Money Monday: Taking a Stab at College Debt

Four ways to get a handle on student loans before they become a long-term financial burden.

Posted: 07/15/2013 08:00 AM EDT

College can be a debt-laden experience for all students, but it can be particularly troublesome for African-American students. According to the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, high debt levels are more prevalent among Black bachelor’s degree recipients than among those from other racial and ethnic groups.

In Who Borrows Most? Bachelor’s Degree Recipients With High Levels of Student Debt, the College Board found that 27 percent of Black bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed $30,500 or more to fund their college educations, compared to 16 percent of whites, 14 percent of Latinos and 9 percent of Asians.

The organization also found that:

—    Independent students within each racial/ethnic group are more likely than dependent students to have high debt.

—    White and Black dependent students from families with incomes of $100,000 or more are less likely than those from lower-income families to have high debt.

—    High debt is slightly more common among those from families with incomes between $30,000 and $59,999 than among those with higher and lower incomes.

—    Differences among income groups are smaller for Hispanic/Latino and Asian bachelor’s degree recipients.

With student loan debt in the U.S. currently exceeding $1 trillion, and with borrowers of color disproportionately affected by this type of debt, now is a good time to put some strategies into effect that will help lessen the impact of student loans post-graduation. Here are four strategies that will help you achieve that goal:

1)    Seek out other financial sources before signing your loan papers. If it looks like a large portion of your college degree is going to be funded with loans, take a step back and explore some less obvious financing options. The income from a full-time summer job, a monetary gift from a grandparent, or an option like Upromise (where a portion of every participant’s spending goes towards a student’s education) can help you raise some funds and offset your total college tab.

2)    Don’t use loans to cover non-educational expenses. It’s all too tempting to accept the total loan package that Uncle Sam is offering and then use any leftover money to line your own pocket. Avoid this trap by either only taking the specific loan amount that you need for the coming school year or semester, or by setting aside any surplus to cover some of your next bill. 

3)    Use loan and debt calculators to get the complete picture of your college debt load. Use FinAid’s loan payment calculator to compute an estimate of the size of your monthly loan payments and the annual salary required to manage them without too much financial difficulty, or CNN Money’s How Much Will You Pay? to determine how quickly you'll pay off your student loans.  

4)    After graduation, look into financing your student loan debt. According to the Center for American Progress, refinancing student loans would save borrowers roughly $14 billion in 2013 alone, creating a boost of about $21 billion for the nation’s economy. For borrowers of color who face higher interest rates from private loans, refinancing is a vital option to reducing their student debt. If a student with $30,000 of student-loan debt, for example, were allowed to refinance his or her loan and reduce the interest rate on it from 6.8 percent to 3 percent for repayment over 10 years, he or she could save $6,667.05 in interest payments over the life of the loan.

High student loan debt can mean more than just a 5-figure amount that must be paid off after graduation. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 13 percent of the students default within three years as a result of their long-term failure to make payments.

Since borrowers of color tend to take out more money at a higher interest rate to finance their college expenses and have higher rates of unemployment, CAP says, “It is no surprise that students of color have higher default rates as well.” By using the tips outlined in this article you’ll be able to get on the right track with controlling and managing your student loan debt both before and after college.

This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. The accuracy and completeness of this information is not guaranteed and is subject to change. Since each individual’s financial situation is unique, you need to review your financial objectives to determine which approaches might work best for you.

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(Photo: GettyImages)

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