So 2021 wasn’t exactly the upgrade from 2020 that we’d hoped it would be. No one would blame you for wishing for something a little more joyful from 2022.

Some people are suggesting we try to sneak into 2022 under the radar so it can’t throw anything new and horrible our way.

Of course, there’s one not-so-great thing we know is coming for sure — student loan payments.

We’ve been basking in a student loan free life for almost two years, and as May 1 is quickly approaching, it's time to get ready to say hello to those student loan payments once again.

Student loan repayments = getting out of debt sooner?

Here’s a hot take:

Maybe student loan payments starting up again isn’t such a bad thing.

Say what?

Look, we’re not saying it’s good like Everybody Gets Their Loans Forgiven good. But during that period of forbearance, most borrowers weren’t making any progress on their loans.

That means whatever you owed in March of 2020 is exactly what you still owe today.

You haven’t gotten any closer to being debt free.

Some folks continued making payments — we’ll call them the A++ students. If that was you, high five. You exhibited some seriously disciplined future thinking right there.

But most people didn’t do that. We get it. Most borrowers (some of our nearest and dearest included) were all too happy to say peace out to their loans for however long that forbearance lasted.

Having to jump back into the repayment schedule can feel like a slap in the face when the pandemic isn’t really behind us. And we want to say right here that we know for some of you, loan payments will be a serious financial hurdle — maybe one you can’t manage.

If that’s the case, you can sign up for an income-driven repayment plan. Some income-driven plans have payments as low as zero dollars a month. Two important things to remember about these plans: first, your total balance will increase if the monthly interest is higher than your monthly payments. Second, if any of your loan balance is forgiven at the end of one of the plans, you will have to pay taxes on the forgiven balance.

That’s not ideal, but when you’re in a financial crisis situation, you have to do what’s needed to stay afloat and not default.

If, on the other hand, the re-entry of student loan payments is more like an emotional punch in the gut or means you’re going to have to cut back on take-out, here’s a different way to think about it: this is an opportunity to start making some serious progress on those loans.

Here are the two best things you can do:

Make more than the minimum payment every month

Stop making the minimum payment. When you do that, the lender is in control. They tell you how much to pay and how long you have to pay it, and you just follow along.

When you take a few extra dollars every month and put it toward your student loans, you’re taking back some of that control. You have the ability to say, “Hey, I’m going to pay this off 5 or 10 months or maybe even 2 years faster.”

Let’s take an example. Say you owe $35,000 with an interest rate of 4.5%. You’re on track to pay about $220 a month for the next 20 years. Over that time, you’ll pay $18,143 in interest.

Oof.

But say you decide to put an extra $1 a day toward your student loans. That’s just $30 a month.

You’d pay your loans off more than three years earlier. And you’d save more than $3500 in interest.

Spend a couple minutes imagining what it will feel like when you make the last payment and know you’re debt free.

Now go ahead and use that New Year's resolution energy to be bold. Commit to $5 or $10 a day. Check out the student loan calculator to see how many years that would shave off your payments.

Oh, and you don’t have to log into your student loan account every month to add those dollars. That would be a total drag (and honestly, you’d probably forget half the time). You can sign up for The Daily Dolr, choose the amount you want to put towards your loans, and we’ll do the rest.

And don’t worry: If you don’t have enough money in your bank account for the weekly draw, Dolr won’t make the extra payment that week. Convenience + confidence for the win.

See: Math Has Spoken: the best way to repay your student loan debt

Put any extra money you get toward your student loans

Got a promotion at work that came with a nice raise?

Opened a holiday card with a little cash inside?

Got an end of year bonus?

Looking forward to a tax refund this April?

When you have a significant student loan balance, making extra payments can feel like screaming into the void. Does it really make a difference when it feels like you’re going to be paying them off for the rest of your life no matter what?

Yes, it actually makes a difference.

Let’s revisit that same example from above. You’re paying $220 a month on your $35,000 loan balance. Your budget is pretty tight, and you can’t always afford to give any extra.

You get a $500 bonus at the end of the year, and instead of throwing it into your bank account, you pay it straight toward the principal on your student loans. From that single $500 payment, you could pay your loans off five months sooner and pay $713 less in interest over the life of your loan.

That’s $213 in your pocket.

Now what if you did that once a year? Or every few years?

You can see how those occasional big payments can pay off in the long run. You can take months — even years — off the life of your student loans.

Control your financial future

We love to rail against the broken system that created the student loan crisis. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done by a lot of people that aren’t you.

In the meantime, you don’t have to be a pawn to the lenders. In a serious making-lemonade-out-of-lemons moment, you can use that next student loan payment to propel you forward toward a more financially free future. Because the sooner you pay off those student loans, the sooner you don’t have to think about them anymore.

Contributed by Katie Taylor.