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Winning Strategies For Tackling Student Loan Debt

If you've recently finished school and are currently in your six-month grace period before you have to make your first student loan payment, you may have questions about the best way to tackle your debt. Yes, you can simply make monthly payments on your various loans, but with a little planning, you can save thousands of dollars, minimize your monthly payments, and improve your credit score in the process.

Currently the average undergraduate finishes school with over $16,000 in student loans. For many students, this hefty amount owed is piled onto existing debt such as car payments and credit card bills. So, if you feel overwhelmed with what you owe, you are not alone. Rest assured, however, you can tackle your debt successfully and effectively by taking a proactive approach.

First, remember that your student loan debt is probably at an interest rate much lower than your credit card debt. The highest interest rate on student loans is 8.25 percent versus the exorbitant rates issued by credit card companies. With rates as high as 30 percent, concentrating on paying down credit card debt should be a primary focus.

If you have no other liabilities other than student loans, congratulations! But, you'll still need to be strategic about how you will pay back what you owe. Most standard student loans have a ten-year payback period and a monthly payment schedule, but there are many more cost-effective options that are worth exploring.

Before you make that first payment, call your lenders and verify what the monthly amounts will be. If you simply cannot afford to make the payments, ask about alternative payment options. Most lenders offer graduated payment plans where monthly payments start about 50 percent below the standard amount and gradually increase over time. As well, you can frequently extend your repayment period up to 30 years. However, you will need to be careful about paying so little per month that you are only paying interest and no principal.

Another very effective way to decrease what you are paying each month is to consolidate your federal student loans. This is a great option for borrowers who have several loans at different interest rates. By consolidating these loans, you can lock in a fixed interest rate, lower your payments, and extend your repayment period. Also, consolidation can be quite beneficial for improving your credit because existing loans will be paid off before a new fast tax refund loan is issued. You can ask your current lenders if they offer consolidation plans. If not, there are many lenders who can help you with your loans, and you are able to consolidate during your grace period. Make sure to ask about interest rate discounts that are usually offered for signing up for auto-pay and for having extended on-time payments. Most borrowers who consolidate their loans will save a substantial amount on their monthly payments, up to 60 percent each billing cycle. However, remember that the interest rate on consolidated student loans changes every year on July 1st. Thus, if you are considering consolidation, make sure to submit your application well before this date. Interest rates will be going up more than 2 percent this year, so don't delay.

If you are approaching the end of your grace period, and you are currently unemployed, disabled, or planning to return to school, you can defer payment on your loans for up to three years. The government will pay the interest on your subsidized loans during this time.

Like deferment, forbearance is another option to delay repayment for as long as three years. You can apply for forbearance by proving financial hardship to your lender. However unlike deferment, you will be responsible for accrued interest during the forbearance period.

No matter how you go about repaying student loan debt, by all means, do not default on these loans. There are serious consequences for not paying back what you have borrowed. Defaulted loans will appear negatively on your credit report, and this may prevent you from qualifying for other types of credit such as mortgages and car loans. As well, defaulted loans will be turned over to a collection agency, and you could possibly be sued. You may even have your wages garnished or your income tax refunds intercepted. And, of course, you will not be able to apply for additional student loans until you either repay the loans in full or make payment arrangements with the lender.

Yes, paying your loan payments is the best way to prevent defaulting on your student loans. Also, make sure to notify your lender with any changes that affect your loans such as name changes or new addresses and phone numbers. If you do experience financial difficulty, don't delay in asking for forbearance, deferment, or an alternative payment plan. Once you have defaulted, you won't be able to qualify for these options. And, don't forget to keep careful records of your loans. Save promissory notes, cancelled checks, and letters that you send to your lender.

Tackling your student loans is possible, and with a little financial know-how and advanced planning, you can customize a payment plan that will work with your financial status. So, go ahead and get started! The sooner you take control of your debt, the sooner you will pay it off.

Mike OBrien is the owner of This is a quality web site with a choice of student loan consolidation and general debt consolidation information and the best way to deal with it.

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