The following guest article is written by DK is a financial blogger and avid surfer. You can visit RoadFish.com to read more of his work

It would be an understatement to say that there has been a fairly recent boom in the amount of student loans taken out each year. I’m sure you’ve heard it on the news, read it in the paper, or seen it first-hand from a friend, family member, or child who has taken out a massive loan to pay for their even more colossal college tuition.

Issues like tuition inflation, where banks are handing out more loans than ever to borrowers, only serves to make matters worse. More loans in turn allow more students to afford college, which on the surface is a good thing — doesn’t everybody deserve higher education and a college diploma?

The downside of this system however is that it results in universities increasing tuition, due to the augmented number of applicants.

And the recession certainly isn’t helping either. We’re on the upswing now, but for the past few years with employment rates down, it became increasingly difficult for unemployed parents to put their sons and daughters through college. Thus, yet another jump in student loan activity.

The College Board reported that students are currently borrowing double the amount that they were 10 years ago. It has gotten so bad that the U.S. Federal Reserve reported at the end of 2011 that Americans collectively hold $1 trillion dollars in student loan debt. The pooled amount of student debt actually surpasses the amount of debt from credit card loans and car loans combined in the U.S.

A financial consultant interviewed recently on CNN stated that the average student loan debt for an exiting college grad is $25,500, though that number can be as high as $200,000-$300,000 for graduates who went to law school or medical school. 36 million Americans are currently indebted to student loans.

So, there’s the bad news. The good news is that the economy does seem to be turning around, and that you can receive a quality college education without getting in over your head. The key is to be smart about it, start thinking about it early, and don’t let your debt get out of control.

I list some tips below for how to approach student loans as an aspiring college student without getting buried.

Things to Do Before College to Avoid Massive Debt:

Get a job in high school

Not only does this help students foster a healthy work ethic, but it can also get the ball rolling on saving up for funds for college. A high-school job alone is not likely to cover the cost of tuition, but the earnings can be set aside as livable funds during the college years. I’m talking about money for things like entertainment, food, and housing. This way, students don’t have to take out an even larger loan, as you’ll read about in my next suggestion.

Plus, I’ve found through personal experience that establishing a good work ethic early on is helpful for when it comes time to get a college job. Students are used to maintaining an equilibrium between school and work, instead of being overwhelmed if they have to strike a balance between the two for the first time.

Don’t accept more money than you actually need to pay your tuition

I saw this myself when I attended college—students accepting the full amount of the loan offer that the bank has made them when they don’t really need it. The “extra” money then goes towards entertainment, food, clothing, and so forth. In college, I held a part-time job and was able to live modestly off of my earnings.

In this way, I avoided the trap of owing even more money when I graduated. Frugality is key. It’s nice to have a little extra money to throw around at the time, but after graduating and seeing the sky-high loan, and an increased monthly payment for years to come, it’s not worth it.

Sit down and consider what type of job you will realistically have your first year out of college, so you don’t take on too much debt.

The general rule of thumb is that if your debt is more than one year’s potential salary in the career that you are gearing up towards, it is unlikely that you will be able to afford a 10-year payment plan (which is the most common length of debt repayment.)

So it’s very important to consider what type of career you’ll be going into, to determine how much you will be able to reasonably pay back.

Stock up on as many scholarships and grants as you can!

If your parents are part of a religious group, or the Elks Club, or even employees of certain companies, they may be eligible to apply for scholarships for your schooling.

Parents who are alumni of a school you are considering attending might even get a discounted rate in tuition. Students whose parents are or were in the military might qualify for a reduced rate. Explore ALL of your options before taking out the loan, so that it may be as small as possible.

Go to community college for 2 years before going to a big-name school, if you really want to degree

I had a very close friend do this, and you can bet that right now he’s college-loan free while I’ll still be paying mine off for a few more years. He stayed in his hometown and took community college courses, which cost a fraction of the price the big-name school we both attended did. Plus, he lived with his parents for two years, saving money on rent and utilities. He transferred to my college in his junior year with a sky-high GPA and credits for courses that allowed him to jump right in and not lose any time taking extra courses. In the end, we both graduated at the same time, with a degree from the same university, but he had no debt as a graduating senior while I had close to $15,000.

I hope this segment has helped give you some ideas about ways to cut down on future student loans. Thinking about loans early on can prevent costly financial blunders down the road, including a student graduating with more debt than they can manage.

Overdue payments take a toll on one’s peace of mind as well as their credit score, and far too many students these days are buried in debt. Do your own research, and make smart decisions about student loans!

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