Written by Spotloan

Have a lot of student loan debt? Join the club. About 70% of college grads today have significant debt from student loans, CNBC reports. The average amount is just over $37,000, up $20,000 from 13 years ago. And Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in student loans, nearly double the amount owed ten years ago, according to The Federal Reserve.

Here are 8 tips to help you manage your student debt: 

  1. Ask for forgiveness

It’s possible to have your student loan ‘forgiven’—as in, wiped out—through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. But there are some big rules and exceptions. To be eligible, you must...

* Work for the government (federal, state, local, or tribal) or a non-profit;
* Work 30 hours per week or more;
* Make 120 qualifying monthly payments—which will take most people 10 years to complete;
* Have a federal student loan, vs. a private loan.

Also, note that four U.S. Senators recently claimed that the U.S. Department of Education is “significantly and needlessly restricting access” to the forgiveness program, according to CNBC. You may owe income taxes on the amount of debt forgiven, too. And beware of debt relief scams.

2. Get your employer to help

To attract younger workers, a small but growing percentage of companies are helping employees pay off their student debt, The New York Times says. One such employer providing this benefit is Abbott. The pharmaceutical and medical products company announced in June its Freedom 2 Save program, designed to help employees save for retirement and pay off their loans.

3. Know your payment options

Can’t make your payments? You may be eligible for a temporary deferment. Or you might be able to switch to an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan, which can reduce the amount of your monthly payment. Bottom line: Familiarize yourself with your current loan’s payment options. 

4. Consolidate or refinance

If you have multiple student loans, focus on paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first.

You may have options for consolidating multiple loans or refinancing your debt, too. With a Direct Consolidation Loan, you can combine multiple federal education loans into one monthly payment. But a heads up: Consolidating loans can extend the period of time you have to repay but might cause you to ultimately pay more in interest. Refinancing can save you money in lower interest rates, though you won’t have access to federal repayment programs.

5. Sign up for automatic payments

Depending upon your lender, you may be able to slightly lower your interest rate by enrolling in automatic payments. Though you might reduce the rate by only 0.25 percentage points, it will add up over time. And automating your payments can help you avoid missed payments and late fees.

6. Avoid adding to debt for now

If possible, try to avoid big-ticket purchases—a home, a wedding, a major trip, a car—for a few years. The goal is to build savings after college and start tackling student debt right away.

7. Create a monthly budget

A monthly budget can help you stay on track financially after college. Include in the budget your predictable expenses like rent and your student loan payment as well as unpredictable expenses such as utilities, groceries, and transportation.

8. Move

For recent grads, where you live depends on where you can find work. But if you have flexibility, consider moving to a U.S. city where the ratio of student debt to median earnings of Bachelor’s Degree holders is low. WalletHub compiled a list of 2,515 cities that includes Sparta, Tenn. with the lowest ratio (16.54%) and Oxford, Miss., with the highest (85.06%).

At a minimum, check out places with a low cost of living and high-paying jobs, which include Oklahoma City; Kansas City, Missouri; and Charlotte, N.C., according to GO Banking Rates.

Further reading:

Loans for people with ‘bad credit’ (Spotloan blog)

* How to stick to a personal budget (Spotloan blog)

* 8 ways to build a personal budget you can stick with (Spotloan blog)

* Here's how much the average student loan borrower owes when they graduate (CNBC)

* Details on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (Federal Student Aid website)

* Signs of a debt relief scam from the FTC

* Student Loan Deferment and Forbearance: What They Mean and When to Use Them (The Simple Dollar)

* What is Income-Driven Repayment? (Federal Student Aid website)

* Loan Consolidation Guide (Federal Student Aid website)