Earning a degree takes considerable dedication, hard work, and discipline so now that you've finished, congratulations are in order.
As you move into this next phase of your work life you'll want to get rid of anything holding you back—and that includes your student loan debt.
Fortunately, you can use those same qualities you using to get through school to tackle your debt load. Here are four ways you can tackle your student loans.
1. Apply for a government student loan forgiveness program or grant
If you're eligible for a government loan forgiveness program, you can benefit from a lump sum reduction of your government student loan principal. Student doctors and nurses can apply for relief from the federal government, while graduates in other fields have some options at the provincial level.* What is available to students ranges across the country; some regions offer numerous options for assistance (British Columbia and Nova Scotia are standouts), while others like Manitoba and Alberta only offer repayment assistance programs—a temporary reprieve from interest accumulation during brief periods of financial hardship.
Grants are another option, and they're usually automatically arranged for eligible graduates. This means there are no application hassles, but it's always a good idea to check your loan status.
When Imani Tynes graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Arts degree she discovered a grant she was eligible for had not been applied. “It took about six months," she said, “but eventually I had my debt reduced by almost $20,000."
In general, these programs are only available for a short time after graduation (and in some cases the process starts even before you cross the stage) so get to know your options early so you don’t miss out.
2. Pay early, pay often, pay more than the minimum
Once you've exhausted your forgiveness or grant options, paying off the balance is up to you. Kate Nixon Anania, personal finance expert and author of Twenties in Your Pocket: A twenty-something's guide to money management, offers this advice, “The faster you pay off your loans, the less you'll pay in interest. Don't put off repayment or only pay the minimum."
Think about making additional payments to your loan as you start to make more money through your work. Anania suggests finding the 'bonus' money in your life and applying it to your debt.
“Tone down your vacation," she suggests. “Try a road trip with camping or Airbnb instead of flying and hotels. Then, put the money you saved towards your loans."
Commit to paying more than the minimum monthly amount each and every time you can. The more frequently you can do so, the faster you'll chip away at your principal.
3. Build a budget and live within your means
A basic budget should include your expenses like rent, food, utilities, and so on, but don't leave out every luxury.
“If it feels like your life is turning into all work and no play, you'll decrease your chances of success. Make sure you've allowed yourself some reasonable leeway," says Anania.
A budget is only as good as your ability to stick to it. Ryerson graduate Carmen Galvan could offer a masterclass in the subject. “Initially, during my undergrad I lived at home. I also worked over 20 hours a week, so I owed far less than the average student. On graduating, I continued living at home and I worked two jobs in an attempt to put at least double the minimum payment each month."
When the time came to go back for her Master's degree, Galvan was debt-free and armed with proven savings strategies. In addition to having around $10,000 in her bank account, she chose an accelerated one-year program. Then, for six months, she prepared, “While I was working, I bought things in bulk like detergent, dish soap, and toilet paper. It allowed me to shrink my spending by quite a bit."
Tynes, a mother of one, rented out a room in her basement for extra income and cut her utility bill by getting rid of her home phone and cable. “Budgeting is crucial," she says. “I use Apple's numbers app on my phone or laptop and constantly update it."
4. Work side hustles and take on extra odd jobs
For better or worse, Canadian millennials are living in the time of the side hustle. The good news is that the gig economy provides an effective infrastructure for making extra money on top of your base rate or salary.
Dog-walking, delivery driving, and running an online shop are all ways to bring in extra money.
“If you work a side hustle that's not usually part of your normal income, put that money towards your loans," Anania advises, adding that it's important to resist the urge to reward success by lowering your payments. “When you start to pay off the amount you owe, keep up the pressure."
Student loan debt can present a challenge to new graduates but planning, discipline, and ingenuity can go a long way. Committing to a plan can help you have your debt paid off in no time.