When I was in college, I took out student loans to help cover the cost of my education. Looking back, I regret borrowing more than I needed to have extra spending cash. But what I really wish I had done was paid off more of the loans’ interest while I was in school.

I’d love to say I didn’t know any better, but that’s not entirely true.

When I told my father I was taking out student loans, he advised me to start paying the interest as soon as possible. I didn’t grasp how the interest would accumulate when left unpaid. And now, years later, I’m repaying thousands more than I borrowed as a result. If you’re in school, learn from my mistake and pay your student loan interest now—here’s why.

Avoid Accumulation

As an undergraduate, I only qualified for unsubsidized student loans. That meant interest started accruing on my loans as soon they were disbursed—and it won’t stop adding up until I repay the loans in full. If you have unsubsidized loans as well, keep this in mind—as well as how much it can cost you. Let me illustrate my point.

My freshman year, I borrowed an unsubsidized student loan worth around $5,000 with a 6% interest rate. I made fewer than five payments toward the interest on the loan while I was in school. Because of this neglect, that loan accumulated more than $1,000 in interest before I started repaying it. I added more debt my sophomore, junior, and senior years.

When I entered repayment, all that interest was added (capitalized) onto my original balances. Now, my payments, as well as future interest calculations, are based on that larger total (about an extra $6,000 overall). This means that I am paying more each month and overall on this loan, as well as the others I borrowed.

Think Twice

My dad warned me about loans and the interest they carry. If I could go back, I would have paid for school with my own money instead of relying on student loans, even if that meant taking an extra year or two to complete my college education.

There is nothing wrong with completing your education in more than 4 years if it means taking on less student loan debt to do so. However, there is also nothing wrong with taking out student loans to help you pay your tuition and stay on track to graduation—just make sure to borrow only what you need.

Limiting your borrowing as much as possible is the smartest thing possible. You can do this in a number of ways, including starting out at a community college, attending a state university instead of a private university, or working your way through college and taking an extra year or two to finish your degree.

No Good Debt

One other thing my father told me is that “debt is debt.” A few weeks ago, I attended the 2017 Consumer Federation of America Conference in Washington D.C., and the luncheon keynote speaker reinforced my father’s point—there is no such thing as good debt.

Student loans have their positives. They allowed me to complete my education, and repaying them successfully will help with my credit score. Still, in the long run, I struggle to think of them as “good” debt—mostly because I over-borrowed and failed to pay their interest before it capitalized.

If I had borrowed less or paid that interest, I wouldn’t owe an extra $1,000 in interest from just one loan. So, if you plan to get a student loan in the future, understand how much is necessary to pay only your tuition. And if you already have debt, contact your loan holder to make interest payments now.

Looking for more ways to reduce your college costs? Salt members can check out these ways to cut student debt before, during, and after college. Not a member? Join now—it's free!