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Now that your brain is full, it’s payback time

Author looks at debt for college grads

By Meg Richards

Associated Press

The smarter you look on paper, the deeper your debt. Most college graduates owe about $20,000 in student loans, and if you’ve got letters after your name that number may be in the six digits.

If it feels like things are tougher than they used to be for student debtors, that’s because they are, says Lynnette Khalfani, author of "Zero Debt for College Grads." In the last decade, tuition prices have gone up 9 percent, compared to a 3 percent inflation rate, and the average student’s debt has more than doubled.

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If your brain is full but your bank account is empty, don’t despair. Student loan repayments can be worked into almost any budget. Khalfani’s book outlines some surprising ways to minimize payments and eliminate debt.

Tips for getting started

• Don’t take on more debt than you can handle: If you are still in college, or are contemplating grad school, borrow as little as possible. To put student debt in perspective, Khalfani suggests using your expected first-year salary as a gauge. For example, if your starting salary will be $30,000, you don’t want to take on more than $60,000 in loans.

• If you’re confused about your college debt, or don’t even remember how many loans you took out and who you owe, you need to visit the National Student Loan Data System, www.nslds.com.

• Many professionals, including police officers, lawyers, teachers, nurses, doctors, qualify for forgiveness or outright cancellation of federal loans. People who volunteer at organizations like Vista or the Peace Corps or who help impoverished people can also have tuition loans written off.

• Negotiate your rates. Contrary to popular belief, Congress doesn’t "set" the rates for federal student loans. Instead, the feds impose a "maximum" interest rate that lenders can charge, then lenders set their own rates based on what the market will bear.

• Stay out of default. Student loans are one of the most serious forms of debt you can have if you become delinquent, Khalfani says. Unlike credit cards, this debt never falls off your credit report.

• Pay off early if you can.

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"There’s a lot of psychic pain and angst people feel when it comes to these loans," Khalfani said. "It’s like a burden hanging over your head. Ideally, I like to see people pay things off sooner rather than later."

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