Ad Code

How to Minimize Student Loan Debt in 10 steps

Students should choose a college wisely and learn about loans before borrowing.


how to Minimize Student Loan Debt in 10 steps

Learn to borrow wisely for college.

The majority of students from the class of 2020 borrowed money to pay for college, according to U.S. News data: 64% of graduates took out student loans, with an average total student loan debt of nearly $30,000. Sometimes this type of debt can be a wise investment, experts say, but students should exhaust all other sources of funding and financial aid for college before turning to loans. They should also carefully consider how much is too much to borrow. These 10 tips can help students either avoid borrowing altogether or keep their student loan debt at a manageable level.

Enroll at a community college.

Where students choose to attend college can make a big difference. Attending a community college can give students time to work, save up money, earn credits and ultimately transfer to a four-year college to earn a degree for less. Tuition and fees at public two-year schools, for instance, cost $3,800 on average for in-state, in-district students in 2021-2022, according to data collected in the College Board's annual survey, Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid. Comparably, in-state annual tuition at a four-year college is nearly triple the price – $10,388 – while the cost of attending a private four-year college is even higher at $38,185 per year, according to U.S. News data.

Consider attending a no-loan school.

Schools may have unique policies around financial aid and student loans. Some colleges offer students who have household incomes under a certain threshold free tuition. Others are no-loan schools, meaning they have a policy of meeting the full financial need of students without relying on student loans. Two examples of these are Columbia University in New York and the University of Chicago in Illinois.

Estimate college costs.

Whether a student attends a community college or a four-year college, tuition is only the tip of the iceberg for expenses. Students should also factor in books, housing, meals and transportation. A good way to see the net price of a college, which is an estimate of the amount students will actually pay after financial aid is factored in, is to use a net price calculator. Karen McCarthy, vice president of public policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, recommends students use the U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator tool, which includes financial aid information like the average amount of aid offered. "You go to the College Navigator, you enter the school name and all the information comes up, versus going to each school's website and trying to find their financial information," McCarthy says.

Maximize other funding sources.

Once students calculate their total costs, they can figure out how to cover their expenses. Grants, scholarships and college savings plans should be used before student loans come into play, experts say. To qualify for financial aid, students must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Despite this, FAFSA completion rates have declined over the last two years, according to the annual Sallie Mae/Ipsos survey, How America Pays for College. "Families are usually skipping it because they think they won't qualify for aid," says Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesperson. "The reality is just about every family is going to qualify for something when completing the FAFSA. The last thing you want to do as a family is leave free money on the table when it comes to paying for college."

Start a side hustle or get a part-time job.

To offset costs and minimize borrowing, every cent put toward paying for college helps. Some students and recent graduates have taken to platforms like YouTube and TikTok to earn an income that can be put toward college tuition or, down the road, pay off student loans. Of course, traditional part-time jobs are also an option for students who are able to balance work with classes. Some companies, like many fast food restaurants, offer tuition assistance, so employees are reimbursed for the cost of classes. Depending on the employer, reimbursement may be limited to a certain amount.

Limit living expenses.

Colleges set tuition and fees, so it should be easy to budget for those costs. Housing, meals and entertainment expenses are another story. The average estimated budget for full-time undergraduate students in 2021-2022 – which included tuition, housing, books, transportation and other personal expenses – ranged from $18,830 per year at public two-year colleges to $55,800 at private nonprofit schools, according to the College Board's survey. It may be tempting to live in an expensive off-campus apartment or eat out every night, but students hoping to avoid or minimize student loans should be frugal whenever possible, experts say.

Borrow only the amount needed.

Student loans aren't free money. The more you borrow, the longer it will take to pay off your debt. Before signing on the dotted line, consider declining any excess loans. "Think about what happens after college in terms of how much debt you're willing to carry, what aspirations you have and really what's next," Castellano says. "Because the last thing you want to do is leave college and feel like now you've got debt that is unmanageable." Borrowers can use the National Student Loan Data System to stay on top of all their federal loans, including outstanding interest.

Understand the payments.

At some point, student loans need to be repaid – though repayments, interest and collections on most federal student loans have been paused since March 2020. Students should be clear not only on what the repayment terms are, but on how much they will need to pay back. The U.S. Department of Education's repayment calculator gives an estimate of monthly payments for federal loans under various repayment plans.

Know your salary expectations.

Once students have a sense of their estimated payments, they should also estimate their earnings after graduation to determine what's affordable. Students should aim to owe less than their potential starting salary to reduce their financial burden later on, experts say. Consider which majors have the highest starting salaries, and use resources like PayScale or the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's labor market outcomes interactive tool to learn more about salaries for various fields of work.

Evaluate student loan options.

"It's usually recommended that a borrower take out all the federal loans they can first before they go to private" due to their repayment assistance options, says Jan Miller, president of Miller Student Loan Consulting, LLC. If federal student loans are insufficient or unavailable, evaluate private loan offerings, keeping in mind interest rates and repayment terms may be higher.


See Also

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs by States

What is Student Loan Forgiveness Program & how it works

Post a Comment