Graduates just stepping off the platform after collecting their degree might find paying their student loan a sobering reminder of their college education. For students who attend school, student loan debt can reach into the thousands of dollars, compounding financial problems for someone just entering the workforce. However, being chained to a never-ending loan payment plan does not have to be the answer. Students can manage their debt with a little discipline and a lot of budgeting while managing to live comfortably.

Before paying off loans, students should have a basic understanding of the terms of their loan. Most financial aid offices at universities offer a basic orientation as a part of the exit interview given to students explaining their rights and responsibilities of paying loans. Understanding the type of loan that was borrowed can better prepare the student to budget. Not only does the student receive information regarding the principal to be paid, but they will also be given information explaining the interest rate and the terms associated with this rate. This information is very important because it determines the overall monthly payment.

In addition to getting information regarding the loan, students are given information related to the various loan payment plans and loan forgiveness programs. For students who have employment but whose salaries are not quite high enough, some loan programs offer graduated payment plans that begin payments at a certain amount, but as the student earns more money, the payments are increased over time. Another way that students can offset student debt is through forgiveness programs. For example, many inner-city school districts offer educators coming into the profession the opportunity to pay off their student debt while working in an area that needs highly qualified teachers for a certain number of years.

The one factor that students should remember is that they do not want to ever default on their student loan because this does affect their credit. A graduate who is struggling financially has two options. The first option is to apply for a forbearance, and this forbearance allows the graduate to delay making payments for up to a year. However, while the payments are on hold, interest still accrues. The second option is to apply for a deferment; this is similar to a forbearance, except that during a deferment, interest is not accrued. The person, conversely, must provide documentation that meets one of the conditions ranging from financial to medical hardships. Different loan programs have varying rules and regulations, so it is important that when going through the exit interview, students ask questions regarding repaying the loan.

Recent graduates trying to gain control of their student debt should try to live like they are still in college. If possible, they should either live with their parents or share an apartment with friends to reduce their monthly expenses. Instead of buying expensive clothes for work, consider purchasing a few pieces that can be mixed and matched at first, and then overtime, budget for an outfit each month until your professional wardrobe is complete. Also, the temptation to eat out every night can wear holes in a wallet. Instead of nightly take-outs, try cooking food and eating out for special occasions. For entertainment, most municipalities have free events that people can enjoy, so take advantage of these events while saving going to the movies or eating out for special occasions. With all of the money that is saved, graduates can take the extra to double up on payments to pay off the debt quickly.

The wonderful thing about education today is that it has become accessible to almost anyone. Anyone with a desire to get a degree from an accredited institution in this country can go to school to pursue a degree, and prospective students no longer have to juggle going to school at night while trying to work full-time because many online programs, such as the one offered at the University of Alabama (UAB Online), will allow students to earn money while getting an education. The cost of this education almost dictates that students are in heavy debt, but this debt should not deter one from completing a degree program.

Students have many options in how they choose to repay a loan. With discipline and planning, students just graduating from school can find their way out of the quagmire in which student debt seems to trap many. Students, at any time in their college career, can seek the guidance of financial aid offices and counselors to prepare themselves for their transition from college student to full-time employee. This, in combination with budgeting, can give anyone struggling with managing student debt the opportunity to be debt-free in a matter of years.

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