Congrats, grads! Now Start Tackling Your Student Debt

Just a few simple steps can help new college graduates make inroads in paying off their student loans and setting themselves up for a secure financial future.

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Graduation is an exciting milestone signifying moving into adulthood. Unfortunately, with earning a degree, comes debt.

Nearly seven in 10 seniors who graduated from public and non-profit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt, with an average of $30,100 per borrower, according to the Institute for College Access & Success (opens in new tab).

There are ways to alleviate some of the worries of student loans.

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1. Cut some corners and resist temptation.

It is easy to think once you land a job, you don't have to worry about money. But with newfound freedom comes rent, car insurance, food and paying back student loans. Think about a monthly budget that shows you what bills you have and what is left over. Think about the bigger picture and what you can live without. Cable is fun to have, but not a necessity, and it can cost over $100 a month. Consider streaming methods, such as Netflix and Hulu, for entertainment. Even an Apple music or Spotify subscription may be better than purchasing music one song at a time. Clothing can be expensive, but don’t forget to search for coupon codes to score major savings and free shipping.

2. Know your numbers, including your credit score.

Right before graduation students receive a letter outlining the six-month grace period before starting to pay back loans. In the letter is how much the loan is and what the monthly payment looks like. Pay special attention to the interest rate prior to establishing a payment plan.

There are many payment options, such as delaying a payment or asking for a lower payment available to recent graduates. If you haven't landed a job — or have lost your job — student loan forbearance may be available.

There are several repayment plans from which to select, thereby providing the flexibility you need. Here are some things you should know:

3. Establish a rainy day fund.

Set aside funds for unexpected expenses, such as car repairs or medical costs. Having a cushion can make all the difference when you know you need to eat and pay rent, but have student loan payments or other bills looming. Many financial experts encourage recent grads to have three months’ worth of expenses as cash reserves.

4. Remember: It’s never too early to think about retirement.

Many people think only older individuals worry about retirement. Everyone should start thinking about this when they join the workforce. Many employers offer 401(k) plans to help their workers save for retirement on a tax-deferred basis. Ask your HR director for more details on the benefits of your company’s 401(k) plan. While you may think you are too young to think about planning for retirement, you’re never too young to accumulate wealth.

Student loans don't have to be a huge nightmare. Try these steps to lessen the stress of student loans and plan for your financial future.

  • If you don’t choose a repayment plan, you will be given the Standard Repayment Plan, which means you would have to pay off your loans in 10 years.
  • You can switch to a different plan at any time to suit your needs and goals. For example, if your finances change due to a new job or losing a job, you can explore different options. Visit (opens in new tab) and look at the repayment calculator estimate. This tool can help you determine the most appropriate repayment plan for your situation.
  • If you have multiple federal student loans, you can consolidate them into a single Direct Consolidation Loan. This lessens the stress if you have separate loan payments from different providers. If you consolidate, you will have one monthly payment to make.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Marguerita M. Cheng, CFP®
CEO, Blue Ocean Global Wealth

Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth (opens in new tab). She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠, Retirement Income Certified Professional and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. She helps educate the public, policymakers and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning.