It’s the moment you’ve been saving, budgeting and planning for since the day you threw your graduation cap in the air: your student loans are finally paid off! It’s an accomplishment that you should be very proud of, especially considering that 44.5 million Americans are currently carrying over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Student loan repayment has probably commanded much of your attention when it comes to your finances, so reaching this exciting milestone may also feel a little bewildering. Not to worry, though, because there are smart steps you can take to make sure you continue reaching milestones along your financial journey.
For the first time in your life, you may be finding yourself with disposable income after repaying student loans. This can be an exhilarating feeling with seemingly endless possibilities now within reach. Maybe you’re thinking about finally taking the vacation you’ve been dreaming about or purchasing a newer car. Before making any big purchasing decisions, there’s something you should do first.
Shedding student loan repayment from your financial plan means it’s time to rebalance your household budget. Picture your monthly household budget as a pie chart comprised of segments like housing, utilities, groceries, and other essentials. There will now be a sizable gap where student loan repayment once was, and how you reallocate this income is up to you.
A good place to start is tackling other debt you may still have. If you’ve been slowly chipping away at holiday shopping or other credit card debts while balancing student loan repayment, now is your time to get ahead. Focus on high-interest credit cards first and start increasing your monthly credit card debt payments as you’re able.
You can apply a similar approach to your monthly car payments or to your mortgage payment if you own a home. Consider using some of your disposable income to pay a little extra toward what you owe each month to help yourself get ahead.
Making these adjustments immediately after submitting your final student loan repayment won’t even give you the chance to miss the cash, so take the time to rebalance your budget right away.
While that empty wedge on your pie chart previously had one singular purpose, it doesn’t mean that you need to dedicate all of your newly disposable income to one goal. The average student loan payment is upwards of $200 per month, and even a fraction of that amount can go a long way toward reaching your financial goals over time.
There are many options for saving and budgeting your newly disposable income. First and foremost, if you don’t already have a savings plan, now is the time to start one. Maybe you set aside some of your savings goals as you worked toward student loan repayment. Now that you are finished paying off your student loans, it’s time to put those goals front and center.
Once you have a savings plan in place, it’s time to think retirement. You could keep some of the balance from your student loan repayment in your pocket to help cover household expenses while diverting more of your paycheck into your employer’s 401k plan. This could also be a great time to open an IRA if you don’t already have one (decide which one is right for you here). No matter where you are on your financial journey, getting ahead in your retirement savings is always a good plan. You can also start building a rainy day fund to help cover unexpected expenses and opportunities in the future.
Making your final student loan repayment is an important milestone. Once you’ve had a chance to celebrate, take the next step toward reaching your savings and budgeting goals. Rebalance your household budget and use your newly disposable income to get ahead. As you plan for the future, be sure to visit our FutureTrack blog for more helpful tips.