Saddled With Student Debt? 4 Moves to Make Today

If you're drowning in student debt, you're certainly in good company. The average Class of 2017 graduate came away $39,400 in the hole, which represents a 6% increase from the previous year. All told, Americans are on the hook for nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, and it's clearly going to take some time to knock that cumulative balance down. On an individual level, however, there are things you can do to get a handle on your debt. Here are a few moves to consider making.

1. Look into an income-based repayment plan

If you took out federal loans to fund your education, you may have options for lowering your monthly payments. That's because federal borrowers can apply for income-based repayment plans, where instead of sticking to your default payment under your loan agreement, your payment is calculated as a (reasonable) percentage of your income. The average student loan payment among borrowers aged 20 to 30 is currently $351, which can especially be a lot on a starting salary, so if you have the ability to shrink that payment, why not get some relief?

2. Refinance your debt

Just as it's possible to refinance a mortgage, so, too, is refinancing your student debt a possibility you might pursue. When you refinance your debt, what you're actually doing is swapping your old loan for a new one at what should ideally be a more favorable rate. Refinancing is an option whether you took out federal loans or private ones, and in the case of the latter, you might really manage to reduce your monthly payments by qualifying for a better rate (keeping in mind that private loans tend to be more costly interest rate-wise than federal ones). The only catch is that you'll need stellar credit to qualify for a rate reduction, but if your score is excellent, it pays to look into refinancing.

3. Get a side job

It's hard to keep up with student loan payments when you're dealing with a limited income. Boosting your earnings, therefore, might be the key to not only making your payments, but accelerating them so that you're free of that debt sooner. And that's why it pays to consider a side hustle, even if your primary job keeps you pretty busy. An estimated 21% of Americans aged 25 to 39 with student debt hold down more than one job, whereas those without student debt are only about half as likely to have a second gig. And while working more than your regular 40 hours or more per week may not seem ideal, swinging a side hustle even temporarily could help ease the burden of student debt and buy you some wiggle room in your budget.

4. Move back home

Making your student loan payments can be challenging when you're juggling life's many expenses, like rent, car payments, food, and utilizes. So why not eliminate some of those bills by moving back home on a temporary basis? If your parents have the space to accommodate you and are willing to let you live rent-free, you stand to save some serious money by giving up a bit of freedom for a year or two. Then, you can take the money you bank and apply it to your student loans, thus getting ahead on your payments and knocking out that debt more quickly.

Student dent might be a necessary evil, but it's a tough one to deal with nonetheless. Be sure to explore your options for making your debt more manageable, whether in the form of lowering your monthly payments or freeing up more cash to apply to those loans. It's a far better bet than bemoaning your decision to borrow for college and suffering financially in the years that follow.

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