How to Tackle Your Student Loan Debt

Tips to help manage your loans and pay them off for good.

Dollars and Cents - Imagine that you have just been accepted to the college of your dreams. Now, reality sets in: How are you going to pay for it? As there is an estimated $1 trillion of outstanding student loan debt in the United States, it is important to understand how choosing the right loan option today can either make or break your financial future. Keep reading for a breakdown of how to responsibly manage your debt. ? Britt Middleton

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Dollars and Cents - Imagine that you have just been accepted to the college of your dreams. Now, reality sets in: How are you going to pay for it? As there is an estimated $1 trillion of outstanding student loan debt in the United States, it is important to understand how choosing the right loan option today can either make or break your financial future. Keep reading for a breakdown of how to responsibly manage your debt. — Britt Middleton

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Understanding Your Loan - Experts say it is crucial to understand the terms of your loan so you can manage your payments or request deferment, if needed. As an example, federal Stafford loans allow a six-month grace period before your first payment is due. The terms for federal and private loans vary, so it is important to check with your loan provider for details. (Photo: Ruslan Dashinsky/Getty Images)

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Payment Options - There are a number of payment plans available to meet your personal needs. The amount you will pay and the length of time for repayment will vary depending on which plan you choose. Try to avoid missing payments as this can make it more difficult to secure credit in the future. Visit studentaid.ed.gov to learn more about repayment plans available. (Photo: Neil Overy/ Getty Images)

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Pay a Little More - If you can, experts suggest paying a little more than your minimum payment each month or make extra payments throughout the year. This will help bring down the overall amount borrowed. If making extra payments, make sure to tell your lender to apply it toward your principal (the total amount borrowed plus any interest applicable). (Photo: Tomitheos Linardos/Getty Images)

Improve Higher Education for Minorities  - The president supports expanding teacher education programs at historically black colleges and universities and continuing the $800 million in programs supporting these institutions. Funding for existing programs, GEAR UP and TRIO, will provide support services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them complete a postsecondary education. (Photo: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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Deferment - A deferment is a period during which repayment of the principal and interest of your loan is temporarily delayed under certain circumstances, such as unemployment, part-time college enrollment or active duty military status. During a deferment, you do not make payments and the federal government may pay interest on your loan, depending on the type of loan you have. Click here to learn more about how to qualify. (Photo Gerald Herbert/AP Photo)

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Loan Consolidation - Do you have multiple federal student loans? Loan consolidation can streamline your payments into one bill and decrease monthly payments by giving you up to 30 years to repay. However, you may also lose any borrower benefits built in to the original loans. (Photo: Tetra Images/ Getty Images)

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Forbearance - If you can't make your monthly payments, but don't qualify for a deferment, your loan provider may grant you a forbearance, in which you may be able to stop or reduce monthly payments for up to 12 months. However, interest will continue to accrue on your subsidized and unsubsidized loans, ultimately extending your repayments and debt. (Photo: Fuse/ Getty Images)

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Forgiveness, Cancellation and Discharge - While you are obligated to repay your loans even if you don't complete your education, there are certain circumstances where your student loan debt can be forgiven, canceled or even discharged. For example, federal Direct Loans may be discharged if your school closes while you're enrolled and you do not complete your education because of the closure. Click here for a complete breakdown of qualifications. (Photo: Mike Brown/ Commercial Appeal /Landov)

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Bankruptcy - Discharging your student loan debt through filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection is a very difficult and lengthy process where you must prove to the bankruptcy court that repayment would cause undue hardship. Filing for bankruptcy can also have a big impact on your ability to obtain credit in the future. Click here to learn more about this option. (Photo: Steven Puetzer/Getty Images)

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Default - Experts say it is better to contact your lender immediately if you are having trouble making your on-time or at all payments rather than to stop making payments altogether. If you do this, you lose eligibility for additional federal aid and may face legal action from your lender, or be subject to wage garnishment from the federal government if you defaulted on a federal loan, among other penalties. Visit studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/default for more information about avoiding loan default. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Extending Income Based-Repayment - As part of his 2014 budget, President Obama proposed extending the income-based "Pay as You Earn" program, where borrowers with loans since October 2007 make payments equal to 10 percent of their income after taxes and living expenses. If on-time payments are made for 20 years, or 10 years if you work in the public or non-profit sector, the remaining balance is forgiven. (Photo: Comstock Images)

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Online Resources - For federal loans, the National Student Loan Data System is a helpful resource for details about grace periods and more information. To learn more about how to choose the right loan for you, visit studentaid.ed.gov/. (Photo: Nick Pandolfo/MCT /LANDOV)