Q. How do I manage massive student loan debt ($200,000) on a modest income?
A. To manage large student loan debt on a modest income, pick the right repayment program – one that is affordable, given your present economic circumstances.
If you have federal student loans, there are four different loan repayment plans you can select:
- the standard loan repayment plan, where you pay a minimum of $50 a month and your payments last for as long as 10 years;
- the extended repayment option, which also requires at least $50 monthly payments, but which lets you pay off your educational loans over 12 to 30 years;
- the graduated repayment program, which lasts from 12 to 30 years and allows you to pay as little as $25 a month; and
- the income-contingent repayment plan, which permits you to make payments as low as $5 a month and which lasts for 25 years.
Tip: Don’t make the mistake of just picking the option that lets you pay the smallest monthly payment. That may help your cash flow in the short term, but in the long run you’ll pay thousands more in finance charges.
The best strategy: pay as much as you can possibly afford on your student loans. If you can’t swing the standard repayment plan (with a 10-year payoff), and you have to choose a longer repayment plan, then at least make extra payments on top of your normal monthly payment.
Next Step: Even if you can only afford to throw an additional $25 or $50 a month on top of your regular payment, every little bit will help. Sending in “extra” payments is a short-term financial challenge, but if you go ahead and bite the bullet now, making sacrifices in the near-run, you’ll be much better off in the long haul.