The cost of student debt in the US has leaped by 129% since 2008, according to the Experian firm. College students experience the pressure of being the “future of the world,” yet they’re expected to pay heftily to be that future. Scholarships, grants, and outside funding for education are a wise solution—but what’s the answer for those who missed that window or need to bridge the gap to pay for their education? Are graduates condemned to make their bed of debt and bury their credit score in it too? If the future of your wallet feels doomed by student loans, these five tips may interest you (without the interest charge).
1. Make a smart school selection
The price tag of college varies from program cost, fees, housing, residency, and more. If you calculate these factors early, you can find a school match that’s manageable for your financial situation and reduce the cost of your loans. Financially savvy options include in-state colleges, which often have lower tuition rates than out-of-state schools, and online courses, which cost considerably less than traditional on-campus tuition and fees.
Related: Our Best Advice on Making Your Final College Decision
2. Start at a community or state college
A convenient and affordable option to reduce student debt is to attend a community or state college for two years before transferring to another institution (often referred to as a 2+2 plan). This route will cost you less in the long run, as you’ll pay less for tuition, fees, room, and board the first two years, then finish your degree at your university of choice (without paying the four-year price tag!). Transfer programs and articulation agreements are often affiliated with in-state universities and can make transferring your credits much more seamless.
3. Sign up for work-study
Work-study programs are an effective route for those paying for student loans out-of-pocket. A work-study program employs you through the school or a local nonprofit (if you qualify through the FAFSA), and you’ll earn at least the federal minimum wage. Your paycheck can be applied directly to your school account to pay for tuition, or you can use it for personal expenses or to pay off your loans a little (see below)—it’s up to you. Work-study is also an effective way to strengthen your résumé for future employment.
Related: What Is Work-Study and How Do I Find a Position?
4. Pay a little at a time
When your tuition bill creeps up each semester, the number can spook you. But you’ll thank yourself later if you start paying off some of your debt now. A minor payment of $20–$100 per month might not seem like much compared to a huge price tag, but it can steadily decrease your student loans if you stay on top of it.
5. Don’t blow your refund
Too often do college students accumulate unnecessary amounts on their loans, simply because they aren’t informed as to how they work. After the financial aid office applies a loan to your bill, you may receive a sum of money that was leftover, often referred to as a “refund.” Say this with me slowly: It’s. Not. Free. Money. Even if your refund check goes unused, it’s able to accumulate interest on your student loans. Returning the refund, or only using a considerable portion, will reduce your student loans and save you in the long run.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Taking Out Student Loans
If you’re short on money, using your refund for academic items like books, supplies, and software can be an appropriate investment. But it’s wise to consider anything you receive in student loans like a credit card—none of it is yours, only the debt.
Find money for college that you don’t have to pay back—check our Scholarship Search tool.