Pizza Hut every night gets expensive. While I could happily live off of a different flavor of crust every day, and while I could mentally justify it by saying this is the college life, my wallet cries out for mercy and my bank account roars vehemently for justice at the end of every overpaid meal. This, and many other factors, has led me to learn some important lessons about debt as a student.
Why do we go into such enormous debt as students? Is there even such a thing as legitimate student debt relief? Are all the offers scams, or are there legitimate debt relief options for students? We’re going to answer these questions right now, because if you’re still in school, now is the time to start acting to either avoid or get free of your education-related debts.
If you’re a college or university student anywhere outside of a community college, you know that tuition is difficult, if not impossible to pay without taking out student loans. There are schools that are exceptions to this, but most are lower-profile private universities, and many of those may not offer the grad programs or even the undergraduate degrees you need.
That means you’re going to need money, and the typical Stafford loans offered by the government to take care of school-related expenses can stick you with some nasty interest if you use them every year. Monthly payments can quickly add up into the thousands in some cases, and it’s difficult to know where to turn amid a wave of dishonesty surrounding student debt relief offers.
Let’s start talking about this by talking about how you can relieve your debt before it starts while you’re still in school. Then, for those of you already past that opportunity, we’ll talk about what not to do next. Then we’ll go on to finding relief that actually has the possibility of helping you get free quickly rather than ripping you off further.
Student Debt Relief before Student Debt Ever Happens
Depending on your life’s circumstances, it may be possible to avoid debt altogether. That being said, it will not necessarily preserve all your pride. Making it through school free of debt requires not only humility, but teamwork. You can’t do it on your own.
Here’s what I mean. Hopefully, you have either close friends or family members that are willing to support you as a personal investment. This could take the form of parents giving you financial support out of kindness, or it could be a work-related program designed to promote education. The humility part comes in when you realize that either way, you’re basically just asking someone to give you something for almost nothing.
The parent-kindness type of giving is a result of interpersonal networking, which you should probably be doing if you’re in school for your career’s sake, if nothing else. Add that to the idea that you need to make rich friends along with well-connected ones, and you’ll be well set.
I’m not saying to be a freeloader. That’s just bad form. Good form, however, is trying to do work or favors or anything you can think of to make the financial help you’re getting from your family and peers useful to them rather than only to you. If you’re a creative, consider doing some freelance work for your family friend’s company in return for payment. If you’re knowledgeable in a specific field, offer tutoring for your fellow students at a reasonable rate.
This also boils down to the fact that if you want to make it through school debt-free and neither you nor your parents are members of society’s 1%, you’re going to need to work. Working through school is not easy (unless you do what I do, and write nifty freelance articles online for a living), but it is definitely possible. Even if your work requires you to take a slower pace in your schooling, that’s OK. Lighten your credit load if necessary.
If lengthening your education out like that in the name of employment sounds distasteful to the part of you that houses ambitions and life goals, consider this trade-off: two more semesters than you would like of school, or fifteen to twenty years of financial captivity due to living frivolously in college. That’s some serious potential student debt relief.
If that sounds ridiculous, let me point out to you that my parents, both of whom attended universities, did not pay off their students loans completely until they were well into their 40s. Their story is not unique, especially if you’re going into med school or law or any science-related field or honestly really much of anything worth going into.
I cannot tell you the number of dentists I have tried to hold a wide-mouthed conversation with who have told me that they, now in their early 40s, have finally succeeded in paying off their student loans. While current governmental student debt relief programs may offset this, the chance that they won’t is still present.
Your choice of school is going to make a big difference in avoiding student debt too. Some schools leave you no other option than to go deep into debt, through astronomical tuition fees. You know the ones I’m talking about. Do you remember that guy who got accepted into all eight Ivy League schools? I know, there were a few. His name was Ronald Nelson. Guess which school he chose?
The University of Alabama, with a full scholarship. In case you’re wondering, no, that is not an Ivy League school. His reasoning? This would allow him to save up for medical school. The eight Ivy League schools range in base tuition costs from $47,286 a year at Cornell to $68,050 a year at Harvard, and Nelson said that “would only be manageable for the first year.”
That kind of thinking would save a lot of students from unnecessary debt, especially going into the workplace of today, where a degree matters less and less and work experience is more relevant than ever. Choose a school that is respectable, but don’t bother with one whose only purpose is to stroke your ego with its reputation.
One important note is that if you’re an excellent student, you can probably get scholarships that can cover a large portion of your tuition if not all of it. My own experience with Pell grants and financial aid has been a positive one, and my tuition is often covered completely by it with money left over for textbooks. Consider non-loan financial assistance and apply for every scholarship you think could be even slightly relevant to you before taking out a government student loan.
Now wait, before you get indignant: I know these things won’t work for everyone. Some people come from much harder walks of life than others, and student debt may have been the only way they could support themselves, and potentially a family, long enough to get through school and graduate with a useful degree. That’s why we’re still talking. We need to figure out what to do next.
What Not To Do Next – Clicking on Scams
Unfortunately, the education world of eight years past was not always so accommodating to students, and debt was the only way some of them were able to make it through school. If that’s you, and your newly-gained master’s degree or Ph.D are proudly displayed on your soon-to-be-repossessed bookshelf, there are options.
Those options are definitely not to click on every private company advertising student debt relief on the internet. These companies are usually trying to scam you out of money and will often charge you up to $1,000 or more for their services knowing fully that they can do nothing to help you get out of debt. They can even add a monthly subscription fee to their services, causing you to essentially double pay, since you’re already paying for your loan servicer to take care of your loan for you.
If your student loan payments are totaling in the tens of hundreds, student loan relief can definitely take the form of legitimate government programs that lower your payments to a more manageable level, but those services are usually free. Companies trying to scam you out of money will often simply charge you for exactly the same thing that the U.S. federal government would do.
Some of these companies have been known to charge you as much as $1,250 just to mail you government documents that you could get for free. With the programs the government offers to make your student debt possible to pay off, there is no need for a middleman, making it clear that these other companies trying to act as such are fraudulent, operating on the outskirts of legality.
In other words, don’t go with mysterious, ethereal private companies that claim to be able to magically make your debt disappear. And for goodness’ sake, don’t give anyone your student aid PIN. Go with the government’s official plans that let you make your payments more flexible.
Now that we’ve seen what you definitely should not do when trying to deal with student debt, let’s go on to see what your better option is.
What You Should Do – Government Student Debt Relief Programs
Not only is the official federal program for student debt relief far more trustworthy than private companies offering the same service, but it’s also free.
Student debt relief is something the federal government has been trying to provide for years, but it’s still not a widely known program. The various options available to ex-students in debt are usually provided in the form of monthly payment caps based on percentages of their discretionary income. The lowest normal options provide a payment cap of 10% of your discretionary income, which is potentially much more manageable than the 25-50% that it could have been before.
This can take a $900 monthly payment and make it $150. The process starts simply by contacting your loan servicer. They have the expertise and information to get you going, and can likely provide you with the paperwork and resources you need to start not only reducing your monthly payments, but consolidating your loans into one large sum, simplifying the whole process further.
If you have private loans, they may also be able to reduce those further, so be sure to do any available research before taking official action in these regards. This will also help if your servicer is reluctant to provide assistance or information, as not every loan servicer will be honest with you about your optiosn for student debt relief or debt forgiveness from the federal government, due to the fact that it may hurt their profits.
Qualifying for this student debt relief usually requires the ability to demonstrate that you are suffering from the effects of a partial financial hardship (PFH), a condition that is required for eligibility in all cases of federal student debt relief. An applicant is considered to be under the effects of a partial financial hardship when their loan payments are more than 15% of their total discretionary income.
Here’s the long and short of it: if you’re in school, avoid debt like the plague. If you’re no longer in school or you’ve already accrued some debt, don’t listen to the scammers all around you, and tell them to brush their teeth and buy a suit that actually fits. If you’re done with school and you need a way to manage crippling student loan debt, then student debt relief is available to you through established government programs that provide you with the service you need to get financially independent, all for free.
Whether you’re in debt due to excessive pizza consumption, textbook prices, absurdly high tuition, or anything else that can happen during your university adventures, always keep in mind that you can get out of it honestly, steadily, and with a little bit of research. After all, isn’t that what you learned how to do in school?