Student debt is a real problem. According to reporting from Forbes, total student debt in the United States adds up to roughly $1.3 trillion, with the average debt per student, for those enrolled in college right now, reaching $37,172.
What’s a career climber to do? You’ve got goals and you need a degree, right?
Stop the madness and take control of your finances. There are strategies you can use to keep your student loan debt down.
Student Loans Are Optional
First, keep in mind that you don’t have to take on a student loan to go to college. By choosing a less expensive school (or less expensive to you), you might be able to earn enough through work study or internships to cover your bill. Also, don’t forget to look at grants and scholarships. You might be surprised how many options are out there. Many colleges offer installment plans, too, so even if you don’t have the money today, with a little hard work you might be able to make installment payments.
Keep It Under Control
Likewise, if you do have to take out a student loan, you don’t have to take out the maximum amount available. While you certainly do have plenty of expenses, from books to dorms, meal plans to socializing, you need to remember that every dollar you borrow now will impact your payment amount later. Kalman Chany, who wrote “Paying for College Without Going Broke,” recommends limiting your debt to the salary you can reasonably expect to earn in your first year of employment.
Know Your Options
There is more than one type of student loan out there. You have private loans and federal ones, and each of those has different options. For instance, when looking at federal loans, you will see Perkins loans and PLUS loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized. It is a lot to take in. Make sure you are doing your research so you understand your options. In general, federal loans offer the best terms, but if you don’t qualify or can’t qualify for enough, you will need to look at multiple loan sources – some of which will have different terms. Just be aware.
Don’t Wait to Repay
With most student loans, you will have the option to wait until after you graduate to start repaying them – don’t do it. When you wait to repay, you could accrue additional debt from interest, and you will definitely have larger payments than if you start paying a little bit now. Even $100 per month could make a big difference in keeping your student loan debt down.
Remember Your Payment Options
Finally, remember that you do have options when it comes to repayment. While these techniques won’t apply to everyone, certain federal loan programs offer loan forgiveness (i.e. you don’t have to pay anything back) up to a certain amount or after so many payments. Many of these programs are designed to help teachers, but there is also a public service loan forgiveness program. Talk to financial aid to learn more. In addition, look at income-driven repayment plans. While you might spend more in the long run, you’ll find that these programs help make your debt payments less of a burden.
Carrying student loan debt isn’t fun. It will take years to pay off, leaving you with less money each month to do things like save for a down payment on a house or pay for your (future) kids to go to a private, charter or Montessori school. You also won’t be able to travel as freely or as far, and you can forget about buying a new car unless you are willing to budget from other areas. However, with a little proactive planning, you can take charge of your financial future. You can get your degree and keep your student debt as low as possible.