Editors' pick: Originally published May 12, 2016.
One pain point of the Great Recession that hasn't gone away is the multitude of people buried in student loan debt. The current delinquency rate is 11.6%, with $50.8 billion in default. What's more, the average monthly payment is a little under $300. That's a big cramp in your style when you're young. So how can young people start paying off their student loans and start living again?
Up Front: Avoid the Debt in the First Place
Rachel Cruze, a New York Times best-selling author and Ramsey financial expert, she says that going to school debt-free is definitely part of her message. "I believe you can go to school without student loans if you make the right choices," she says. She further believes that people take for granted that they're going to accrue debt when going to college and that causes them take student loans they don't need to.
"People think they need student loans, but there are all these unused grants," she says. Cruze points out that if it takes you half an hour to write an essay and fill out a form for a $200 scholarship, you effectively just made $200 in 30 minutes. That's a good hourly rate by anyone's calculation.
Speaking of hourly rates, Cruze cites studies saying that the average college student can get out of school without any debt simply by working 20 hours a week. What's more, she states that students who work between 10 and 19 hours a week have higher GPAs than students who don't work at all.
Combine all of the above tips with other cost-saving mechanisms like going to in-state, public universities and doing your first two years at a community college, and the chances of not having any debt upon graduation are much higher than you might think.
Dealing With the Debt You've Accrued
Ellie Kay, a family financial expert and the author of Living Rich for Less, says that one of the most helpful things someone can do is see the light at the end of the tunnel in a very concrete way. "You have to get into the mindset that you're going to delay gratification for just two years to concentrate on this debt," she says. During those two years, you want to focus on living off of less, paying down your student loans with the money you're saving.
Kay herself worked with her husband to pay off his student loan debt after they got married. "Our philosophy was that we were just going to do this for a season to take care of it," she says. Kay adds that failure to set an endpoint in a realistic future can lead to a mindset of deprivation -- a mindset that usually doesn't carry the day. You need to remember that you're living off of less for now, not for the rest of your life.
She also points out that in the legal services and financial industries, it's not entirely uncommon to see employers advertising that they will pay off your student loan debt if you sign a contract of commitment. That might mean a lower salary for the first five years of your working life, but it will open you up to a freedom most of your peers won't have five years after graduation. And, of course, there's always the military. Kay notes that there's a program where ten years of military service will get rid of your student loans -- but you have to sign up for it.
"There's a lot of really beautiful things you can do when you get rid of that student loan debt," says Kay, pointing out that her daughter was able to work for a nonprofit for a year, because she graduated without debt. "It paid, but if she had $600 a month in student loan to repay, she wouldn't have been able to do that."
"You need to get into the mindset of paying it off and seeing the longer game," she adds.