When I graduated with a degree in Journalism, I was thrilled to be done with college, start working, and move on. Then, a few months down the road, I got my first student loan bill. And suddenly all of the loans I took out over the past several years for tuition and living expenses were very real.
I think it’s difficult as a young college student to fully grasp the amount of debt you’ll have when you’re done with school. That’s why it’s vital to explore scholarships and financial aid before even walking through the door and do your best to avoid student loans (more on that in a future article).
But for those of us who may have not been so budget conscious before entering college, here are six ways to deal with the overwhelming debt.
How to Deal with Student Loan Debt
- Understand what you owe. There’s a great chance you may have different lenders and different types of loans. The first step to managing the debt is knowing how much exactly you have. Make a list of every loan you have including how much you owe and the interest each has. This will allow you to focus on the loans that have the highest interest rate. You have to know what debt you have before you can know how to deal with it accordingly.
- Figure out your best payment plan. Many lenders offer a variety of payment plans  including income-based. Explore each option to see what works best for you. If you’re having trouble making payments at all, speak to your lender. There’s a chance you can qualify for a deferment if you’re unemployed or experiencing other economic hardships. A deferment simply means that you don’t have to make a payment for a certain amount of time. The loans do not decrease and interest still accrues.
- Explore Student Loan Forgiveness. Many volunteer organizations offer partial loan forgiveness  such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Full-time teachers that work in low-income areas or areas with limited teachers, may be eligible for partial repayment. If you’re in the medical or law field, there’s a chance you can also qualify as well. For lawyers, if you serve in public interest or non-profit positions, you may be able to receive some kind of assistance. For nurses and doctors, there are many programs available in which you must agree to work in remote or low-income areas that need more medical professionals. For more information on student loan forgiveness, visit the official website  for a list of resources and a full explanation.
- Sign up for Upromise. Upromise  is a free program where you earn money in various ways towards your student loans. Once you create an account, you can register all of your credit cards and grocery rewards cards. When you make a qualifying purchase, a percentage goes towards paying down your loan. The same is true for certain restaurants and online shopping through their site. They also have a Upromise credit card  where you’ll receive money towards your loan.
- Talk to your lender. Call and speak to your lender’s customer service. Sallie Mae offers a percentage off your monthly interest rate if you sign up for automatic payments. See what they’re willing to do to help. Ask if you can lower your payments or interest rate to make it more manageable.
- Move home for a little while. The thought of moving back home with parents  after college may sound excruciating, but it may be worth it. If you have a good relationship with your parents and if it is an option to live with them, try it. The money you’re putting towards rent, utilities, cable, phone, internet, and other housing costs can go towards paying your student loans faster.
- Make a plan and stick to it. The best way to deal with your student loan debt is just to face it head on. Do not ignore it or get upset about it. Student loan debt is very common, and an unfortunate cost of getting an education and degree.
Accept your loans as part of your plan. If you’re like me and most other students, you probably didn’t have a lot of money in college and had to do without and live modestly. I understand how once you start working you’d want to change that , but the best way to get out of debt is to keep living that way. Don’t go out and buy a new car, move to an expensive area, and start taking costly vacations. Make a realistic budget, and follow it the best you can.