How to Pay Off Student Loan Debt Faster

Furthering your education is no easy feat, and paying off the student debt you’ve accumulated can be even more challenging. Not only can paying off your student loans cause a strain on your budget, but it can also prevent you from meeting your financial goals. Whether it’s making extra payments or refinancing, here are some ways to help pay off your student loans faster.

Student loan forgiveness

If you have an adjusted gross income of less than $125,000 or $250,000 for combined household income in 2020 or 2021, you’re likely eligible for student loan forgiveness. Student debt borrowers can have up to $10,000 of federal loans forgiven. Details are still in development, but applications should be available by early October with the deadline for submission by December 31.

Pay more than the minimum

Paying more than the minimum each month not only helps you pay off your loans faster and avoid further interest, but also gives a boost to your credit score. First, you’ll want to determine how much you can afford to add to your monthly bill and use a student loan calculator to see how it will impact you. Every lender’s website handles payments differently, so be sure to ask if your extra payments were applied correctly.

If you have extra income but want to space out your payments, consider making biweekly payments instead. There are no penalties for making additional payments, and it can help keep you ahead of your repayment plan.

Consider a different repayment plan

Depending on your income and loan amount, you can choose a repayment plan that works best for you. The government automatically puts federal student loans on a 10-year repayment schedule, but federal loans also offer income-driven plans that can extend your payments to 20 or even 25 years. FSA’s loan simulator can show you how your payments would change with each plan.

Look into refinancing options

If your lender won’t adjust your repayment timeline or you have a high-interest rate, you may need to consider refinancing with a new lender. At First Financial, we offer personal and consolidation loans that can help reduce monthly expenses and save money with lower interest rates.* Do keep in mind that refinancing with a new lender means you’d lose the perks of federal loans like income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

Want to change up how you pay your student loans, but don’t know where to start? The team at First Financial can give you recommendations based on your financial situation. Contact us to get started, or stop by your local branch to speak with a representative today!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. Personal Loan repayment terms range from 12 to 60 months, and APRs range from 10.24% APR to 18% APR. Minimum loan amount is $500. Loan payment example: A $2,000 Personal Loan financed at 10.24% APR for 24 months, would have a monthly payment amount of $92.51. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan or Line of Credit, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.



How to Get Dorm Room Essentials on a Budget

One of the most exciting parts of college is decorating your dorm room. Whether you have a single, double, or triple room, you can still make your space uniquely you – even while on a budget. While there are many dorm room essentials you’ll need, there are always inexpensive options and tricks that can help bring out your personal style.

Here are our top ways to shop for your dorm room while on a budget.

Make a realistic shopping list

Before you start putting together a shopping list, confirm the room dimensions, bed size, and included furnishings. This will help you avoid purchasing any unnecessary items or incorrect sizes. See our handy shopping checklist below and evaluate what you already have, what you don’t actually need, and what you can potentially share with your roommate.

  • Bath & bedding: A comforter, throw blanket, sheets, pillows, pillowcases, mattress pad (you’ll thank us later for this one), bath towels, washcloths, shower shoes, shower caddy, bathrobe, shower cap, heating pad.
  • Health & beauty: Shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, deodorant, hairdryer, brush, body & face lotion, sunscreen, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, q-tips, portable makeup holder, your preferred makeup essentials, nail clippers, loofah, razor, shaving cream, first aid kit, pain relievers, cold & flu medications, sanitary products.
  • Laundry & clothing: Laundry basket, detergent, softener, bleach, dryer sheets, lint brush, iron or steamer, ironing board, luggage.
  • Storage: Clothing hangers, shoe rack, storage for under your bed, desk organizer, hanging closet organizer, cube organizers, trash can.
  • Decor: Sticky wall mounts and adhesive hooks, rugs, floor lamp, desk lamp, step ladder, bed riser, fan, additional seating, bulletin board, picture frames.
  • School supplies: Backpack, laptop protective case, calendar, pens, notebooks, sticky notes, highlighters, stapler, extension cord, markers, computer mouse, whiteout, tape, scissors, index cards.
  • Electronics & appliances: Computer or laptop, TV, speakers, gaming system, tablet, HDMI cord, coffee maker, microwave.

Keep in mind that not all of these items are necessary for your dorm room and many of these you may already have. For your more common dorm room essentials, check larger department stores or online retailers like Amazon. This way you can compare prices and find bigger savings.

Find secondhand items

Thrifting isn’t just great for finding one-of-a-kind clothing items, you can snag some cool furniture, art, and decor, too. It’s also a great way to shop sustainably while being easier on your wallet. Stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army resell donated furniture while also reinvesting in their own communities through job training programs and more. You can find thrift stores near you through The Thrift Shopper’s directory.

Source online marketplaces

You can spend hours looking through Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace for home goods, clothing, and unique finds. Some sites even let you negotiate a better price, especially if you’re bundling multiple items. Make sure to check with your college, since many universities also have an online marketplace just for students.

Share items with your roommate

You probably don’t need two TVs or Keurig machines in one small space. Before you dive into shopping, touch base with your roommate on what they plan on bringing and what you can share. Dorm rooms are limited in space, so having duplicates of everything is unnecessary.

Get crafty with DIY decor

Did you know you can download digital versions of famous art for non-commercial use? That means you can download, print, and frame your favorite artwork from museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art for your dorm room. If you want to get a bit creative, you can also upcycle old magazines to make wall art or use string to make a geometric photo display. With time and inspiration, you can make your own decorations that will help you feel at home in your new space.

No matter what your budget is, making your dorm room your home-away-from-home is still within reach. Enjoy this milestone in your life, but don’t forget to stay safe and be responsible for how you spend your money as well. If you’re looking for more college-friendly financial tips, check out our blog, What We Wish We Knew About Money in College.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.


What We Wish We Knew About Finances in College

Being on your own for the first time is one of the most empowering feelings. Whether you’re living in a dorm, an off-campus apartment, or are commuting from home – college life will give you your first taste of independence. And while adulthood may sound glamourous, there’s certainly more responsibility to manage – and that includes your finances.

One of the most important factors of growing into adulthood is how you manage your money. Those habits you make now will have a lasting impact on your financial wellness down the road. Here’s what we wish we knew about money management when we were in college.

Start building credit, but avoid credit card debt

You might be thinking more about classes right now, but after you graduate college – your credit score will have an even bigger impact on your life. Your credit score essentially determines your creditworthiness to lenders when you apply for a credit card or a loan. So, if you have a low score, it will be far more difficult to buy a car or even secure housing in the future.

Start by working on building your credit now. You can do this by applying for a credit card and having your parents added as authorized users (or vice versa). At First Financial, we offer a Visa® First Step Credit Card that’s specifically designed to build or establish your credit.*

Having a credit card is crucial for building credit, but you need to also make sure you’re paying it off in full each month. It can be easier than you think to pile on credit card debt. Some people use their cards like they’re free money, but in reality – you should only be making purchases that you can afford. Otherwise, paying your balance will become more difficult and interest will quickly add up.

Check out our blog post on credit card tips for beginners to learn more.

Always have an emergency fund

Part of adulting is having a back-up plan for when things go wrong. And most of the time, that means having a lump sum of emergency funds in case you have a large medical expense or car repair. As you get older, saving money will become increasingly important – so getting in the habit now is a great way to set yourself up for success.

Open a separate savings account and deposit a small amount of money into it regularly from any paychecks or gifts you receive. The amount you choose should be based on what you can afford. Even starting with putting away $25 per paycheck is a great, because it will add up overtime. The goal is to eventually allocate 20% of your paycheck to your savings, but everyone has to start somewhere!

Utilize student discounts

Companies know college students are on a budget, and many create affordable deals and memberships just for them. Don’t overlook how much money you can save by asking for a student discount. Trust us – you’ll miss it as soon as those perks go away! Many services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Amtrak, and more offer discounted subscriptions and fees for students. Even insurance companies may offer lower rates for those in high school or college full-time.

While it’s important to balance your classwork while managing your money, you should also prioritize fun and safety. College goes by faster than you think – and the more you learn and enjoy yourself during these years, the better!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*APR varies up to 18% for the Visa First Step Credit Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.


What College Grads Need to Know About Money

College graduation is a big milestone to feel good about. And as you head out into the world, you’ll be learning new things, facing new challenges, and making big financial decisions. One of the most helpful skills to have as you get older, is being able to manage your money. And luckily, you don’t need a class to learn financial management – you can get familiar with these skills through educational resources like ours! Keep reading for our top money management tips for recent college grads.

Learn how to budget

Budgeting is one of the most important financial skills you can learn. Maintaining a budget can help you be smart about your spending and plan for your financial future. We recommend using the 50/30/20 strategy as a rough guide for how you should spend your money. This means you should aim to spend 50% of your budget on essentials, 20% on savings and investments, and 30% on other remaining expenses.

Calculate your expenses (rent, student loans, utilities, food, transportation, etc.) and variable costs (dining out, vacations, shopping), and make sure your expenses do not exceed your income.

Start saving money

No matter what your financial goals are, opening a savings account is always a good idea. You can start by dedicating a certain amount of your paycheck toward your savings. While it’s recommended to keep 20% of your income for savings and debt repayment, you’ll need to evaluate what works within your budget and when you’ll need the funds. Even if you’re starting small, you’ll be surprised how quickly the account can grow!

Want to open a savings account?* We’re here for you! Contact us or stop by your local branch to speak with a representative today.

Plan for retirement

It may seem too early to start planning for your retirement, but it will make a big difference to start saving right out of college. For example, a 22-year-old who starts investing is going to have nearly twice the amount of money saved by 67 than someone who starts at 32. Most employers offer a retirement plan match program like a 401(k) or 403 (b) that is typically deducted straight from your paycheck. If your employer offers matching contributions like this, make sure to take advantage – since it’s essentially free future savings.

Pay off student loans

According to Forbes, there’s currently $1.75 trillion in total student loan debt with an average of $28,950 owed per borrower. And while graduating and starting your career may be exciting, paying back student loans can be daunting – to say the least. When it comes to paying off your student loans, you should take the time to look at your budget and determine how much you can afford to pay toward your debt payments. It’s recommended to start paying off the debt with the highest interest rates first, and then focusing on the debt with lesser amounts or lower rates like federal student loans. There are sure to be plenty of repayment options to choose from based on your current income and budget.

Don’t forget about your credit score

Having a decent credit score is going to be very important throughout your life. A credit score essentially is a rating that financial institutions use to determine how likely you are to pay off your debt. Whether you’re renting an apartment, opening a new credit card, or buying a car – your credit score will play a factor in what you’ll be able to obtain.

A credit score is determined by:

  • Your payment history
  • Your amounts owed
  • The length of your credit history
  • New credit
  • The variety of credit products you have

As a new college graduate, understanding financial management can feel overwhelming – but you’re not alone. Our financial experts can give you advice based on your situation. Contact us to get started, or stop into your local branch to speak with a representative today!

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership before opening any other account/loan. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details. Some restrictions apply, contact the Credit Union for more information.




5 Creative Ways to Pay Off Student Loans Faster

Student loans can be a real thorn in one’s side, but there are reasonable and attainable ways to pay them off.

With a little bit of hard work and imagination, you can certainly start your journey toward financial independence. The faster you address and pay down your debt, the sooner you can apply for a mortgage and other loans you might need.

We’ve created a list of five clever ways to pay off your student loans faster. Let’s make it happen!

1.  Join a Ridesharing Company

Driving for companies like Lyft or Uber can be a great gig for young professionals or students.

This is a top side hustle pick because you can essentially do it anytime, anywhere and on your own schedule. You can choose your work hours, earn instant money, and bag special bonuses.

Check out this chart to learn how much you can earn per hour by driving around your area. Besides, working a few hours on a weekend can help you cut through your debt.

2.  Collect Spare Change

Try apps like Qoins to collect spare change digitally. It works the same way your typical piggy bank does — saving small amounts for a bigger expense. By the end of each month, the app forwards the accumulated sum to a lender.

Don’t underestimate the power of spare change. A Moneytips article shares that Qoins users have collectively paid off over $2 million worth of debt.

3.  Get a Roommate

If you find yourself struggling to make housing payments, it may be time to find a roommate. Apart from the emotional benefits of living with someone, it can save you some money that you can use for your student loan. It’s time to say goodbye to hefty rent, furnishing, and utility expenses.

4.  Use Coupons

A pro hack in cutting back on grocery bills is to use coupons on items you would normally buy anyway. Get a hold of a Sunday newspaper to discover exciting food discounts. You can stock up on goods you usually use with various promotions. Read more about couponing to learn how you can save hundreds per month.

5.  Include Additional Payments in Your Budget

American personal finance personality Dave Ramsey once said, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

If you don’t have a budget, now is the perfect time to start one. Instead of spending extra on fancy meals, name brand clothes, and memberships you don’t need – focus on making additional student loan payments.

To pay off your student loan faster, try to make an additional principal payment monthly. Doing so will not only cut the length of your debt, but it will also impact the interest you pay.

In Conclusion

By trying some of the above ideas – you can definitely start to chip away at your student loans and continue to pay them off sooner. If you set reasonable goals for yourself and put your mind to it – you can be student loan free!


Life Hack

4 Financial Tips for College Students

Many U.S. colleges and universities are already back in session, as we approach the Labor Day holiday. If you’re back in school or just beginning college as a freshman, you already know you have a lot more freedom – but there’s also more responsibility. The financial decisions you make now, can often determine whether you can live comfortably in your financial future. Having some guidelines at this stage in your life can help cut down on unnecessary spending, and can also help you save more for your future.

Here are some tips to consider as you are making your own financial decisions:

1. Save for an Emergency Fund – Always have extra finances set aside in case you encounter a sudden emergency. This will help you to avoid debt and can save you from a sudden financial restriction. A good rule of thumb is to save around 10% of the money you get. One easy way to do this is to have another bank account for your emergency funds. That way, your normal expenses will come from your main account and your emergency savings will be kept separate so as to not be tempted to use it.

2. Take Care of Your Credit – Being in college will likely be the first time you will encounter a credit card. Even if you manage to get a card with a high limit, you should never maximize your limit. A good rule here is to keep your credit usage at around 30%. If you end up owing too much, you could incur high-interest charges that can send you into a debt problem.

Another strategy you could follow is to only use the card if you have money to pay for the purchase right away. Save that money for when the payment is due. That way, you don’t overspend and can work toward building a good credit score. Having a high credit score can help you land better loan rates in the future.

3. Start Investing & Saving for Retirement – Starting to invest and save for your future retirement early can make a difference when it comes to your future income. You may consider working on an IRA (Individual Retirement Account), or investing in the stock market – especially once you start working. Whatever your decision, be sure that you are making your money work for you. It is also a good idea to meet with a financial advisor to help you manage any investment or retirement accounts you may have, once you do start your first full-time job.

4. Budget Your Food Expenses – Food can take up most of your budget if you’re not careful. From fast food to splurging on snacks, this can empty your wallet fast. By setting a budget for your food, you’ll think about ways to make the most out of it. You’ll begin looking for cheaper yet more filling options. Another way to approach this is to plan your groceries ahead of time. By knowing exactly what you’re going to buy, you can control the amount you spend on food. Even a bit of research online can give you access to inexpensive yet satisfying meals.

Don’t Fear Mistakes

Part of learning how to be better with money is making a few mistakes along the way. Don’t put yourself down if you made a mistake with the money you spent. Simply take note of the mistake, and try to prevent it from happening again. As long as you keep improving and developing good financial habits, you’ll be setting yourself up for your future financial success.

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