Student loan debt is a national problem. As of January 2016, total US student loan debt was over $1.2 trillion, and market analysts have warned about how this expanding student loan debt has become a bubble. That bubble bursting could have serious consequences for the US economy, as banks and the government could be crushed under a pile of insolvent student loans.
But the reality is that the student loan debt problem will not be fixed easily, whether at the societal or the individual level. But there are a few things which any student can do to ensure that he is debt free in his 30s. Here are five steps which can make the difference between a manageable debt and a crushing one.
1. Spend less
Let us start with one fact: by and large, people go to college because they want money. College should be viewed as an investment where you spend money on tuition now to make more money later – and despite the concerns over debt, college is still a good investment.
But the first step to make money is to not spend it. You are in debt. And the reality is that when you are in debt, there are sacrifices which you have to make in order to get out of debt. It may mean delaying a marriage, getting a worse car, or not eating out, but things like that will help to lessen debt over time.
I won’t deny that this is one tough step. But there is no easy way to getting out of student debt.
2. Don’t look for the easy way out
There are thousands if not millions of young adults just searching for an easy way to wipe out their student loan debt and start clean. And that sort of environment attracts scammers looking to prey on the fears and hopes of the desperate.
Honest student debt relief organizations will never demand money up front, but the simplest rule you can follow is that if a group’s offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is. This example from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should serve as an example of some of the things a scammer will do.
There is no easy way out of student debt, and looking for one will get you in trouble. Acknowledging that you are in trouble is the first step to getting out of it.
3. Get a government job
Everyone knows that the military is an option for many individuals to get into college for free. But you don’t have to face bullets in order to qualify for government loan forgiveness programs.
Most government jobs, and especially teachers, can be qualified for a loan forgiveness program where a set amount is forgiven every year. This can be as much as $10,000 per year for government employees in forgiveness. If you are unwilling to commit to years of government service, then a short-term option is to take a stint in AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.
It should be noted that these programs have a catch. Most loan forgiveness programs will require you to make 120 payments on time before the loans are forgiven. And some students will struggle when they realize that loan forgiveness programs do not apply to personal finance, such as car loans you may have taken out..
4. Pay off private loans first
The vast majority of student loans come from the government. A 2014 estimate showed that out of the $1.2 trillion in student debt, just $150 billion of those loans are private.
But private loans are much more dangerous, and should thus seek first priority. The aforementioned loan forgiveness programs do not apply to private loans. And perhaps most importantly of all, private student loans generally have a higher interest rate compared to federal loans.
As a matter of fact, the higher interest rate thing should be noted in and of itself. It may seem obvious, but there are too many people who don’t prioritize paying off the loan with the highest interest rate. This does not just apply to student loan debt: while paying off student loan debt is important, don’t do it if you’ve got credit card debt that will strangle your credit faster.
5. Don’t consolidate your loans.
In order to make paying student loans easier, some people opt for loan consolidation. Loan consolidation combines all of your small loans into one big loan. The government can track your payments based off your income, and the result is an easier to pay off loan which you can just handle month after month.
Except not really. Terms for long consolidation will generally assume that your time for repayment will last longer than if you had not consolidated your loans, which means that more interest will accrue and the loans becomes more expensive over the long term. If you want your loans paid off sooner, then track your loans yourself, and pay off as much as you can every month.
Featured photo credit: Francisco Osario via flickr.com