Plus, the pros and cons of refinancing or consolidating these loans to lower your monthly payment.

If you've earned your college degree, it's an accomplishment worth celebrating. Perhaps you were able to secure enough financial aid to significantly lower the cost of your higher education; however, if you're like many, reality has set in and you're realizing that not only do you owe a considerable amount of money but there's interest on top of it. If you're trying to figure out how to tackle this bill and pay it off before even more interest accumulates, don't despair: With the right strategy and approach, it can be done. 

college graduation cap throwing
Credit: skynesher / getty images

Jini Thornton knows firsthand about sending a child to college and the costs associated with it. As a CPA with over 24 years of accounting experience through her Atlanta-based company, Envision Business Group, she advises parents and their children about student loan debt. Of her personal experience, Thornton says, "I have two young adult sons, both of whom have graduated from college already. My youngest son Cameron had a track scholarship and graduated from Clemson University with no student loans!" Although her experience with her younger son was a parent's "dream" scenario, Thornton says that her first experience with her oldest son went quite differently. "My older son Trevor attended my alma mater North Carolina A&T and lost his academic scholarship while in school, and graduated with about $25,000 in student loans," she recalls. "But for losing his scholarship, he would have graduated with zero dollars in student loan debt, too. We did the work upfront so they could have scholarships." Faced with having to repay his student loans, Thornton says that she and her husband declined to co-sign for any student loans or Parent PLUS loans, and telling their sons up front, "It is your education—not ours."

Here, Thorton offers several tips on how to manage student loan debt and, ultimately, pay it off in a timely manner.

Take the Guesswork Out of Payments

As is true of most financial plans, automating your money where possible has its benefits: Most federal and private lenders will drop your interest rate by 0.25 percent or more if you put your payments on autopay. Definitely take advantage of that, as Thornton emphasizes. With a lower interest rate, you'll accrue and pay less interest over time, which will save you money in the long run.

Talk Loan Terms

Consider refinancing (if you have good credit and a steady job) your student loans to get a lower interest rate, and, therefore, save money. The website Credible allows you to see real prequalified rates for loans from multiple lenders with no impact on your credit score. Be careful when considering refinancing if you have federally backed student loans. Although you may want a lower interest rate, you may not want to give up your federally backed loans for a private loan. Federally backed student loans give you more options if you need to modify your payments due to a job loss or decrease in income.

Increase Your Finances

More income could be a game changer for you. What if you had an additional source of income that you used 100 percent to pay down your loans faster? Also use "found" money like tax refunds and bonuses from work to pay your loans down.

Pay Ahead

Make bi-weekly payments before the closing date. If you make a half payment every two weeks versus one full payment monthly, you will make one extra payment a year and shave off time and interest costs.


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