How to handle student loan debt…
If you’re reading this, you’re probably either a current student or a recent graduate, which means that (like millions of others) you probably have student loan debt.
The nation’s total student loan debt is over $1.48 trillion. It’s difficult to even wrap your head around that number.
If you’re worried about managing your student loan debt, you definitely aren’t alone.
Learning how you can tackle your debt is the best way to calm your anxieties about repaying it. Using the guiding principles below, you can get on more solid financial footing as you pay back your loans.
4 Tips to Manage Student Loans
1. Make your monthly loan payment a fixed part of your budget.
Budgeting is essential for everyone, not just students or grads. But it can be difficult to find out where your student loans fit in.
In your current budget, you have “fixed” expenses that you can’t change (like your rent, utilities, car payment, etc.) and your “discretionary” expenses that you have complete control over (like clothing, dining out, etc.).
Your monthly student loan payments should always be in the “fixed” category. This forces you to prioritize your loan payments over all of your other expenses.
Here’s an extra tip:
If you have money left over in your budget, split it between your savings and your student loans. That way you put some extra toward your student debt and build up your savings account while you’re at it.
2. Learn about your options.
It’s not unusual to have trouble repaying your student loans. Learning about the debt relief options available to you is an important part of how to handle college debt.
Here are some programs that could help.
Federal Student Debt Relief
The most common kind of student loans are Direct Federal Student Loans. Relief for these types of loans comes in many forms.
Some examples include:
- Income Based Repayment (IBR): This program calculates your monthly payment as a percentage of your income.
- Federal Direct Consolidation Loans: Use this loan to consolidate your student debt and get an interest rate that’s a weighted average of the current interest rates on your loans.
- PAYE and REPAYE: These stand for Pay As You Earn and Revised Pay As You Earn, respectively. They’re income-driven repayment plans similar to IBR. Your payments are generally 10% or less of your adjusted gross income.
- Student Loan Debt Forgiveness: There are multiple programs that can help you get your debt forgiven. For example, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) provides a path for public servants to have their student debt forgiven after 10 years of on-time payments.
When you refinance your student loans, you basically take out another loan with a lower interest rate that replaces your current loans.
This is a popular way to reduce the interest you owe, which can be a real killer.
The refinancing process converts your federal loans into private loans. This means you won’t be eligible for the federal relief programs mentioned above, so weigh your options carefully before going with refinancing.
3. Know when it’s time to get professional help.
There’s no shame in admitting you’re in over your head.
If you’re having trouble making payments, talk to your loan servicer first. You may be able to negotiate a deal.
If that doesn’t get you what you need, talk with a student loan debt specialist. They can guide you in the right direction.
Whatever you do, avoid defaulting on your loans.
It will negatively impact your credit, making things like applying for a mortgage or getting an auto loan much more difficult down the road.
4. Stay positive.
Ok, so I know some of the things I just explained sounded very negative.
It’s serious, sure. But you can’t let financial fear get in your way!
You got a college education to increase your knowledge – and your earning potential. Stay confident and keep moving toward the light at the end of the debt tunnel.