According to the website Student Loan Hero, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year. Currently Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 43 million borrowers. Private student loan debt is on the rise as well: $6.2 billion was borrowed in 2012-2013, up from $5.5 billion in 2011-2012.

If the numbers aren’t bad enough, student debt load isn’t just a big financial burden, it’s forcing graduates to put off many of the post-grad activities they were most looking forward to. Student Loan Hero calculates that 1 in 7 Americans have delayed marriage due to student loan debt, while 44% of college graduates have postponed traveling the world, 41% have put off buying a house or apartment and 25% have had to stick around their parents’ homes longer than planned.

According to Mark Kantrowitz, one of the nation’s leading financial aid experts, student loan debt exceeded credit card debt in 2010 and auto loans in 2011, and it passed the $1 trillion mark in 2012. This year, the number will reach $1.26 trillion. So, given all these troubling statistics, how can you eliminate the word “crushing” from your own student debt load?

Ideally, your loans allowed you to achieve a degree and relevant experience throughout your college years and you’re now full-speed-ahead at a good job, planning your career. And even if you’re still in job search mode, take advantage of deferrals and get a 360-degree view of what you owe, when it’s due and what your options are to reduce, modify or even eliminate payments. Yes, you do have opportunity to actually have portions of your loans forgiven through various federal and private programs, such as moving to a city that wants to attract young, educated professionals (Detroit, Michigan is one such destination), or identifying an employer that offers loan forgiveness as part of their recruitment offer.

The best post-graduate step is to sit down with a financial expert and do a big -picture analysis of all the bits and pieces. Advice may include a loan consolidation, either through a federal program or with a private lender.  Making one monthly payment instead of multiples will save you time and stress – and a private lender may be able to offer a more favorable repayment term, depending on your credit status and the availability of a qualified co-signor. Loan modification can help, and so will a repayment strategy that targets highest interest loans first.

Whether you owe a lot or a little, it’s time to make a plan that doesn’t crush your budget. The good news is: you don’t have to go it alone. With 43 million Americans in your situation, there are a plentiful resources and tools to help you start on the road to debt-free status.


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