Paying for College: 5 Tips for Minimizing Student Loan Debt

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If you plan to attend college at some point in your life, you should have a plan to keep your student loan debt to a minimum.Knowing how you’ll be paying for college before you head off to campus can be the key to getting the degree you want or attending your first-choice school without committing yourself to 10 years or more of debt from college loans. How to minimize students’ loan debt – Read the 5 tips below .

1) Savings and Investments

No matter how old you are, you can start a college savings account for yourself. Whether you choose to put your extra cash in a traditional bank savings account or into longer-term investments like savings bonds or treasury bills, there are definite benefits (including tax advantages) of having a solid plan to pay for school.

Using savings bonds to pay for college expenses will yield more favorable tax treatment on the interest earned on the bonds. Savings bonds are already exempt from state and local taxes, and you may be able to eliminate federal taxes if you spend your bonds on qualified college expenses.

2) 529 College Savings Plans

You can even open a 529 college savings account and name yourself as a beneficiary. If you’re already in college, a 529 plan is a great way to start saving for a post-graduate degree, even if you’re not sure you’ll be pursuing one. Should you decide not to go to graduate school, you can assign a new beneficiary to your 529 account. The gains will still be non-taxable as long as they’re used for qualified college expenses.

Proceeds from a 529 plan won’t qualify for favorable tax treatment, however, if you use them to pay down your college loans. Likewise, you’ll also lose the tax benefits of savings bonds if you use those to repay your college loans.

Instead, use these savings tools to pay for your educational expenses when you incur them, and reduce your overall need to take out student loans while you’re in school.

You’ll need to declare your college savings account(s) on your FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which may reduce the amount of college financial aid you qualify for.

But while having a substantial savings for college may cut into your eligibility for need-based grants and scholarships, which are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need, you’ll be reducing your need for school loans at the same time.

In the long run, graduating from college with little or no debt from college loans will put you in a stronger financial position after graduation and help you reap the financial benefits of your new college degree much sooner than you would if you were stuck using a large chunk of your new salary to make payments on your student loan debts each month.

3) Scholarships and Grants

Each semester you’re enrolled in classes, spend time looking for scholarships and grants, which will reduce your need for student loans.

Small one-time scholarships and grants may not pay your entire tuition bill, but they’ll reduce the amount of money in school loans you need to borrow upfront, which in turn will minimize the amount of interest you’ll end up paying on your student loan debt after you graduate.

4) In-School Student Loan Payments

If you’re in a position to do so, make payments on your student loans while you’re still in school.

Making payments immediately on your college loans – even small payments – will reduce the overall amount of interest that accrues on the loans while you’re still in school and can lower the amount of your monthly student loan payments after graduation.

5) Student Loan Insurance

If you use non-federal private student loans to pay some portion of your college expenses, consider taking out an insurance policy that will pay off the balances of your private college loans in the event of your death or disability.

In many cases, depending on the particular lender, private student loans are not discharged on the death or disability of the borrower and could leave your family in a precarious financial position in the event something unfortunate happens to you. When you’re young, the premiums for such policies are highly affordable and could provide cost-effective security for you and your family.

Besides saving you money over the long term in interest charges, keeping your student loan debt to a manageable level may also help you down the road when you’re trying to qualify for other forms of credit like a car loan, a credit card, or a mortgage.

You may think a house or a new car is a long way off for you, but depending on how much student loan money you borrow and what kind of money you’re making after college, the debt from your school loans can hang around for a long time.

Many credit products look at your debt-to-income ratio (the amount of debt you owe in relation to the amount of money you make) to determine whether you’ll be approved. If you’re carrying around a significant amount of student loan debt after graduation, with large monthly student loan payments, you may not qualify for other lines of credit – even if you have a good credit rating and are making your student loan payments on time each month – unless you also have a substantial income.