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I’ll never forget the first time I had to pay on my student loans.  They had come out of deferment a quick 6 months after I graduated from college.  When I was sent my first loan statement, I was extremely overwhelmed and quickly realized that I was underpaid!  All those years of borrowing thousands and thousands came back and hit me smack in the head.  My anxiety started to kick in and I wondered how I would be able to make these payments month to month.  My future husband was in the same boat and together we had over $900 in minimum student loan payments each month. We were two teachers drowning in debt.

After years of digging ourselves out of this hole, my husband and I learned that it doesn’t have to be this way!  #FinHealthMatters and  you can go to college without signing your life away to Navient. And if you choose to take out loans, it’s possible to have a plan so that you don’t set yourself up for failure in the future.  Because paying an arm and a leg for student loans is not fun and unfortunately, it has become the norm these days.

So if you are a student, or if you are a parent of a student, then make sure you do these 5 things to help prevent (or minimize) student loan debt.  No one wants to graduate with a mountain of loans, so be proactive about your future today!

1. Educate Yourself.

I’ll never forget when I was first offered student loans.  The bank would loan me over $30,000 a year! A YEAR! The young and naive 18-year-old in me jumped for joy.  I WAS RICH! Thankfully my mom pulled me down to reality and explained that I don’t actually need $30,000 a year to attend college.  She taught me to calculate how much I would need to pay tuition and help with living expenses. We then only took out that certain amount in student loans.  I’ve learned that so many people are offered a certain amount and they just take it all! If you are planning to take out loans, do whatever you can to take out as little as possible.  Because speaking from experience, those bad boys add up quick and when the day comes that they are due, it’s not pretty!

2. Get a job, for goodness sake.

I’m totally guilty of not taking on a part-time job during college.  I saw my college years as my “fun” years where I had no worries in the world.  And let me tell you, it’s something I regret! Taking on a part-time (or a full-time job, you go getter you!) will help cover more expenses than you can imagine.  A simple paycheck can cover food and gas for a month and keep you from borrowing that much more in student loans. Make a plan for every bit of income that you earn so you can graduate with no debt (or very little).  You won’t regret the job experience or the cash!

3. Research your living options.

College towns have tons of options when it comes where to live, and I must say that some apartments and dorms are over the top!  Instead of signing a lease with a high-end apartment complex or the nicest dorm on campus, find a cheaper option.  As long as it’s in a safe location, find a place with reasonable rent or consider having a roommate.  You’ll save thousands with this easy tip! I should also mention that every young adult needs to live in one outdated apartment. In my opinion, it helps build character!

4. Choose your school wisely.

When you are choosing what college you want to attend, make sure that the cost is one of the top factors in your decision.  Unfortunately, private schools and expensive universities might be out of the running. Trust me, it’s not worth graduating with over $150,000 worth of debt to get the same degree you could get at a state university.  To help lower expenses even more, attend a community college first to get your basic courses out of the way, then transfer to a university later on down the line.

5. Don’t ignore your student loans.

Student loans don’t sit in deferment forever!  So don’t ignore them when you graduate from college.  Instead of waiting for them to send you the dreaded letter that you owe your first payment, start paying them when you land your first job.  In fact, challenge yourself to pay off as much as possible before they are out of deferment!

If you follow these steps, you are sure to beat the odds and not be one of the “lucky” ones that graduates with a mountain of student loan debt!  You won’t have Navient knocking at your door and you’ll have the freedom to spend money as you please. And that my friend, that is the freedom that ever twenty-something deserves.