One simple trick to protecting your family without breaking the bank!

Is 2018 the year you finally pay off your student loans?

For many, the answer is no.

According to Make Lemonade, there are over than 44 million borrowers who owe more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.

Even if you can’t pay off your student loans now, there are ways to alleviate your debt burden and live a better financial life.

Here are 5 action steps to help pay off your student loans faster in 2018:

1. Make an extra student loan payment

One of the best strategies to pay off student loans faster is to make an extra payment.

Since there are no prepayment penalties, you can make extra payments of any amount.

For example, always pay at least the minimum payment each month. In addition to making 12 monthly payments per year, consider an extra payment once every three months for a total of 16 payments per year.

Contact your lender in writing and explain that you want to make additional payments several times per year.

Be sure to specify that you want to apply any extra payment above the minimum payment to principal only (not to next month’s monthly payment) to limit the amount of interest that accrues.

Without this instruction, your lender will hold the excess payment and apply it to next month’s payment – which means you would pay more interest.

2. Pay more than the minimum payment

The minimum payment, as its name suggests, is the minimum payment you should pay each month.

However, you can pay more than the minimum payment with no penalty.

Why would you pay more than you have to? Remember, interest is always accruing on your principal balance. So paying any amount more than the monthly minimum can reduce the cost of your student loans.

Make Lemonade’s student loan prepayment calculator can show you how much money you can save by paying off your student loans faster each month by paying more than the monthly minimum.

For example, let’s assume you have $100,000 of student loan debt at a 7% interest rate with a standard 10-year repayment term.

By paying only $100 extra per month, you can save $4,696 in interest costs and pay off your student loans 1.08 years earlier.

3. Make a lump-sum student loan payment

Your first inclination might be to spend your annual bonus or tax refund on a vacation or other personal purchase.

However, the wiser move is to apply all or a significant portion toward paying principal on your student loans.

Make Lemonade’s lump sum extra payment calculator shows you how much money you can save with a one-time, lump sum student loan payment.

For example, let’s assume that you have $100,000 in student loans at a 7% interest rate and a 10-year repayment term.

If you make a one-time, lump sum payment of $2,000, you would save $1,703 on your student loans and pay off your student loans 4 months early.

4. Apply for loan forgiveness

While student loan forgiveness may not continue as a federal program (in its current form or at all), Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness are still available to qualifying individuals.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is for student loan borrowers with federal student loans enrolled in a federal repayment plan who are employed full-time in an eligible state, local or federal public service job or 501(c)(3) non-profit job who make 120 eligible on-time payments.

Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness is for full-time teachers with five years of teaching experience in a designated elementary or secondary school or educational service agency that serves students from low income families.

5. Refinance your student loans

Student loan refinance is often the single best strategy to lower your student loan rate.

Student loan refinance enables you to pay off your existing student loan and assume a new student loan with a lower interest rate.

There are multiple private student loan lenders who offer interest rates as low as 2.50% – 3.00%, which is substantially lower than federal student loans and in-school private loan interest rates.

You can choose either fixed or variable rates and loan terms ranging from 5 to 20 years.

Each lender has its own eligibility requirements and underwriting criteria, which may include your credit profile, minimum income, debt-to-income and monthly free cash flow.

To maximize your chances of being approved to refinance student loans, you should apply simultaneously to multiple lenders.

Zack Friedman is a keynote speaker and Founder & CEO of Make Lemonade, a personal finance comparison site that helps you live a better financial life.