More than 43 million people owe money on student loans. And these days, the average monthly payment is $337.
But many student loan borrowers are buckling under the weight of that debt. And so it's fair to assume that a good portion of those who are carrying student debt regret signing up for it in the first place.
If you're heading to college, that's a situation you'll want to avoid at all costs. And you can steer clear of student loan regret by following these tips.
1. Stick to federal student loans only
You may be tempted to take out private student loans if you don't qualify for all of the federal aid you need to attend the school of your choice. But you should know that there are several drawbacks to borrowing privately for college.
First, the interest rate attached to your loans may be far more substantial when you borrow through a private lender compared to what you'd be looking at with federal loans. But also, federal student loan borrowers are entitled to certain protections that private borrowers aren't.
If you take out federal student loans and fall on hard times, you may be eligible to defer your loans for a period of time or put your loans into forbearance. You may not get that same option if you borrow privately.
Similarly, when you take out federal student loans, there are different repayment plans you can choose from once you graduate. If you take out private loans, you may be limited to a single payment plan option that results in very high monthly payments you can't afford.
2. Make sure your major and career are compatible with repaying debt
You may be eager to study something in college that you're passionate about. But it's also important to be realistic about the type of career that will lead to.
If you borrow $35,000 to go to college only to embark on a career that will have you earning between $30,000 and $40,000 for the first 10 years of your life or more, then that's a sum you might really struggle to repay. You may want to use tools like Salary.com to get an estimate of what salaries look like for different professions in your area, and then see if the amount you're looking at borrowing is worth it.
3. Find ways to keep your education costs as low as possible
The more you spend on an education, the more money you might have to borrow for one. So if you're willing to make a few sacrifices, you can do your part to keep your student loan balance to a minimum.
First, consider forgoing private college and sticking to a public college within your home state. If you can live at home during college and commute, you might save even more by not having to pay for room and board.
Another option is to spend your first year or two at a community college. That way, you can satisfy some basic higher education requirements and then move on to a costlier school to focus on your major.
The last thing you want is to take out loans for college, get your degree, and then spend a good chunk of your adult life regretting your decision. If you borrow strategically and keep your debt to a minimum, you may find that your loans aren't that difficult to pay off, and that they don't stop you from meeting other financial goals you set for yourself.