Three student loan resolutions for 2017

People have a better chance of accomplishing New Year's resolutions that are specific and attainable. If you’re trying to accomplish something big, such as getting out of student loan debt, these factors are even more important.

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP/File
The clock strikes midnight at the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration, on Jan. 1, 2016.

People make New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions, but odds are slim that they’ll pan out. Only 8 percent of people report accomplishing these goals, according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton.

You can buck that trend by creating resolutions that are both specific and attainable. If you’re trying to accomplish something big, such as getting out of student loan debt, these factors are even more important.

“The clients that have the most success are the ones who don’t ignore the problem. They come up with an aggressive, but doable, plan,” says Mark Struthers, a Minnesota-based certified financial planner.

Whether you need motivation to tackle your loans, are sick of structuring your budget around your payments or want to save money, resolutions can move you one step closer to your goal. Consider these three attainable student loan resolutions for 2017.

1. Calculate your payoff date

Figuring out the exact month and year when you’ll be free of your student loan debt is a strong motivator to keep paying it off. The typical 10-year loan term can feel pretty abstract, but knowing you’ll be debt-free in, say, March 2027, might inspire you to reach that goal even more quickly.

To find your payoff date, log into your loan accounts with your student loan servicer. Note the amount you owe, as well as your interest rates and monthly payments. Then plug those numbers into a payoff calculator to find out how many years of payments you have left and how much interest you’ll owe.

Once you know the exact month and year you’ll finish paying off your loans, create a loan paydown plan. You might choose to pay more than the minimum each month to get out of debt faster; if so, specify how the extra funds should be added to your account by sending your servicer a letter or email. You can make those extra dollars work even harder by targeting your highest-interest loans first — that will cut down on the interest you’ll pay overall.

2. Switch up your debt management strategy

Make 2017 the year you stop staring down your student loan balance at the exclusion of other financial goals.

To save the most money, prioritize your debts by interest rate. Credit cards and personal loans, for example, usually carry higher rates than student loans, so they cost more long term. It might be tempting to throw any extra cash at your student loans, but it might not make the most financial sense. And your financial plan needs to look beyond debt if you want to successfully manage your money.

“None of your finances should be looked at in a vacuum,” says Scott Hanson, a Sacramento-based certified financial planner.

Carve out room for emergency fund savings, as well as retirement contributions, when creating your budget. Thanks to the power of compound interest, you don’t have to build any of these savings overnight. But that’s also why it’s important to start saving for retirement as soon as you can and why you should max out a 401(k) match if one is available to you. You’ll be thankful for the free money later on.

3. Make your loans fit your budget

Having trouble affording your loans? Want to free up money for long-term savings? Lowering your payments can help keep your student debt from overwhelming all else.

If you can’t afford payments on your federal loans, look into income-driven repayment plans. If you qualify, your payments will be capped at a percentage of your income and your loan term will be extended to 20 to 25 years; you’ll be forgiven any leftover balance after that time and it will be taxed as income. Deferment and forbearance can both provide a temporary reprieve from private loan payments. Explain your situation to your lender to find the best option.

If you can afford your payments but want to save money on your loans, look into student loan refinancing. If you qualify, you’ll trade your existing loan for a new one with different terms, such as a lower interest rate and payment amount. You’ll need a steady income, a low debt-to-income ratio and a credit score at or above 690.

If you don’t know your score, use NerdWallet’s credit score tool.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @devondelfino.

This story originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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