After earning your degree, whether associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or any other kind, there’s so much ahead to look forward to. The world – and the job market – hold endless possibilities. But there’s one looming thing you can’t forget: your student debt.

According to CNBC, student loan debt totals more than $1.5 trillion. If you’re wondering how you can possibly reduce or eliminate your student debt, rest assured: there are options. There are ways to get rid of this overwhelming debt, if you know how to find them.

Student Debt Relief Is Readily Available

While the majority of individuals carrying student debt want to pay off their debt, it can be incredibly difficult when you have tens of thousands of dollars that could take decades to repay. Fortunately, student debt relief – and student debt forgiveness – does exist, and it’s more readily available than many think.

According to The College Investor, it’s estimated that about 50 percent of all student loan borrowers qualify for debt forgiveness. Unfortunately, very borrowers actually know how to qualify – or how to get – that forgiveness.

In order to get debt relief or forgiveness, you need to know what programs and options are available. With this information, you’ll be able to apply for student debt relief. And depending on which options you qualify for, you could drastically lower your monthly payment or have your loan balance forgiven after a number of years.

Consolidate Your Loans to Make Repayment Easier and More Affordable

One of the first options all individuals with student loan debt should consider is consolidation. Simply put, consolidation lets you take the multiple loans you’re carrying and consolidate them into one monthly payment and one total bill.

There are two types of consolidation:

  1. Federal loan consolidation, which is done through the Department of Education.
  2. Private loan consolidation, which is often known as student loan refinancing.

Consolidating your loans is pretty simple. You just need to log into your federal student loans account (found on studentloans.gov) and fill out the consolidation loan application. You’ll then select which loans you’d like to consolidate and choose your repayment plan.

The benefits of consolidating your loans include:

  • Reducing your monthly loan bills to just one
  • Potentially reducing the amount you pay monthly
  • Want to qualify for special debt relief payment plans offered through the government, like income-driven repayment
  • Getting a new loan term
  • No additional fees or charges

Refinance Your Loans to Lower Your Monthly Payments

In order to consolidate your private lender student loans, you’ll need to refinance them. This option is very similar to consolidating your federal student loans, but in order to do so you’ll need to meet a few financial requirements.

Refinancing your private student loans – or consolidating them – means you’ll go through a process that replaces your different student loans from different lenders with a single new loan from just one lender.

And when you consolidate and refinance your private student loans, you could get a new interest rate that’s lower than what you were previously paying. That small change could save you money on every one of your monthly payments and in the long run.

In order to refinance, NerdWallet writes that you’ll need to meet the following requirements before contacting your lender to ask about refinancing:

  • Be in repayment and have made a few on-time loan payments
  • Have good or excellent credit (usually 690 or higher)
  • A job
  • A co-signer who meets these requirements

Consider a Student Loan Forgiveness Plan

If you have a ton of student loan debt that you’re struggling to pay off, refinancing and consolidation aren’t your only options. The government offers a number of repayment programs that include loan forgiveness, giving adults the opportunity to reduce the amount they owe – or eliminate it entirely.

Student loan forgiveness programs reward individuals for certain behaviors, like working in much-needed industries or charitable actions, and also help those who simply can’t afford the repayment bills that arrive every month. After a certain amount of time, these programs will wipe clean your debt, letting you put your student loans behind you.

The following are four of the student loan forgiveness programs offered by the U.S. government:

  1. Income-Based Repayment (IBR): This plan is one of the most common repayment options, and it features both debt relief and forgiveness. If you qualify for IBR, your annual income (after taxes and deductions) will be used to determine the monthly payment you can afford. After 20 to 25 years of repayment, any balance you haven’t repaid is forgiven.
  2. Pay As You Earn Repayment (PAYE): Like the IBR plan, PAYE repayment ensures your student loan payments will never be more than you can afford. Under PAYE repayment, you won’t pay any more than 10 percent of your discretionary income, and any balance left after 20 years will be forgiven.
  3. Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR): ICR is a repayment and forgiveness plan that’s capped at a higher percentage. Under ICR, you don’t have to prove your income to qualify. You’ll make monthly payments, which will never be more than 20 percent of your discretionary income, and after 25 years your remaining balance will be forgiven.
  4. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): PSLF is an option that can be combined with any of the above repayment plans, but it’s also filled with benefits of its own. If you work full-time for a qualifying organization, like a government agency or a nonprofit, you just need to make 120 payments on your student loans. After 120 payments, your balance is forgiven.

With each of these different options, you’ll be able to repay part of your debt and be able to eliminate the amount you can’t afford. These options are more reasonable for many adults, as it keeps your payments within your budget and helps offer relief along the way.

Apply For the Debt Relief Options You’ll Qualify For

Now that you know that there are plenty of options to alleviate the struggles and hardships that come with student debt, you’re ready to make a change. By qualifying for one of these programs or plans, you’ll be able to pay off your debt more easily and quickly. But, in order to do that, you’ll first need to apply.

There’s no one way to apply for refinancing, consolidation, or government forgiveness. Each option comes with a different application and different requirements. For example, in order to apply for consolidation, you’ll apply through the Department of Education. In order to apply for Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment, you’ll also need to apply via the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website. And for any private loan relief or refinancing, you’ll need to apply through your specific loan lender.

No matter which option you’re interested in, make sure to do your research first. Learn – and compare – the pros and cons of each student debt relief program to determine which you’ll qualify for and which will help reduce your costs and debt. You could have your loans reduced or forgiven if you know what options are out there.

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