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If you’re making student loan payments while juggling rent, groceries and other bills, your monthly budget may be stretched thin. On top of that, you might have also heard that you should save 10 to 15 percent of your income for retirement, if possible.
But if you’re just starting out and don’t have a large income, how can you do it all?
Saving money while repaying your student loans may not be easy, but the following five tips might help.
1. Look for an employer that offers student loan repayment assistance.
A few employers offer help with paying down student loans as part of their benefits package. Just 3 percent of employers offer this benefit, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. But if you get a job with one of these companies, you may be able to increase your savings rate and still meet your loan payment requirements.
One such company is Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a consulting and accounting firm. Starting in July 2016, associates and senior associates in the U.S. will get up to $1,200 a year, for up to six years, to help pay down student loans.
2. Increase your savings with employer matching.
If your employer offers a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), they may also match part of your contribution. This means when you put a percentage of your paycheck into your retirement account, your employer may also contribute to your account.
The exact amount of the match will depend on your employer — the person or organization overseeing your company’s benefits, typically the human resources department, should be able to walk you through the details. Ask them how much you need to contribute each pay period to take full advantage of the company’s match and see if it’s a manageable amount.
Even if you don’t get the maximum match each year, a matching program can significantly increase your savings rate. Some employers contribute an additional 50 cents or a dollar, up to a certain percentage of your income, for every dollar you save.
According to Jeff Rose, a Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of GoodFinancialCents.com, saving 10 percent of your pre-tax income is a good start because you’ll likely have a lot of time to let the money grow.
3. Decrease your loan payments and free up more funds.
Depending on your income and circumstances, you may be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan for your federal student loans. If you qualify, your payment amounts may vary depending on your income, where you live, the size of your household and changes in the overall economy.
Switching to an income-driven plan may decrease your monthly payments, freeing up money to save or invest. In addition, you may be able to get your loans forgiven if you make consistent payments for 20 to 25 years. However, because you’re making smaller payments over a longer period of time, you’ll pay more in interest over the lifetime of the loan compared to the standard ten-year repayment plan. And if your loans are forgiven, it may be considered taxable income, which could increase your tax bill.
4. Earn extra money on the side.
There’s a limit to how much you can save each month, but there’s virtually no limit to how much you can earn. If you aren’t earning enough from your day job to both save for retirement and make student loan payments, consider looking for a flexible side job.
You can pursue many different types of work to earn extra income. If you’re crafty, you can sell your homemade wares on Etsy. If you’re good with children, consider looking for babysitting opportunities. Want to get out of the house? Try looking for one-off gigs on Craigslist or TaskRabbit, or explore the many other part-time options available to you.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Try to avoid stressing yourself out with unrealistic expectations. If you don’t think you can save money and make loan payments at the same time, focus on making the monthly payments and start tracking your expenses. You can do this by using expense-tracking tools that automatically record and organize expenses from connected credit and debit cards. You can also simply record purchases in a spreadsheet or handwritten journal. Once you know where your money is going, you can create a budget or look for opportunities to cut expenses over time.
The Bottom Line
Making loan repayments and saving money at the same time can be difficult, but it’s a worthy goal. The earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. Try to find ways to get help from an employer, decrease your loan payment, or earn more money. And don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make payments and save money right away, as it may be something you need to work toward.
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