Though student debt is often a necessary means to a degree, its impact can extend well beyond one's college years. These days, a growing number of would-be homeowners are delaying that milestone because of their outstanding debt, while many workers are putting off retirement savings because their loan payments monopolize too much of their income.
But a new report from AARP contains some even more disturbing news: A frightening 16% of borrowers claim that student debt has prevented or delayed them from getting the medical care they require. This holds true for 17% of indebted millennials, 16% of Gen Xers, and 9% of baby boomers.
If your student loans are putting you in a position in which you're forced to compromise your health, it's time to ease the burden. Here's how.
1. Apply for an income-based repayment plan
If you took out federal loans for college, you were most likely put on an automatic 10-year repayment plan. And while that's a good thing in theory, since it means not having that debt drag out, it can also put a strain on your budget. A better bet, therefore, might be to apply for an income-based repayment plan, in which your earnings dictate what you're on the hook for month after month.
Income-based repayment plans often do the trick in lowering monthly loan payments, thereby freeing up cash for other things, like medical care. Of course, the downside in going this route is extending the amount of time during which you're paying back your loans, but it's worth doing if your health is currently on the line.
2. Refinance your loans
Federal loans come with capped interest rates that help make them more affordable than private loans. But unfortunately, federal loans max out at a certain level per borrower, which means that many students have no choice but to resort to private loans to fully cover their education costs. And since private loans can charge whatever interest they want, their associated monthly payments can be substantial. Therefore, if you're dealing with private loans, it makes sense to look into refinancing.
Refinancing basically means swapping one loan for a new one, but with a lower interest rate. This, in turn, can help make your monthly payments more manageable, thereby leaving you with more money for things like copays and deductibles.
3. Defer your loan payments
If paying any amount of student debt means not having the cash to cover your medical needs, then lowering your loan payments or refinancing might not be enough. Rather, you'll need to look into deferring your loan payments, which is possible if you took out federal loans. Depending on the situation at hand, you might manage to defer your loans for six months to up to three years, and while you will continue to accrue interest on your outstanding debt during that period, you'll also get a temporary break from having to fork over that money.
It's one thing to put off homeownership or slack on retirement savings because of student debt, but it's another thing to put your health at risk. If you're in the latter situation, be sure to explore your options for making your loans more manageable. It's a far better bet than denying yourself the medical care you need and paying the price later.