With college commencement season at hand, the average graduate has a lot to ponder on the podium to pick up their diploma, as the clock starts ticking on student loan repayments.

From a financial point of view, there’s much to consider.

According to data from Student Loan Hero, the average college graduate from the class of 2018 will owe an average loan debt of $29,000 – and their parents may owe even more if they took out private student loans (parents who did owed $36,000, on average).

All told, U.S. college graduates owe $1.56 trillion in total student loan debt.

Facing an uphill climb, many loan borrowers may feel like they have no recourse but to pay back their debt through a hard-earned paycheck – there’s just no other way to get the job done.

The fact is, that sentiment would be wrong.

“There are plenty of ways to make additional income outside of your regular job to throw at student loans and pay them off faster,” says Ben Watson, a certified public accountant who works with newly-minted college graduates to pay off their student loans. “Whatever it is, earning additional income, especially from a passion or a hobby, often doesn’t feel like work and can help knock out those student loans faster.”

Five can’t miss ways to pay down student loan debt

What are the most effective and creative ways to pay off student loan debt, beyond having payments siphoned out of their paychecks?

These ideas should be on any student loan borrowers “to do” list:

#1 – Student Loan Forgiveness Programs. Currently, over 50% of student loan borrowers qualify for some type of student loan forgiveness program, says Robert Farrington, creator of the website CollegeInvestor.com.

Uncle Sam offers three primary ways to leverage federal student loan payback assistance programs, Farrington notes.

  • There are student loan repayment assistance programs that help you pay for some of your debt.
  • There are student loan cancellation and discharge programs that cancel your debt, such as total and permanent disability discharge
  • There are student loan forgiveness programs attached to student loan repayment programs, such as Income Based Repayment.

Start with traditional student loan forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness that will release you from your debt and go from there, Farrington advises.  

Public service jobs that qualify for loan assistance include the following occupations:

  • Government Workers (federal, state, and local)
  • Emergency management
  • Military service
  • Public safety or law enforcement services
  • Public health services
  • Public education or public library services
  • School library and other school-based services
  • Public interest law services
  • Early childhood education
  • Public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly

No matter what government-based occupation you’re in, pay close attention to the details when targeting any breaks in your student loan debt — especially when it comes to the IRS.

“It’s important to know any differences in what type of program you’re participating in — each type of program has different tax applications for it,” says Farrington. “Some offer tax-free student loan forgiveness and tax-free money, while other programs will cancel your debt and treat it as taxable income.

#2 – Side hustles and the gig economy. Starting a side hustle from something you’re passionate about or skilled with can create additional income to help pay off student loans faster, Watson says.

“It could be as low cost as blogging to dog walking or babysitting,” he notes. “Many people use their free time to become virtual assistants or do odd-jobs on sites like taskrabbit.com or fiverr.com.”

#3 – Have your employer provide it as a benefit. One alternative way to pay down your student loans is with the help of your employer.

“Employers are witnessing the hottest job market in a generation,” says Gregory Poulin, chief executive officer at Goodly, a San Francisco-based student loan assistance company. “Over 70% of college grads are entering the workforce with significant student debt, so it’s a no-brainer that job seekers are attracted to employers that offer to help with their student loans.”

According to Poulin, most frequently employers will offer $100-per-month toward an employee’s student loan debt. “That can help the average borrower pay off their student loans 30% faster than they otherwise would,” he says.

If your employer doesn’t already offer student loan repayment, ask your human resources contact to look into adding it as an option. “Alternatively, ask your employer if you can trade in other benefits, including everything from unused paid time off days to bonuses, as a payment toward your student loan,” Poulin advises.

#4 – Move to a less-expensive city to start your career. Basic geography can also play a key role in curbing your student loan debt.

“College graduates with high student loan debt can move to rural U.S. cities to accept high-paying jobs in significantly lower cost-of-living areas,” says Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of Red Baron Consulting, LLC.

Hanson says doing so represents more than a paycheck. Instead, it’s a rapid-fire way to live and lay low for several years in your 20s to reach an earlier student loan pay off date.

“Even though interest percentages on student loan debt are typically low, getting your debt paid off faster is a great strategy,” he says. “For example, in our business, we have recruited specialist doctors and other high-earning medical personnel to accept lucrative annual contracts in rural areas in desperate need of physicians in all areas.”

Some businesses, especially in the medical field, have student loan payoff clauses even after only one-or-two years on the job. “If you can tough it out in the middle of nowhere USA, life can be good, and fast,” he adds.

#5 – Leverage your student debt as an incentive with your employer. Wear your high student loan debt as a badge of honor when interviewing for a new job or when negotiating a salary package with your employer, workplace experts say.

‘We’re seeing young professionals get in front of employers, and ask to earn more money to pay their loan off in the process,” Hanson says. “These borrowers leverage their student loan debt as a way of saying “hire me to help me pay this off badge of accomplishment –– and let’s talk about extra compensation consideration.”

Increasingly, professional jobs are being negotiated based on your student debt, Hanson says.

“Don’t be shy about telling an employer, “Hey, thank you for the paycheck and benefits, yet what I really need is a bonus or commission that can go directly toward my student debt,” he says. “Say it just like that.”

Also, ask your employer if there’s any extra work or extra incentive that you might earn for extra student debt payoff money. “Your boss or company may go along and structure a performance-based salary package that pays a specific amount of cash toward student loan debt if you reach certain incentives,” Hanson says.

#6 – Take the “redirect” route. Additionally, you can always ask an employer to redirect employee benefits directly to your student loan debt.

“One easy way to pay your student loan debt more quickly is to see if they’re willing to put their 401(k) funds, along with any matching money, into paying off your student debt as opposed to stashing it into the actual 401(k) plan,” says Stacy Caprio, founder of the Fiscal Nerd, a personal financial website. “This way you’re able to take money you’re already saving and instead steer it toward your student loan debt, which at this point, is the real priority.”

The takeaway on paying off student loan debt – alternative style

When it comes down to brass tacks on high student loan debt, relying on a paycheck alone to cover that debt is a limited strategy.

Instead, get creative and strive for additional ways to pay down that debt, faster and more efficiently using the tips listed above.

Do that and you’ll be waving bye-bye to your student loans faster than you ever thought, and in the process, freeing you up for a robust financial future.