A lot of what I write about normally focuses on paying down debt responsibly—among other exciting student aid topics. What sometimes gets lost is the need to save money at the same time.
Easier said than done, I know! But, we can’t forget to put away money for our future selves. That’s why the Center for Consumer Advocacy at American Student Assistance® (ASA) (the company that powers Salt®) has once again signed up for America Saves Week, which begins February 26.
During this week, the organizations that signed up pledge to promote healthy savings behavior. I’ll actually be chatting with them on Twitter on February 26 (stay tuned for more details!), but I’m being an overachiever and sharing some tips early! So, here are some ways you can both save for your future goals and make your loan payments.
Retirement Savings First
America Saves Week conducted a survey that showed that only 52% of respondents were saving enough for retirement to maintain their desired standard of living in their golden years. ASA® also published a study regarding retirement and student debt showing that 73% of respondents put off saving for retirement due to student debt. Yikes!
I have two tips for retirement savings: auto-save through your employer (if offered) and take advantage of employer matches. It’s a lot easier to save money if you don’t ever have the option to use that money in a different manner. Many employers offer a 401(k), 403(b), or an IRA option to allow you to deduct money directly from your paycheck before you even get paid. A survey showed that 15% of working Americans did not participate in an offered employer-sponsored retirement plan. Use this option!
Likewise, if your employer offers to match any of your retirement contributions, take the offer. Always. It’s free money for your future self, but one in four employees who work for a company that offers a retirement match do not take advantage of it, leaving $24 billion on the table!
The rule of thumb with savings is to have a goal of between 3 and 9 months of living expenses stashed away for emergencies. How much is right for you? This article has some pretty good guidelines to figure out how much is enough. Now, how do you get there?
This is going to sound repetitive, but auto-save! If you have the savings deducted automatically, you are a whole lot more likely to reach your savings goals. And remember, that these are GOALS. You shouldn’t expect to have these lofty amounts within a couple of months.
It takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you can only save $10 a month. Any savings is better than no savings. To slightly alter a famous blue fish’s motto: just keep saving, just keep saving, just keep saving, saving, saving …
Making Student Loans Work Within Your Budget
Even if you borrowed an overwhelming amount of student loans, federal loans offer repayment options that might work for you to not only cover your debt obligations, but also allow you extra cash. Income-driven repayment (IDR) limits your monthly payments to between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income. These plans also offer forgiveness after 20 or 25 years of eligible payments, depending on the plan (10 if you work for a public service or nonprofit employer).
I only recommend using these plans if your normal payments are unmanageable, because you could end up paying more in the long run given the length of time your repaying and the amount of interest accruing. With that being said, these plans can really alleviate financial stress if you are struggling to make your payments and create room for savings priorities.