A Final Lesson: Repay Student Debt Quickly

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 17, 2009

The commencement speeches will soon be over. The graduation caps and gowns put away, the gift cards used.

The one thing that won't go away is the tens of thousands of dollars graduates owe in student loans. For most college graduates, the cost of their educations will finally be a reality.

So now what?

With unemployment continuing to climb and good-paying jobs hard to find, many recent graduates will be looking for refuge from their loans.

As debts go, student loans provide more built-in options to delay repayment than any other credit obligation. Borrowers can apply for a deferment or forbearance. They can choose to extend their debt for as much as three decades or opt for graduated payments tied to how much they earn. And starting July 1, there is a new income-based repayment for federal student loans.

Graduates who suspect they will have trouble repaying their loans should immediately talk to their lenders about these options. Your choices may vary depending on whether you have a federal or private student loan.

But can I give you some hard but well-meaning advice if you're one of the many graduates saddled with student loans?

Instead of immediately opting for repayment plans that will stretch your payments out until you're in middle age, try to find other ways to handle this debt.

I know these are tough times. Nonetheless start your loan repayment as soon as possible, even if it means taking a second job, or a roommate (or two or three), or yes, dare I say, moving back home for several years.

You could handle this debt if you delay going on to graduate school, which would only pile on even more debt. If you are going to have trouble finding a job to make the monthly payments on your undergraduate debt, how in the world are you going to find employment to service tens of thousands more as a result of an advanced degree? Trust me, an advanced degree doesn't guarantee a big salary.

You don't get to buy a new car, an upgraded wardrobe, waste your money on liquor at happy hours, or take vacations until this debt is extinguished.

And don't look at me with that face. Only after you've exhaustively scanned your budget and cut every possible expense (such as deleting the texting option on your mobile phone) should you consider extended repayment options.

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