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5 Tips to Help 20-Somethings Pay Off Their Student Loan Debt

If you're in your 20s, you're probably going through one of the toughest financial periods of your life -- especially if you went to college. Increasingly, recent grads have had to prioritize paying off student loan debt over other important milestones, according to a recent survey from the American Institute of CPAs. Among those responding, 40 percent have put off a car purchase, 29 percent have delayed buying a home, and 15 percent say that they've even pushed back marriage plans because of their debt.

It's a tough balancing act -- starting a life, and perhaps a family, while at the same time paying back heavy student loans in one of the most challenging job environments in decades. Yet many young adults are finishing their undergraduate studies only to go on to pursue graduate and professional degrees, generally adding to debt levels.

Let's take a look at five things you can do to balance all the competing demands on your money and still find a solution for your educational debt.

1. Know What You Owe -- and How You Owe It

There are many kinds of student loans, and you may have taken out more than one. You need to know the terms under which you'll have to pay your loans back. Some loans offer payment deferment options or interest subsidies, while others start the finance-charge clock running as soon as you graduate or require immediate monthly payments. Ideally, you want to prioritize high-interest-rate loans first, which typically means focusing on private loans ahead of government loans. But you should also take grace periods into account, as they aren't all the same length of time. Contact your lenders to find out all the important facts as well as to confirm your mailing address so that you won't be out of touch and end up late on payments.

2. Find Out About Forgiveness

One great way of handling student loan debt is to have it written off once and for all. Thanks to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and similar options, many borrowers can have student loan debt forgiven if they qualify by working in certain professions, including teaching, public-interest law or medicine, or the military. Volunteers for AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps also can receive funds earmarked to pay off student debt, or have loans partially cancelled. Check out this list of resources for more information.

3. Get Your Money's Worth From Graduate School

If you're considering a graduate degree, be sure to closely consider the extra costs of years of additional education and compare them against the potential benefits. In many cases, graduate degrees can be far more expensive than undergraduate tuition, yet the job prospects for graduates are still far from certain.

For instance, the legal profession is expected to see a drop of 7.3 percent in employment this year, according to hiring solutions and research group Meanwhile, according to one survey, almost 90 percent of law students borrow an average $80,000 to pay for their law degrees, before joining a glutted job market with an average starting salary of just $62,000 a year.

So be smart about whether to go to grad school and which school you choose.

4. Be Careful With Consolidation

Consolidating your loans can reduce your monthly payment, which is attractive to cash-strapped 20-somethings. But it also extends the period over which you're repaying those loans, potentially leaving you saddled with debt for decades. That might sound like a reasonable trade-off now, but one reason that so many borrowers have put off car and home purchases is that their credit isn't strong enough to handle car loans or mortgage debt. Also, watch carefully to make sure you preserve options like deferment or forbearance on loans after you consolidate in order to avoid losing some repayment flexibility.

5. Help Your Own Kids Out Early

If you've started a family, get an early start on helping your children avoid the troubles you might have suffered by saving for their college education while they are young. With tax-advantaged 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, you can put money aside and have it grow tax-free for use on educational expenses. The earlier you start, the more time you'll have to watch that money grow, allowing even modest savings to turn into meaningful resources that will help them avoid taking out so much student loan debt of their own.

You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google+.

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October 15 2014 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You eliminate your student loan debt the same way you eliminate any other debt from your life - start spending less money. I would start looking at insurance costs (car) as they are a real killer in this country. You don't need an expensive policy from a place like GEICO, those guys charge way too much and most likely you will just be supporting their TV ads. Get a basic policy for around $25/month (check 4AutoInsuranceQuote) and then pocket the rest... our even better - use it to pay off your student loan debt.... or whatever other debt u have.

March 08 2014 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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October 30 2013 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's some tips. Join the military and earn the GI bill to help pay for the college cost. Of course, joining the military and learning a usable skill may make it so you don't have to go to college to earn a degree that makes you over-qualified to work at McD's. Get a part time job during college to help with the expenses. If you can't go to college AND hold a part time job maybe you should not be going to college. When you graduate you DO NOT need to buy a new car. You do not need cable TV, you need to be out working and not watching TV. And the last thing you need to realize is you need a skill and not a degree. Capable of being able to make something is better than the college degree that says you should be able design something.

August 01 2013 at 8:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cost me About $10,000 In Student Loans to Get my Degree over 40 yrs ago
That equal to about $26,000 in todays $ due to Inflation

It was the #1 Bill to Pay adn Paid it off by
-Moving Back Home for 2 yrs
-Working and paying off that $10k Debt before buying Much anything else
-I even Bought my Parents Older Car to get me by
-Once Debt was paid? Saved up for another Yr to move out on my own
-Bought a Condo..
-Then Bought another Condo
-after 5 yrs? Owned 3 Condo's and Rented 2 and Lived in 1

Pay off your bills 1st, then you can go Play

July 31 2013 at 8:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My first advice would have been to NOT vote for Obama for a 2nd term - maybe then they could get jobs to pay back their loans..

July 31 2013 at 3:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to txbadonetoo's comment

LOL- It's a RACE issue..
If Someone told you to vote for them and they will Give you More Welfare and $ vs the other said you had to go work 60 hrs wk to make the same?

Which would you do?

July 31 2013 at 8:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When repaying loans, if you are tempted to pay more than the monthly payment amount as a way to get ahead on your loan payments, make sure any amount you pay that is greater than the amount due goes toward principal. For months I was paying over the amount due (e.g., $1,000 not $850) in hopes of reducing the principal on which interest was being charged, only to find out that the lender was applying the extra to interest, not to my loan principal.

July 30 2013 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rexxie1's comment

You are either mistaken or haven't hired the right lawyer. Any excess has to be applied to the principal.

August 01 2013 at 8:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A part time job while in college is a great idea and can be quite educational also.

July 30 2013 at 2:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to desparado6's comment

Then you better go to a Very Small College!
Ave Universities? 10,000 kids? in a Small Town?
Better off sitting on a Corner with a Coffee Can and your Dog and Begging!

That's what we did by all the Fraternitiy and Sorority Houses..

We made alot more than working some Minor Jobs that were available

Then Worked at a Garage to Fix Cars.. and after 4 yrs? Bought the Garage and Started a Franchise of them.. Now own 45 Garages around the Country..

Who the Hell Needed College?
We hire Nerds to do the Books, while We Do A real Mans Job!

July 31 2013 at 8:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply