How to Live with Student Loan Debt

By Melissa Brock · April 24, 2024 · 9 minute read

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How to Live with Student Loan Debt

Many people have student loan debt today… and lots of it. Americans owe a whopping $1.77 trillion (including federal and private loans), and the average balance is over $40,000.

Whether you’ve just received notice of your student debt for the first time or have been paying it down for years, it can be hard to live with a loan balance hanging over you. And it can be challenging to fit student loan payments into your budget. So, how do you live (and thrive) with the payments and the stress of student loan debt?

Keep reading, for starters. This guide will help you understand student loan debt solutions, how student debt impacts your financial situation, and how to budget well when you have student loans. You’ll also learn strategies for avoiding default and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. While it may feel tough right now, student debt doesn’t define you, and you can get through this.

Understanding Student Loan Debt

Your student loans can affect your financial present and your future. Right now, you might find it hard to make regular payments from month to month. Carrying student loan debt over time can also have a significant impact.

The Impact of Student Loans on Your Financial Future

Student loan debt could affect the following areas:

•  Your ability to qualify for a loan, such as a home loan, due to student loans affecting your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) — DTI is the relationship between your debt and income

•  Your ability to save for retirement

•  Your credit score (if you fail to make on-time student loan payments)

•  Your net worth (the value of the assets you own, minus your liabilities)

•  Your marriage or family life, possibly delaying your plans

Different Types of Student Loan Repayment Plans

As you focus on minimizing the impact that student loans have on your finances, it can be wise to consider the different types of student loan repayment plans. For federal student loans, they include fixed repayment plans:

Standard Repayment Plan: The Standard Repayment plan is a federal fixed repayment plan option. In this plan, you repay your loans for up to 10 years, or between 10 and 30 years for consolidation loans. (Consolidation loans mean converting your federal student loans into one payment.)

Graduated Repayment Plan: The Graduated Repayment plan begins with lower payments and increases every two years. You can make payments for up to 10 years, or between 10 to 30 years for consolidation loans.

Extended Repayment Plan: The Extended Repayment plan allows you to repay your loans over an extended period. You make payments over 25 years with this plan, which for many people is a valuable student loan debt solution.

Student loan servicers also offer income-based repayment, including the following plans:

•  Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE); the SAVE Plan replaces the REPAYE program.

•  Pay as You Earn (PAYE)

•  Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

•  Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

Each option has different features, but generally, after you make payments for a certain number of months, the government will forgive the remaining balance.

Consider using the Federal Student Aid Loan Simulator to help you estimate your monthly student loan payments, which can help you find a loan repayment option that meets your needs and goals. You might find a program that feels like less of a financial stretch for you.

💡 Quick Tip: Some student loan refinance lenders offer no fees, saving borrowers money.

Take control of your student loans.
Ditch student loan debt for good.

Create a Budget to Manage Student Loan Debt

Another helpful step when you are dealing with student loan debt is to find a budget that works well for you. There are many different types of budgets out there, and likely more than one could help you create a realistic plan that leaves room for some fun little splurges now and then. Most budgets involve the following steps:

1.   Write down your monthly income. How much do you bring in per month? This doesn’t necessarily just apply to your salary — include alimony, freelancing (like dog-walking or driving a rideshare), dividends, and other income you make.

2.   Write down your monthly expenses. What types of expenses do you have during the month, including your student loan payments? How much are you spending on a car loan, rent, or mortgage payment? What about utilities, insurance, clothing, and entertainment?

3.   Subtract your expenses from your income. This is a good way to calculate whether you lose money through your expenses or whether you have enough income to cover your expenses.

4.   Create a budget. Develop a budget so you know how much you should spend each month, plus the expenses you can’t get around, including food, shelter, and, yes, student loan payments. You might try the popular 50/30/20 budget, which has you allocate 50% on your take-home pay to the needs in life (which includes minimum loan payments); 30% to the wants in life (dining out, gym memberships, travel…the fun stuff); and 20% to saving. When you are repaying student loans, that last 20% may need to be allocated to debt for a while. And that 30% towards wants might have to face a bit of belt-tightening, too.

Strategies for Avoiding Default on Student Loans

If you fail to make payments on student loans, you may default on them. The level of default depends on the type of loan you receive.

Why is defaulting on student loans a big deal? And how does defaulting on student loans affect your financial picture? Here are details:

•  Your entire unpaid balance, with student loan interest, becomes due.

•  You no longer receive deferment or forbearance, and you also lose eligibility for other benefits, including repayment plan options.

•  You cannot receive additional federal student loans.

•  Credit bureaus will hear about the default, which can lower your credit score and take years to repair.

•  You may not be able to purchase or sell assets (such as real estate).

•  The government may withhold your tax refunds or federal benefits.

•  You may suffer from wage garnishment, meaning your employer directs some of your pay to your student loan debt. In addition, you may be liable for attorney and collection fees associated with the process.

Yes, this can be frightening to think about, but remember that there are ways to move forward and avoid these scenarios. Among the solutions to student loan debt can be staying organized, managing what you owe, and keeping track of loan payments.You might use a tracking system such as Google Docs to keep track of your payments, or set up alerts in your phone. There are also apps and websites available to help you keep up-to-date on where you stand with your student loan debt and your payments due.

Let lenders know when you change your address so they don’t lose track of you and you lose track of your loans. You can also consider consolidating your federal student loans so you have just one simple payment to make each month. Keep in mind, though, these two points:

•  When you refinance federal student loans with a private loan, you forfeit access to federal benefits and protections, such as deferment and forbearance.

•  If you refinance for an extended term, you may lower your monthly payment but pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Utilize Resources for Managing Student Loan Debt

Here are some resources that may help you manage your student loan debt better:

•  Ask your student loan servicer for more information about solutions to student debt. They may help you learn more about smart ways to pay off student loans.

•  Tools and apps can help you track and manage student loans, often offering financial literacy and debt management educational resources. Test out a few options for solutions for student loan debt:



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•  If you are still feeling overwhelmed by your student debt, know that you don’t have to tough it out. Explore talking with a credit counselor who has expertise in the area of student loans. You might contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) to start. Beware potential scammers who charge money upfront and/or promise to make your debt disappear with no strings attached.

Maintain a Healthy Financial Lifestyle with Student Loan Debt

You may at times feel frustrated or worse with the fact that you have student loans to pay back. Plenty of people do. But remember that this is a phase you are moving through, akin to paying down a mortgage on a house or a car loan.

Spend some time and energy on what you might call financial selfcare. Building a healthy financial lifestyle starts with taking time to establish your money goals. It can make sense to start in the short-term with what you want to accomplish regarding your student loans. For example, you may want to put these solutions to student debt in your sights:

•  Put together a budget

•  Balance student loan payments with other financial goals

•  Build an emergency fund while repaying student loan

•  Strategize to build your credit score with on-time student loan payments

•  Consider ways to make your student loans more manageable, as outlined above.

If you think you might want to pay off your student loans quickly, you can apply any additional funds available and use either the debt snowball (where you pay off the smallest student loan first) or debt avalanche methods (where you pay off the student loan with the highest interest rate first). Once you pay those off, you move to the loan that has the next-largest balance or interest rate, respectively.

You can then move on to longer-term goals, and build your financial literacy as you learn about, say, how to save for a down payment on a house or your retirement. Debt can be stressful, but remember that there is a long road ahead of you. There’s time to eliminate your student loans and put your other plans in motion. In other words, with some time and energy invested, you’ve got this.

The Takeaway

Having student debt can be stressful, but it’s important to remember that living with student loan debt doesn’t have to crush your dreams and plans. Millions of people work to pay off their loans every month. You have options in terms of how you budget your funds, how you repay your loans, and whether or not to look into refinancing, forgiveness, and other ways to deal with your debt.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


How do you cope with student loans?

The first step in managing student loan debt is not to ignore it; that could hurt your credit score and force you to pay penalties and fees. Understand your loans — are they federal or private student loans? What is your current payment structure? Learn everything you can, and research the many repayment options you likely have. Also, explore different budgeting methods to take control of your finances. Meet with a reputable nonprofit credit counselor if you feel you’d benefit from further support.

What is the average student debt?

The current average balance per person for student loans is about $40,500.

How do people live on student loans?

Having a comfortable lifestyle while still making student loan payments is possible. However, budgeting well is important, so you know how much you can allocate toward expenses and areas of your life.

Photo credit: iStock/Rockaa

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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