If you graduated from college over the past few years with a massive pile of debt, you're in good company. It's estimated that 40 million Americans owe a cumulative $1.2 trillion in student loans. Not only that, but student loans increased by 84% since the start of the 2008 recession. In fact, according to a recent study by Experian, college loans are the only category of consumer debt that's failing to decrease. Furthermore, those who graduated college in 2013 borrowed $28,400 on average, which is a hefty sum, considering the typical starting salary for 2013 graduates with bachelor's degrees was a mere $45,000.
Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that some have resorted to fleeing the country to escape their nagging debt. It's a good idea in theory, but not so much in practice. To truly ditch your debt, you need to establish residency in a foreign country, but that isn't a simple matter of unpacking your bags or couch-surfing abroad for months on end. To establish residency, you'll need to prove that you have a reliable source of income that meets the country in question's minimum requirement. Your other option for establishing residency is making an investment in that country, but if you've got the money to do that, you probably don't need to flee the U.S. to get out of paying your student loans.
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The other thing to consider is this: It may seem doable and even somewhat enticing to spend a few years living abroad, but what happens when you decide you're homesick? While your lenders may not be able to come after you as a resident of a foreign country, you could find yourself on the hook for certain debts if you return to the United States. And if you default on your student loans before making your escape, there's a good chance you'll return to find that your credit is now in the toilet.
Fortunately, you don't have to force yourself to live in exile just because you're facing student debt. There are several avenues you can pursue to shake that burden and move on with your life.
Become a teacherA teaching career can be rewarding on many levels, but it can be especially advantageous for those looking to get rid of their college debt. Thanks to the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, those who teach full-time for five complete, consecutive years in certain school districts may be eligible for up to $17,500 of student-loan forgiveness.
Work in public serviceUnder the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you may become eligible to have the remaining balance on your loans forgiven after making 120 monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for specific employers that fall under the public-service umbrella. These include government organizations, tax-exempt non-profits, or service programs such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.
Negotiate with your lendersIf you borrowed from private lenders and are struggling to repay what you owe, you may be able to negotiate a settlement wherein your loan amount is reduced or your payment terms are relaxed. If you're not confident in your negotiation skills, you could engage a debt settlement attorney to argue on your behalf. Your legal fees could more than pay for themselves in the form of a favorable settlement.
Being in debt is more than just a financial issue; it's an emotional one as well. While being in debt can be maddening on many levels, don't let those monthly loan statements with their tauntingly high balances drive you toward rash behavior. Take some time to explore your options for making your debt more manageable. It's better than cramming your life's belongings into a suitcase and bidding your country a long-term adieu.
The article Can You Escape Your Student Loans? originally appeared on Fool.com.
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