Studies have shown that one in five students with college debt owe more than $50,000. Some student loan debt is in excess of $100,000. Debt increases when students change majors or transfer to other colleges. The crushing amounts owed after pursuing graduate degrees make students wonder if they’ll ever be able to manage their student loan debt. Here are some steps for paying it off.

Understand Your Loans

When you’re facing a mountain of college debt, the first step is to break it down into portions you can understand. Find out exactly whom you owe and how much you’ll have to pay each lender. Sometimes loan consolidation allows you to find lower interest rates and pay your loan off faster. Look for a fixed low interest rate and read all the fine print.

Some loans are income-based, meaning that if you’re unemployed, you might be able to get a deferment. When you make less, you pay less, but you’ll also be charged more when you find a better job. Be sure to budget for when payments increase.

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Find Out About Your Grace Period

A grace period is how long you have after you graduate or leave school before you have to start paying on student debt. Stafford loans give you six months and Perkins loans allow you nine. If you have a private student loan, it varies by lender.

Even if you have six or nine months after college, start paying as soon as you can. Building loan repayment into your budget when you start making your first professional income starts you off on the right foot.

Make a Plan to Pay

Mark your first payment date on your calendar. Find out if your lender will accept automatic payments and set up direct deposit so you don’t incur any late fees. Ask about borrower benefits, since some lenders charge less interest if you set up automatic payments. Find out if there are any prepayment penalties that regulate what you can pay off and when.

Find the loan with the highest interest rate and pay it off first. Private loans typically have higher rates than federal loans, so check yours to see how much that interest is costing you. Once you’ve repaid the loans with the highest rates, start funneling the same monthly amount into your other student loans to get rid of them faster.

Research Payment Options

Most federal loans are based on a 10-year repayment plan. If you can’t meet the requirements, don’t panic. It’s possible to make your repayment period stretch out longer, but you’ll pay more interest.

Some income-based repayment plans are centered on a percentage of your yearly income and offer loan forgiveness when debt remains after 25 years. Deferments and forbearance also might allow you to put off payment, but interest continues to accrue at a steady rate.

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