Millennials tend to get a bad rap on the money management front, and they're certainly not strangers to racking up debt. But while you'd think younger Americans are in the hole as a result of credit card abuse, a large chunk of those struggling with debt can chalk it up to getting an education. In fact, student debt accounts for the largest share of millennial debt out there, according to new data from LendingTree.
If you're living under a dark cloud of student debt like so many of your peers, you should know that there are steps you can take to ease the burden. Here are just a few.
1. Explore your repayment options
If you took out federal loans to pay for college, here's some good news: Depending on your circumstances, you might qualify for an income-based repayment plan that lowers your monthly loan payments, thereby making it easier to keep up with them.
Usually, when you finance your education with federal loans, you're put on a standard 10-year repayment plan, and your monthly payments are a function of the amount you borrowed and your loan's interest rate. With an income-based repayment plan, your monthly payments are adjusted based on what you're deemed to be able to afford. These plans are a good option for giving yourself more breathing room in your budget, but keep in mind that they're not a perfect solution, either. That's because they'll generally extend the life of your loan substantially so that rather than paying it off over 10 years, it will take you 20 or longer.
Still, it's a better option than defaulting on your student debt and having your credit score take a massive hit in the process. And while you will drag out that debt for longer, freeing up some monthly income might allow you to make other smart financial moves, like building an emergency fund sooner rather than later.
If you took out private loans for college, there's a good chance you're racking up a small fortune in interest for each month you carry that balance. Unlike federal loans, which must conform to preestablished interest rates, private lenders are free to charge exorbitant rates, so if that's what you're looking at, it pays to explore your options for refinancing.
When you refinance a loan, whether it's of the student or mortgage variety, you're essentially swapping one loan for a new one. The catch, however, is that your new loan will come with a lower interest rate, thereby saving you money on your monthly payments. In fact, you can look into refinancing even if you took out federal loans. Just make sure your credit score is in a reasonably good place before taking that step. If it isn't, you may not snag such a discounted rate after all.
3. Defer your loan payments
If lowering your monthly payments won't be enough to help you keep your finances intact in the face of student debt, then there's another option you might consider: deferment. If you took out federal loans, you may have the option to hit pause on your monthly payments from anywhere from six months to three years, depending on your circumstances.
As is the case with signing up for an income-based repayment plan, this isn't a perfect solution. That's because interest will continue to accrue on your loans while you're in your deferment period, thereby costing you more money at the end of the day. But if you're in a place where you need to get back on your feet financially, it's a reasonable option to consider.
While millennials frequently get pegged as reckless, avocado toast-gobbling brats who couldn't save a dime if their lives depended on it, the fact of the matter is that many start off adulthood at a disadvantage because they're forced to cover the cost of college themselves. If that sounds like you, know that you do have some options for making your loan payments more manageable. And you owe it to yourself to do just that.