Haley Baird Riemer
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We are currently living through a student debt crisis. With astronomical tuition rates and other expenses constantly on the rise, college just keeps getting more inaccessible for the majority of Americans, causing many students to take out students loans. Student debt is the only kind of debt that is not generally dischargeable in bankruptcy and keeps people in debt decades past their college years. It continues to hinder the ability of young people to support themselves and start their careers after college. 

Over half of students who go to college have to take on some form of debt to do so, and the numbers are only getting higher. The level of the financial burden student loans pose has gotten to be a problem, and we are now starting to demand solutions. It's become a hot topic in politics in recent years as a result, with radical loan forgiveness plans like Elizabeth Warren's gaining popularity among young people struggling under the weight of enormous debt before they've even started their post-grad lives. Here are the facts about student debt: how much people have, what the restrictions are and how to deal with a system that is stacked against you. 

Facts about student debt.

  • You can refinance your federal student loans, saving you money each month and driving the eventual total cost down.
  • National student debt totals have doubled over the last decade, reaching a record high this year.
  • If you don't graduate, you still have to pay your loans back. 
  • A lot of people default on their student loans. The number of borrowers in default of their student loans is at an all-time high.
  • Women owe the majority of student loan debt.
  • Over 3 million senior citizens in the U.S. are still paying off student loans.
  • Unlike other forms of debt, student debt is not typically dischargeable when declaring bankruptcy.
  • Student debt burdens have been linked to delayed life milestones by current generations — such as having kids and buying homes, two things that are not realistically affordable to the average American anymore. 
  • Most student loans have a six-month grace period between when you graduate and when you have to start paying them back. 

How much is the average debt for college students?

Student debt totals reached a record high in 2019, as reported by CNBC, at over $1.5 trillion, marking a 33 percent increase over the last five years. The current average is just above $37,000, according to the Wall Street Journal. Depending on the school, program, and your financial situation, though, you could come out of school owing much more.

The majority of people who borrow student loans continue paying them back well after college, with the majority of outstanding debt owed by people between the ages of 35 and 49. Given the fact that college is only getting more expensive now, those numbers indicate a crisis in the way student debt accumulates with interest in ways that make it more and more difficult to pay off, even later in life. 

Tips for repaying your debt.

Repaying your total student debt can be a daunting task, and while it's a rigged system, getting out of debt is far from impossible. Here are some tips for repaying your student loans.

Refinance your loans (if it makes sense for you).

You can refinance your federal loans into private loans to drive down your interest rates and save you money over time, depending on your situation. This path won't make sense for everyone, but in some cases, it's an option. Do the research to find out if it's the right path for you. It's worth noting that private lenders offer benefits mostly to people with high credit, so keep that in mind when considering this option.

Make full use of the grace period.

As mentioned, most student loans allow for a grace period between when you graduate and when you have to start paying back your loans. Take these six months to research payment plans, resources and tips for repaying your loans so you can get a head start on the process, find help and relieve some of the stress of having monthly payments looming over you. 

Hire a financial advisor.

You don't have to tackle your student debt alone. It can be daunting to face paying back a large sum of money — that you agreed to pay when you were 18 years old — right as you're beginning your career and life as a postgraduate. A financial advisor can help you know your options, create a plan and follow through with it. 

Set up automatic payments.

To avoid late fees, consider setting up automatic payments that take the money for your loans out of your account every month without any extra effort from you. You can even set aside the money in a separate bank account and set up payments from there, so you don't have to worry about keeping track of the money or being tempted to spend it, even accidentally, before your payment is due. 

Budget, budget, budget.

Budgeting goes a long way, especially when you're brand-new to the workforce and post-grad expenses and have the added complication of paying monthly sums of money for something that's in your past. Building a budget around your student loans will help you prioritize them when you have many other things to juggle as well. 

Consolidate your debt.

You have the option to consolidate your federal loan debt within the six month grace period. This puts all of your debt into one payment plan, which doesn't save you money but does simplify things considerably. 

Resources.

You do have resources to turn to when making a plan for paying off your student loans. There are many different paths you can take, depending on your type of loan and financial situation. 

Use a handy calculator for paying back your loans.

Use a student debt calculator to get personalized resources and tips for how to go about paying off your debt. See how your debt compares to the average American, and what your options are for paying it back. 

Know the stats.

Knowing the statistics about student debt is a good idea when you're setting out to find a payment plan and researching more about student loans and your options for paying off debt. Knowledge is a resource in itself, so it's good to know what you're up against. 

Figure out your type of student loan.

The type of student loan you have affects your options and your payment plan. Know exactly what kind of loan you have and the details and restrictions that apply to it. 

Make use of the National Student Loan Data System.

The National Student Loan Data System is a resource to save to your Bookmarks Bar. On the website, you can find information about your current status, advice and frequently asked questions about student loan debt and  your payment status and peruse a glossary of terms commonly used around student debt conversations. 

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