Paying for college is a challenge faced by thousands of students every year, and there are more and more options emerging to fund your education. There are work-study programs, scholarships and grants, programs that offer stipends and fellowships. But even with all of that, most students will still use loans to supplement the high cost of higher education.
The average debt for college graduates is nearly $25,000. Although some may consider this to be “good debt,” since it’s an investment in one’s future, it is still debt nonetheless and needs to be repaid. With a competitive job market, this can be difficult to manage.
Here are a few tips to help tackle student loan debt:
Create a budget
Know how much money you have each month and make a list of all your expenses. Be careful with frivolous spending and prioritize your bills. Avoid creating new debt with high interest credit cards. Be sure to make your loan payments on time each month. Enrolling in auto-pay is a great way to make sure your loans are paid on time each month.
Know all of your options
You may be able to deduct yearly interest paid on student loans. All you need to do is fill out Form 1040 or 1040A and you don’t even have to itemize your deductions. Research tax laws in your state to make sure you get the full advantage available to you.
Communicate with your lender
Many lenders offer money-saving incentives to borrowers who make consistent, on-time payments each month. You could qualify for interest rate deductions or principal reductions. Also, if you’re in a pinch and unable to find a job right away or if you become laid-off or unemployed, keeping your lender abreast of your situation will only be beneficial to you. Lenders will sometimes defer payments for a designated period of time or they may try to work with you to reduce your payments so that you can still make them each month.
Pay off higher interest loans first
Typically, federally funded loans offer lower interest rates. When you have extra cash, put it towards those higher interest private loans to pay off your balance sooner.
Consolidate the Loans
Although you won’t be able to consolidate your federal loans with your private ones, it may still be a benefit to consolidate loans, often at a lower interest rate than before, to simplify your finances. Although you may ultimately be repaying the same amount, making fewer payments each month is often more manageable.
Research loan forgiveness programs
Depending on your career field, you may qualify for loan forgiveness, where a portion or all of your student loan debt is erased. Many states offer loan-forgiveness programs for social workers, health workers and teachers who work in under-served areas. There are many different programs available for dozens of career paths, some federally sponsored, some private. In this case, it definitely pays to do your homework.
Jenn Pedde is the community manager for the Masters Degree in Social Work program at the University of Southern California in the Virtual Academic Center, which offers a wide variety of social work scholarships and grants to potential students. She’s an avid traveler, and enjoys photography.