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Like most recent college grads, Tamika Gambrell, now 26, left school with hefty student loans–debt that now has to be paid, along with all the other bills that come with living on one’s own.
Gambrell, who lives in Glenolden, Pennsylvania, right outside of Philadelphia, earns good money working as a sales analyst for a large consumer products company. Still, even with her $60,000 a year salary, and annual bonuses that tack on another $5,000 in take-home pay, it’s tough stretching her paycheck to meet all her financial obligations.
For starters, there’s the $840 a month that Gambrell and her partner pay to rent their apartment. Then there’s a $280 monthly car note. After graduating in 2003 with a degree in human development from Colby College, a small liberal arts school in Maine, Gambrell racked up $24,000 in credit card debt, so that’s another $300 a month out of the budget. Driving 60 miles to and from work each day means spending $300 on gas every month. When you throw in 401(k) contributions, healthcare premiums, taxes, food, utilities, and, of course, her $133 monthly student loan payment, it’s easy to see why money can get tight.
Still, in many ways Gambrell considers herself fortunate. “After four years, I walked away owing only $28,000 in loans. Considering that tuition and room and board alone at Colby was $35,000 a year, I think I did alright,” she says.
Like millions of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond, Gambrell took out student loans for a shot at a better quality of life and the chance to improve her career options. But with the price tag for a college education skyrocketing, the typical student graduates with nearly $20,000 in student loan debt. According to the College Board, the cost of attending a public, four-year college or university in the 2006—07 school year–including tuition, fees, and room and board–was $12,796, up 35% over the past five years; for private schools, the cost was a hefty $30,367.
Ensuring that you don’t end up drowning in student loan debt requires solid money management skills, a working knowledge of how these loans work, the realization that interest rates are somewhat negotiable, and a familiarity with available government assistance programs. Read on and we’ll help you navigate the world of student loan debt.
Bone Up on Your Loan Details
To retire those student loans quickly, first get a handle on the types of loans you have. Start by logging on to www.nslds.ed.gov, the Website for the National Student Loan Data System. There’s a lot of information there, including all the federal loans a student owes, the dates various loans were received, how much interest and principal are outstanding, and the status of the loans (i.e., if they’re in deferment, default, repayment, etc.). Before loan details can be obtained from the NSLDS, you must first secure a four-digit PIN from the Department of Education, available at www.pin.ed.gov.
For those with private loans, call or write lenders directly, contact the school that provided the loan, or refer