The best option is to pay off as much as you can on your student loans as soon as you can, Kantrowitz said. "Students should choose the repayment plan with the highest monthly payment they can afford. This will save them the most money over the life of the loan," he said, as it will lower the amount you'll pay in interest.
But if you're struggling to make the payments, you may be able to get an extended repayment plan—converting a standard 10-year loan, for example, into one that stretches over 25 years. Your monthly payments will be lower, but keep in mind that you'll be paying more with interest in the end.
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Another option is an income-driven repayment plan. There are three types of these plans:
- An income-based repayment plan generally lets you pay 10 to 15 percent of your discretionary income. The payment will never be more than what it would be under a 10-year standard repayment plan.
- A "pay as you earn" plan generally lets you pay 10 percent of your discretionary income to the loan.
- An income-contingent repayment plan lets you pay 20 percent of your discretionary income or what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, based on your income.
Government loans offer a number of repayment options. But whatever route you choose, be sure to avoid default. Contact your student loan provider if you're worried about being able to cover monthly payments, and discuss your options. If you default on your loan, you may be charged additional fees, have your wages garnished or end up being sued by your lender for repayment. It can also damage your credit.