Most of us here in America (40 million people to be exact) have some amount of student loan debt. For many of us debt was just a part of the deal, it was going to happen, we weren’t sure about the implications of the debt, but here we are.

Coming straight out of college or graduate school already drowning in debt can put quite a dent in future plans. In fact, it is one of the main reasons that younger people (ugh, millennials) aren’t buying homes. Regardless of how much debt you accrued over the years you should know how to best manage it so you can put your best financial foot forward.

Understand your loans

At baseline there are two types of loans: federal and private. Within those two main categories there are Stafford Loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized), Perkins Loans, PLUS Loans, Health Professions Student Loans, and finally Private Education Loans (which are pretty much just personal loans that you happen to spend on school, and maybe a trip or two to South America, sorry Dad).

Know who you owe money to, and check in every once in a while

Consider your loan servicer as an annoying member of your family who is going to be around for a while. You don’t have to like them, but they are family. Know who they are, how to get a hold of them, and update them whenever your contact information changes.

Pick the right repayment option for your current situation

There are several options for repayment, so make sure you weigh the pros and cons of each. You can use this handy chart to compare different federal loan repayment options as well as calculate monthly payments.

Since private loans are not as regulated and structured as federal loans, the options are going to vary by loan provider and whim of the universe. Regardless, there hard and fast rules about the best way to pay off loans.


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Know the difference between consolidation and refinancing

There are several types of consolidation and refinancing, at baseline consolidation allows you to combine multiple loans into one, and can potentially lower your monthly payments whereas refinancing allows you to apply for a loan under new terms, to then use that loan to pay off the other loans.

Look into refinancing options

It may be most advantageous to refinance your student loan debt. If you decide this is best for you, there are a number of refinancing services- but honestly, a lot of shady dealers. Freelancers Union has chosen Credible as a great refinancing platform- Credible makes it easy for you to see if refinancing is the best option, estimate your savings, and receive personalized offers from multiple lenders. The average grad saves more than $11,000 by refinancing through Credible. It’s free for Freelancers Union members, and our non-profit receives $75 for each completed loan application.

See if you qualify for loan forgiveness

If you work full time in the public service sector and have made 120 qualifying payments on your federal loans after October 1, 2007, you may qualify. Seems like a long shot, worth a look if you think you may to fall into this category.

Always pay

I cannot stress this one enough. Paying your loans on time, every month (even for a soul-sucking amount of months) will actually improve your credit over time. Not paying them can tank your credit score, not to mention up the amount you will pay in the long run. Make sure you explore all the options before going into default.

Don’t forget about taxes

You can reduce your income that is subject to tax by up to $2,500 by claiming qualified student loan debt when you file taxes. Your loan servicer will provide you with the proper tax information on how much interest was paid, all you have to do is plug it in come tax time. It may not be much, but when you are a freelancer, every bit counts at tax time.

Ashlee Christian is from the north-side of Chicago and will never stop saying "pop" or eating pizza with a fork and knife, so please stop trying to change her. Follow her on Twitter @nomadnation