When I was growing up, my parents told me that going to college was the ticket to the American Dream.
In a way, they were right. My college education was enriching, helped me to get the career I wanted, and introduced me to lifelong friends. Still, I would add a couple disclaimers to their statement.
First, the career you choose — and the salary it tends to pay — will have a huge influence on your access to that white picket fence. (Take it from a journalism major.) Second, it's difficult to get ahead when you're already deeply in student debt.
I was pretty lucky in that respect. I had scholarships and grants, and I worked full-time through college, keeping my debt load low. But I had plenty of friends who walked away from the same school with over $100,000 to repay.
Some didn't feel they could hold down a job while they were in school, so they financed all their expenses, including rent and meals. Many never applied for scholarships, or simply didn't receive any.
Others had parents who weren't willing or able to help with college costs, but had incomes high enough to exclude their children from certain grants and low-interest loans.
Whatever the circumstances, a lot of people are drowning in student loan debt. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States reported that the total outstanding balance of federal student loan debt had reached nearly $1.3 trillion.
According to an analysis by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of edvisors.com, 2015 college graduates will, on average, carry $35,051 in student debt. And, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, "Student loan debt is the only form of consumer debt that has grown since the peak of consumer debt in 2008."
That institution also notes that student loan debt isn't just a problem for the young. In data that dated to the fourth quarter of 2012, it ties some $322 billion in student loan debt to those under 30 years old; $321 billion to those ages 30 to 39; and $168 billion to those ages 40 to 49.
Unfortunately, for many, student loans are a necessary evil. We asked Jevita Rogers, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' director of student financial aid and employment, for some pointers on handling them. Her advice is summarized below.
For current students
• Rogers advises students to "remember your ABCs" — Always Borrow Conservatively. Borrow the amount you need to cover your expenses, and live humbly.
"[A] safe thought," she writes in an email to the Independent, "is that if you live like a lawyer while you are in law school, you will be living like a law student when you start repaying your student loans."
• Visit your financial aid office to get advice on how to best fund your education given your specific situation. These folks are trained and knowledgeable and can help you navigate what can be a confusing process. Those going to school in Colorado may also want to check out collegeincolorado.org for more information. And remember to apply for as many scholarships as you can.
For graduating students
• Still looking for a job? You can delay loan repayment by using a one-time grace period that's available after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment. Use that time to decide on a repayment plan. To check out the options, visit 1.usa.gov/1BBhqcd. (UCCS also has a presentation on the subject at bit.ly/1JjaVbk.)
• Remember that you're not tied to a repayment option forever. Use the federal loan servicer payment estimator to pick a realistic repayment program for your current salary. You can always up the payments later.
• If you're not sure what's going to work for you, discuss repayment plans with your loan servicer or your financial aid officer.
• Know how much you borrowed. At the National Student Loan Database (nslds.ed.gov), you can look up your entire federal loan history, figure out who is servicing your loans, and who is handling your repayments.
For graduates still paying off loans
• Keep your contact information up to date with your loan servicer.
• If you can't make your loan payment, call your servicer and ask about ways to postpone your payments for a limited amount of time. There are deferment and forbearance options available.
• Remember that you can change your payment if it's too high. There are lots of options available for repayment plans, including extended or graduated repayments and income-based repayments.
• Buried alive in debt? You may be able to get your loans forgiven. For instance, some teachers willing to work in Title I schools for five consecutive years can get loans forgiven, as can certain public servants who put in 10 consecutive years. To learn more, visit 1.usa.gov/1S3deWK.