Paying off student loans, especially when the balances often total more than a year’s salary can be an intimidating task. For those who want to get better with their student loan repayment, here are 5 tips to make it happen in less time and with less pain.

Get Creative

Often times the most overlooked ways to pay off student loans can be the most creative. The internet is filled with inspiring stories of real students paying off their loans. Whether you start a small side business, cram roommates into your apartment, or spend your free time taking surveys online, every little bit of effort can significantly reduce the time you spend paying back the loan, and the interest you have to pay in the process.

Avoid Credit Cards

Many often try to get zero or low interest rate credit cards in order to take advantage of the introductory offers and funnel more money toward paying down the higher interest rate loans. While in theory this is a good idea, only the most savvy of credit card users can truly master this feat. As is often the case, most use the credit cards and end up with balances long after the introductory offers expire- putting them in both credit card and student loan debt.

My best advice is to use credit wisely, and focus on living within your means while contributing money to loans.

Build a Budget—and Stick To It

It can be hard to adjust a budget to include a loan payment, especially if you’re not used to making one. A good rule of thumb is to separate your budget by the 50-30-20 rule: 50% of your monthly take home income toward living expenses, 30% to discretionary funds, and 20% to debt repayment and savings. Depending upon how many loans you have and the interest rate, you may need to get aggressive and contribute 30% to debt repayment and 20% to discretionary or “fun money”.

Try to find something that works for you, but that allows for you to make progress on your loans.

Try the Debt Snowball Approach

In the debt snowball, you list all of your loan amounts and putting those with the highest interest rates at the top. The idea is to put all of your extra money to paying off the highest rate loans, and then when that one is paid off, on to the next loan, and so on and so forth. The advantage to this is that you could save thousands on interest. (Here is a great snowball calculator if you want to play around with the numbers!)

The only downside to paying down loans with the highest interest rate is that it can take a long time for someone to pay them off and feel successful. So, if it makes more sense to you to pay off smaller loans first in order to feel accomplished and empowered, then by all means- do so. Many find this ”reverse snowball” approach essential to keeping motivated with debt payoff and avoiding debt fatigue.

Consolidate Loans for Better Interest Rate

If you have more than one loan with different interest rates you can consider consolidating your loans at one interest rate and into one monthly payment. Many times there are advantages to doing this, just be sure to watch the interest rate. Sometimes borrowers end up consolidating at slightly higher total interest rate and end up paying more over the life of the loan because they receive a lower monthly payment, which looks good to them in the moment. Be sure to do your homework  and compare interest rates before you sign.

The best rule to follow is to always stay in touch with your lenders no matter what the circumstances, you may be surprised by how willing they are to work with you on your repayment terms. In the event  of unexpected unemployment or medical emergencies, many lenders offer economic hardship or additional forbearance for consumers.

Allen Kors is the Founder and CEO of Achieve Lending, the first ever search engine for education loans. Designed to help both traditional and non-traditional students find the best student loans, Achieve Lending offers users a free online portal to search, find, and compare student loans, often in as little as 30 seconds. - Find The Best Loan