pained young man beside suitcase in airport

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Millions of Americans are saddled with student debt, so much so that borrowers' cumulative tally has surpassed the $1.5 trillion mark. And not surprisingly, many borrowers are struggling to keep up with their student loan payments. 

The problem with student loans is that unlike other debts, they're generally not dischargeable through bankruptcy. As such, the only way to really get rid of them is to keep making those payments until they’re gone. But many borrowers can't make those payments, and those who default on their loans face a host of horrendous consequences, like damaging their credit scores and having their wages garnished, to name a few. That's why some borrowers are resorting to drastic measures in an effort to shake their student debt -- fleeing the United States.

Should you pack your bags?

There's no official data on how many student loan borrowers have fled the U.S. to get out of paying their debt. But stories of people doing so abound on social media to the point where it's fair to classify such escapes as a limited but growing trend. 

To be clear, moving abroad does not wipe out student debt. If you go that route, those loans will continue to exist, and they'll continue to accrue interest so that if you do return to the U.S., you'll be in an even deeper hole. At the same time, it's a lot more difficult, if not impossible, for U.S. creditors to come after you for loan payments if you're living outside the country. 

And if you're working outside the country, the U.S. Department of Education, which gives out federal loans, can't garnish your wages. But remember, the moment you decide to come back to the U.S. and start earning money, your wages are fair game. 

In other words, fleeing the country to escape your student debt is only a potentially viable solution if you truly intend on never living in the U.S. again -- so before you go that route, it pays to explore some ways to make your loans more manageable.

Getting a handle on your debt

If you’re having a difficult time making your student loan payments, you may be inclined to escape overseas and let yourself off the hook, at least temporarily. But before you go to such extremes, it is worth exhausting the other options.

If you took out federal loans, there are a number of borrower protections you can look into. For one thing, you can see about getting on an income-driven repayment plan. If approved, your monthly loan payments will be recalculated as a reasonable percentage of your income, which will generally lower them, thereby helping you keep up. 

Another option? Look into deferring your student loans for a period of time, especially if you’re dealing with a financial hardship such as reduced hours at work or the complete loss of a job. Deferring your loans isn’t always the best solution, because often, you’ll continue to accrue interest on your balance during that deferment period. But if you’re not capable of making payments on your loans, it’s a reasonable avenue to explore.

If you took out private loans for college, you won’t have the same built-in protections as those who took out federal loans -- but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. You can always reach out to your lender and aim to negotiate better terms. Often, private lenders will work with you to increase their chances of getting paid, whether that means agreeing to a lower monthly payment or even a limited period of deferment. 

If your lender won’t work with you, you can try refinancing your student debt instead. Snagging a lower interest rate on your loans will, in turn, lower your monthly payments, thereby making them easier to keep up with.

If you’re having a hard time managing your student debt, don’t rush to pack your bags and flee the country. Instead, try making those payments more affordable. Otherwise, you might  sentence yourself to a permanent exile.