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Americans owe a combined $1.75 trillion in student loan debt. The average amount owed by people carrying this debt ranges from $28,604 for North Dakota residents to $54,945 for people living in Washington, D.C.
Most borrowers opt for the simplest method to repay their loans through monthly payments, often deducted automatically from a bank account. But that is not your only option. IIf you make payments on your student loans biweekly instead of once a month, you’ll realize two benefits: you’ll pay off your loans faster and save hundreds of dollars in interest payments.
Why biweekly payments help you pay off student loans faster
By opting for biweekly payments on your student loans, you’ll make 26 half payments over the course of the year instead of 12 full payments. The result is one extra full payment on your student loan every 12 months.
How much you can save with this method depends on how much you owe, your current payment and your current student loan interest rate. You can see the savings you might have through a student loan calculator.
Let’s say you borrow $36,000 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans for your undergraduate education, which has a fixed interest rate of 3.73 percent. On a standard 10-year repayment plan, your monthly payment would be $359.88. In one year, you’d pay a total of $4,318.56. Over the 10-year course of the loan, you’d pay $7,185.70 in interest.
If you break your payment in half and pay $179.94 every two weeks, you would pay $4,678.44 in the same 12-month period — one full payment more than if you were making monthly payments. Your total interest payment would be $6,431.86.
On that 10-year plan, you’d pay off your student loans 11 months faster.
You also pay less interest by structuring payments this way. Every dollar you pay over your required amount can go directly toward your principal balance, meaning less of your payment gets eaten up by interest charges over time. In the above example, you’d save a total of 753.84 in interest.
How to set up biweekly payments
Check with your loan servicer to see if you can set up automated biweekly payments. Not every loan servicer offers this option.
If they don’t, pick a day during the week to make your payments and set a biweekly reminder on your calendar. Make sure you’ve adjusted your budget for the change in payment schedule.
For biweekly payments to help pay off your student loans, you’ll need to:
- Split your monthly payment. Take your regular student loan payment and divide it in half. The resulting figure is the amount you’ll pay on a biweekly payment plan.
- Pay that amount every two weeks. Make both payments before your student loan due date.
- Make sure your lender applies the payments properly. Contact your lender to ensure the extra amount is applied to the principal of your student loan instead of toward future payments.
How to budget for biweekly payments
Making payments biweekly means you’ll pay a little extra toward your student loans every month, so you may need to adjust your budget slightly. If you receive paychecks biweekly, try to line up your student loan payments to coincide with receiving your paycheck. That will make it easier to see how biweekly payments affect your monthly expenses.
Once you can compare the biweekly payment against your take-home pay, make sure you have enough income to cover other important bills and expenses, such as your rent or mortgage payment, car payment, insurance bills, utility bills and typical living expenses. If necessary, cut discretionary spending where you can.
Other ways to pay off student loan debt faster
If you’re not sure you can afford biweekly payments on your student loans or if you’re looking for the fastest way to pay off student loans, there are other strategies to consider.
Make payments every 3 weeks
Instead of making biweekly payments toward your student loans, or 26 half payments per year, consider making your full monthly student loan payment every three weeks. With this repayment strategy, you would make slightly more than 17 student loan payments per year instead of 12.
Making monthly payments every three weeks requires a bigger financial commitment, but the amount of time and money you save can be significant. With the $36,000 student loan debt example above, making 17 full payments a year would shave three years from the repayment period and reduce your total interest charges to $4,471.17, a savings of $1,960.69.
Consider refinancing student loans
Borrowers can also consider refinancing their student loans with a private lender, although refinancing federal loans with a private company means missing out on federal benefits like deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment plans. If your main goal is getting out of debt, however, refinancing could be a good option.
When you refinance, you’ll get a new loan to replace your existing ones. However, you want this new loan to come with a lower interest rate. By getting a lower interest rate, you may be able to make larger payments toward your principal and shorten your repayment timeline.
Implement other debt payoff strategies
With the debt snowball strategy, you make the minimum monthly payment on all your loans, then put as much extra money as you can toward your smallest loan. As your smaller debts get paid off, you “snowball” those payments toward the next-smallest debt until all your student loans are gone. This debt repayment strategy may not make the most sense in terms of savings, but it will help you reduce the number of loans you have while providing a regular motivational boost.
With the debt avalanche method, you make the minimum monthly payment on all your loans, then pay as much extra as you can on the loan with the highest interest rate. As your most expensive debts get paid off, you “avalanche” those payments toward the loan with the next-highest interest rate until all your loans are paid off. This debt repayment will help you save the most in interest over time while helping you pay off student loans faster.
Enroll in Public Service Loan Forgiveness
You may consider enrolling in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) if you work or are planning to work in the public sector. You must work for an eligible public service employer to qualify. With this plan, you make monthly payments for 120 months before your remaining loan amounts are forgiven.
While PSLF requires 10 years of on-time monthly payments to qualify, it can be a lifeline for people who struggle to afford the payment on a standard 10-year repayment plan and those who might spend decades in student debt.
The bottom line
Paying off your student loan can take years and cost thousands of dollars in interest. If you can adjust your budget and make 26 biweekly payments instead of 12 monthly payments, you’ll be able to pay your loan off faster and save hundreds of dollars in interest.