Feeling suffocated by student loan debt? You're not alone. The American Psychological Association has said that money is the second-leading cause of stress in the U.S.
But debt doesn't have to monopolize your mental well-being. You can empower yourself by learning how to take control of your finances. If you’re feeling the student loan pinch, these suggestions can help you shift your focus:
Face your facts
We often want to avoid dealing with money and debt – especially when our plates are already full with work, family, relationships, and personal interests. We ignore balances, spend less thoughtfully, or convince ourselves that we'll get on track “later.” But knowledge really is power. The first step toward taking control is getting to know your debt, inside and out:
- Make a list of each student loan you have, including the total balance, interest rate, payoff timeline, and minimum payment amount.
- If you have credit card debts, write down the total balances, interest rates, and minimum payment amounts on those, too.
- Get a picture of your monthly income, other expenses in addition to your debt payments, and how much discretionary cash you have to work with (this post explains how).
See if you can get a better deal
Now that you know your current interest rates and payoff timelines, you’re ready to see if there are better options out there. Refinancing your student loans can help you get a better rate, lower your monthly bill, or choose a more aggressive plan to pay off loans sooner.
If your income or credit score have improved since you first took out your loans, there’s a good chance you could qualify for better rates by refinancing. You can check your potential rates and payment options with no commitment and no impact to your credit score here.
Set small, achievable goals
Your finances won’t improve overnight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make real progress.
- If you’ve been postponing putting money into savings or retirement until your debts are paid off, now is the time to change course. Having savings can help guard against going further into debt if an emergency arises. And setting up an automatic monthly transfer into a retirement account, even if it’s just $50 per month, will allow you to start a savings habit and take advantage of compound interest.
- If you’re facing credit card debt, try the debt avalanche method: pay the minimum on all your bills, and put any extra money you can toward your highest interest cards. Once one card is paid off, re-allocate your extra money to your second highest card, and so forth, until all your cards are paid off.
- Not able to qualify for a refinance just yet? There are steps you can take to help you qualify, including adding a cosigner and working on your credit score. Figure out what steps you can take and make a plan for taking them on.
Celebrate the wins
We’re much more likely to reach our goals when we share progress with a friend. Writing down our goals also makes us more likely to achieve them.
Maintaining a weekly reflection log or journal is a great way to monitor your progress. This can be as simple as jotting down your feelings, concerns and accomplishments in a notebook once a week.
Not the journaling type? Plotting the data on a graph or in a spreadsheet and seeing your balances decrease can be equally effective. No matter the approach you choose, the idea is to build some accountability and reflection into your routine.
Acknowledging your progress stokes motivation and gives you the nudge to keep the momentum going. Every time you cross a debt milestone – whether it’s paying more than the minimum on a monthly bill, significantly bringing down a balance, or eliminating a balance altogether – take the time to pat yourself on the back and share your success with someone else.
Remember, student loans are an investment in yourself and your future. Don’t forget to remind yourself why you took our your loans in the first place and reflect on the positive experiences our outcomes you’ve had as a result of your education.
And finally, don’t forget to live your life. You are not your debt, and your life isn’t on hold until you’ve paid it off. Finding balance isn’t always easy, but remembering to prioritize your happiness and well-being is essential to reducing your student loan stress.