The benefits and disadvantages of paying off student loans early.

Most students who have been to college in the last decade have at least one student loan. According to American Student Assistance, nearly 20 million students attend college each year. Of that 20 million, 60 percent have student loan debt. The average student loan across all age groups is $24,301. If you're one of the many carrying the burden of student loan debt, paying those loans off early can have significant financial benefits…or not. Let's look at whether or not it makes sense financially to try to pay these loans off early.

Save on interest.

Student loans carry interest. Many of them have low interest rates, but not all do. Federal loans have the lowest interests, ranging anywhere from 2.3 – 6.8 percent. Private student loans typically fall within the same range, but the interest rates can be higher, too. Paying extra money toward the principal every month (or whenever you can) reduces your overall balance. If you do this consistently, you can save hundreds of dollars in interest each year, and thousands over the life of your loan.

Student loans can never be written off.

Paying those loans off early has another benefit. If you ever fall on hard times to the point of needing to declare bankruptcy, you still won't be forgiven of your student loans. These must be paid back regardless. The only ways these loans are forgiven due to financial hardship are if you die or become permanently disabled. Getting them out of the way as soon as possible can relieve you of that worry, and that's a comforting feeling during hard economic times.

Pay higher interest loans first.

It's tempting to pay off student loans above other things because they plague us for so long after we continue our education. It may not make sense financially, though, if you're carrying around credit card debt and other loans with higher interest rates than your student loans. Tackle those loans with higher interest rates first, and save the student loans for later.

You may qualify for loan forgiveness.

If you work for the local, state, or federal government or for a 501(c)(3) organization, you are eligible for loan forgiveness after you've made 120 payments (10 years of payments) on your student loans. This is possible under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for Direct Loans only. Only payments made after October 1, 2007 qualify for this program. This is especially helpful for public service workers, though, who tend to make less than their counterparts in the private sector. If you plan to continue in public service, it may not make sense financially to pay these off early if the remainder (possibly tens of thousands of dollars) can be forgiven.

Do you have any advice for paying off student loans early? Share your tips in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Ralph Daily via Flickr.

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