Debt fatigue, debt depression, debt anxiety—whatever you call it, the result is pretty much the same: an overwhelming sense of panic that you will never get a handle on how much you owe, much less experience the freedom that comes from paying it all off. And for millennials struggling under the burden of student loan debt, the consequences of all that mental anguish is literally making us sick, as multiple studies and surveys have shown.
Then there’s the issue of repayment burnout, the feeling of utter despair that, no matter how much you scrimp, save and sacrifice, your efforts are barely making a dent. And that sense of futility can lead to a whole other host of problems, not the least of which is digging yourself into a deeper hole whereby you shrug, give up and decide to go ahead and drop a couple thousand on a trip to Thailand because what does it even matter anyway?
Sound familiar? While we would love to offer up a magic bullet, there is simply no one-size-fits-all when it comes to conquering debt. But ask anyone who’s ever paid off a large amount of student loans, and a pattern starts to emerge, one that can offer lessons to anyone struggling to get a grip on their debt and the feelings of hopelessness that often accompany it.
1. Own Your Debt
Money is emotional, and for many of us being in debt brings feelings of shame and embarrassment. This is a good time to remember why you’re in debt. Financing higher education with loans is not ideal, of course, but so many of us choose to do so because we aspire to something greater, to find work that fulfills us and provides us with the means to live the life we want. And though you may be far from living the high life in your 20s, your earnings potential usually only goes up as you get older.
It can also be easy to place the blame for your predicament on the rising costs of college and the unsavory practices of some student lenders—and it’s certainly true that education debt is taking a real toll on the economy. But while placing blame on something bigger than yourself might feel warranted, it’s not doing anything to help your bottom line. Channel that anger into advocacy if you wish, but don’t let it stop you from making progress toward your ultimate goal, which leads to our next point…
2. Make a Plan
Sure, you can cut back on your fancy lattes and dinners out, and put the money you save toward your loans. But that does not a financial plan make. Instead, if you’re struggling to make your payments, see if there is anything you can do to make your loans more manageable.
If you have federal student loans, you may qualify for an income-driven repayment plan (IDR), which can you can lower your monthly bills. There are four kinds of IDR plans, depending on your exact situation, but they work basically the same way: The government caps your payments at a percentage of your discretionary income while extending the life of your loan (usually from 10 to 20 or 25 years). Summer’s IDR tool can help determine if you qualify and will submit the application on your behalf. There’s also the option of refinancing your loans, which comes with its own set of pros and cons. And it’s also worth checking to see if you might qualify for student loan forgiveness.
We’re building a tool to help make enrolling in IDR easier—sign up here for early access.
3. Mix it Up
In Summer’s recent report on the current state of student debt, 80 percent of respondents said their loans have prevented them from saving for retirement — yet one more consequence of the toxic toll education debt can take. If you’ve been overpaying on your loans, consider shifting your financial priorities from time to time; instead of making more than the minimum payment, turn your focus for a few months on socking away any extra income into your retirement or savings accounts. Striking this balance will both alleviate the stress that comes with not having an emergency fund while still contributing to your overall financial health. And that, in turn, just might inspire you to find the motivation again to really make a dent in your student debt.
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