This article was written by Miranda Marquit, Student Loan Hero

Are you putting your dreams on hold because of your student loan debt?

In 2015, Student Loan Hero’s Student Loan Burden Report found that many grads put off life milestones because of debt.

You might be done with your undergrad and looking to further your education. You might be looking to gain new skills in digital fields such as data science or UX design or computer programming. 

However, you might feel like you can’t just jump in and acquire a new skill while you’re already dealing with student loan debt. This doesn’t have to be the case. If you dream of learning something new and taking your skills to the next level, it’s still possible.

Here’s how to tackle your student loan debt while at the same time freeing up the money you need to learn how to code.

1. Refinance your student loan debt

One of the best ways to keep student loan debt from holding you back is to refinance. If you’re paying more than 6% APR, you might be able to save by refinancing your student loans to a lower interest rate.

Depending on your credit, you might be able to get an interest rate as low as 2.15% APR. That can dramatically reduce what you pay in interest and even help make your monthly payment more manageable.

A lower monthly payment frees up cash flow. You can use it to boost your skills training and still save money on your student loan interest. It’s a solid way to pursue your goals while paying down debt a little faster.

However, there are some risks of refinancing you should know. Right now, the only way to refinance is through a private lender. That means if you decide to refinance federal student loans, you’ll lose federal benefits such as eligibility for income-driven repayment plans, national forgiveness programs, and deferment/forbearance.

Before deciding to refinance your student loans, be sure you’re confident in your ability to make your monthly payments. Once you refinance, there’s no going back.

2. Use the debt snowball or debt avalanche

If you have several loans or types of debt, you can use debt repayment strategies to tackle it all together. The “debt snowball” and “debt avalanche” methods both follow the same basic steps:

  1. Figure out how much extra you can put toward your debt each month.
  2. Order your debts according to loan balance (debt snowball – smallest to largest) or interest rate (debt avalanche – highest to lowest).
  3. Put your extra payment toward the loan at the top of the list, and pay minimums on the rest of the debt.
  4. Once your first debt is paid off, take the total you were paying and apply it to the next loan.

Many people don’t know where to start when they’re struggling with debt. Putting together a plan can help you tackle your debt systematically and keep you motivated.

If you combine your debt strategy with student loan refinancing, you can make even better progress. This way, you’re not paying too much in interest while you tackle other debts.

Once you see the good results, you’ll be more confident and ready to move forward with the next phase of your education and training.

3. Go on an income-driven repayment plan

When you refinance your student loan debt, you run into the possibility of losing federal loan protection. But what if you can’t manage your high payments?

One way to tackle this problem is to apply for income-based repayment or a similar income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. If you’re struggling to afford payments on your federal student loans, you can get things under control with the help of one of these programs.

The point of IDR is to cap monthly payments as a percentage of your discretionary income (10-20 percent, depending on the plan). The repayment timeline is also set to 20-25 years – again, depending on the specific plan. This frees up the money you need to attend a coding bootcamp and improve your skills.

Once you have the skills you need to get a better job or qualify for that bump in pay, you can tackle your student loan debt faster. It’s important that you use your skills to get better pay because IDR results in a longer repayment term that will cost you more over time.

4. Pursue student loan forgiveness programs

Maybe you don’t have to repay all of your student loan debt after all. One of the best ways to keep your debt from holding you back is to look into student loan forgiveness programs.

There are many state and federal programs designed to help you get rid of your student loan debt if you work in public service or a profession with high need. For example, some health care workers, teachers, and even lawyers are eligible for student loan forgiveness.

It’s also possible to get help repaying your student loans when you work with certain organizations, such as the Peace Corps or Americorps. And some companies even offer student loan repayment assistance as part of their benefits package.

Get on track for student loan forgiveness and then upgrade your skills with online education. You will potentially have a skillset that others need and you’ll have a better chance of being a valuable part of programs that let you take advantage of student loan forgiveness.

Make sure you pay attention to the fine print when it comes to student loan forgiveness, though. In some cases, you might owe taxes on the amount forgiven.

Don’t let debt hold you back

Debt holds you back from getting the most out of your money. Freeing up some of your cash flow so you can learn a valuable skill like coding can benefit you in the long run. You can boost your income in a way that allows you to find extra money you can use to tackle your student loan debt. 

Once you’re debt-free, you can do more important things with your money. You can even take other steps to get rid of your debt at a faster pace and start living your life sooner.

Pretty soon your finances will be back on track — and so will your dreams.