CNN reports that 70 percent of college graduates leave school with debt in addition to degrees. In the best of circumstances, repaying student loans after college can take years. In the worst, monthly loan payments prove financially crippling. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lighten your student debt load while you’re still in college.
1. Exhaust other forms of financial aid.
Each year, look for additional grants and scholarships, and tell your college financial aid office about any changes in your family’s income. In some cases, a reduction in overall family income could result in increased non-loan aid.
2. Skip the summer vacation.
If you go to school full-time each summer, you can rack up enough credits to graduate a whole year early, reducing the amount of loan money you’re stuck repaying post-graduation. Summer school classes often cost less than regular courses. If you really can’t deal with full-time summer school, consider taking just a course or two each summer. By doing so, you can accumulate enough credits to finish your degree a semester early and lessen your debt burden.
3. Pay your loan interest.
If you’ve taken on private student loans, you may be required to make small monthly payments or interest only payments while you’re still enrolled in school. Making payments now saves you money in the long run and enables you to reduce your debt burden after college. Use the money you earn during summer vacation, from an internship program or while working part-time during the school year to pay your loan interest as you’re learning.
4. Get help with financial planning.
Don’t wait until you’ve graduated from college to think about financial planning. Seek the help of a financial planning professional or take personal finance courses to not only learn how to budget and save, but also plan for post-graduate expenses. A financial planner can help you improve your financial literacy and ensure a brighter future.
5. Build your savings.
Many student loans provide a six-month grace period after graduation, which means you won’t have to start repaying right away. However, many new graduates find it difficult to secure jobs in this time period, putting them at risk for defaulting on their loans. Saving even 10 percent of each paycheck can give you a small fund to draw from if finding a job takes longer than you’d like. Use an online or mobile banking app to keep track of the money you spend and the amount you save.
The time to think about student loan debt is now. Waiting until graduation may leave you woefully unprepared and scrambling to stay on top of your payments. Good financial planning now can ensure a more solid financial future.