Earlier this year, the New York Federal Reserve reported that student loan debt had ballooned to $1.16 trillion. It’s the second-largest source of consumer debt (topped only by home mortgages), and it’s no surprise that Black Americans carry the biggest part of that burden.

According to Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank studying education and health policy for low-income families, in 2013, “42 percent of African-Americans ages 25 to 55 had student loan debt, compared with 28 percent of Whites.”

In the past, consolidating loans (combining several loans into one) was the big trend, but since 2008’s economic crisis, refinancing (obtaining a lower interest rate for one or more loans) has become a more viable alternative. The latter concept is often associated with homeownership and implements the same process: A borrower seeks a lower-interest loan from a lender, which will save him or her money on payments. The borrower also chooses the life of the loan—five, 10, 15 or 20 years. Some lenders offer better deals than others, and sites such as studentloanhero.com recommend the best banks for refinancing student loan debt, which include LendKey, Citizens Bank and SoFi.

Financial expert Patrice Washington, owner and CEO of Seek Wisdom Find Wealth, says there are several factors involved and no one-size-fits-all solution. “You have to qualify for refinancing. Your credit needs to be established, and you have to show substantial proof that you can make the new payment,” she says. Also, your debt-to-income ratio cannot be in the negative.

So when’s the best time to employ this opportunity? If you have a solid income and decent credit standing, it’s best to research these options now. Washington offers seven tips for creating an ideal repayment story:

Read more in the November 2015 issue of EBONY Magazine.