Student debt is rising every year. College costs, as well as graduate school costs, have gone up faster than inflation. Pell grants have not kept, but, Stafford loan and other federal student loan interest rates are near record lows. A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics (1) shows that about 50% of recent college graduate have student loans, with an average student loan debt of $10,000. The average cost of college increases at twice the rate of inflation; the College Board (2) estimates that public school costs an average of about $13,000 a year and private schools costs $28,000.
Planning Your Financial Aid Package
There are a variety of financial aid options, from scholarships, grants, federal loans, and private student loans. There are several great resources for planning your financial aid. First, try the Student Aid Wizard from the US Federal Government Dept. of Education. Of course, individual schools provide scholarships to attract the students they want, but there are also many private or non-profit organizations that provide information on student aid. We've compiled a list of sites and organizations that provide Financial Aid and Student tax information.
Reducing Your Student Loan Debt Burden After College
Once you've graduated you have to start paying back your student loan debt. There are many ways to reduce to your debt load, the most common among them is to consolidate student loans or simply to refinance your student loans. There are two main benefits to student loan consolidation.
The bigger benefit is reducing interest rates, and therefore monthly payments and overall debt. Interest rates are near record lows now, so chances are you'll get a better rate now than when you first got your loan.
The second advantage is reducing the number of creditors. This makes it easier to keep track of your payments. More importantly, it means you only have to deal with one creditor if you're late with a payment or need to renegotiate your loan for some reason.
Of course, you can't consolidate student credit card debt in with your student loans - these are very different kinds of debt. However, you can consolidate credit card debt through private companies, and you can potentially consolidate your private student loans into the same loan. But remember, federally funded student loans have much lower interest rates than private loans, and if you roll them together you would be required to use the higher interest rate - so keep private and federal student loan consolidation programs separate.
Reducing monthly payments also helps to keep all of your loans current (that is, it keeps you from having any defaulted student loans, which can affect your credit very badly).
Medical Student Debt
In a recent study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (3) the cost of private medical schools has risen 165% and the cost of public medical schools has gone up 312% over the last 20 years. A similar study by the AMA (4) found that medical school costs have increased substantially more than the Consumer Price Index (inflation). The average medical student graduates with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt (Medical School Loans).
Compound this with slow physician salary growth, young physicians are faced with increasing difficulty in paying their college student loans and medical student loans.
The good news is that medical schools, and importantly the organization that licenses medical schools, recognize the problem. During the re-accreditation processes he LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education) asks every medical school how they intend to reduce medical debt. This puts pressure on the schools to either reduce costs or find creative ways to help students finance their debt.