem down like this. There is a tendency in politics to think in large numbers – you have probably heard that there is nearly $2 trillion in student loan debt, for example.
But that $2 trillion is the accumulation of 43.4 million borrowers, some of whom have $300K in student loans for medical school – and can also make $250K to $300K out of college. It includes people with $5000 in student loans that could pay it off in just a few months. What matters is each person’s ability to pay off their loans – and forgiving all student loans would not fix the problem the next day.
But today, most individuals can take actions on their own to pay down their debt in fewer than 10 years. It just takes some smart budgeting and extra work.
The reward is you won’t be one of the thousands or millions of people waiting for President Joe Biden or Congress to forgive their loans.
MORE: Biden extends student loan freeze to May 2022
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