Student Loans Ruled My Life — Until I Took It Back. You took out student loans as a teen without understanding the long-term implications. Here's how to repay your student loan debt! #CentSai #studentloanpayoffplan #studentloan #studentloandebtI remember it as if it were yesterday. I was called into the student-aid office so that I could sign my student loan check. To be accurate, I should say that the check was a mix of grants and loans as part of my financial aid package.

But it didn’t matter. I remember the moment when the financial aid officer slowly put my $26,000 check — give or take — in front of me. With my eyes widening in glee, incredulous, and a distinct lack of fear, I signed that check. It was the first of many.

The Impact of Signing for a Student Loan

Tuition for undergraduate colleges are about 12 percent higher than they were about a decade ago — and over 60 percent of those students are funding their education with student loans, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

At that time, I didn’t know that I’d made a pact that I wasn’t able to understand — that this first check would be the beginning of signing for student loans that I had no idea how to repay. Like my younger self, 27 percent of millennials sign their student loans without truly understanding their terms and policies, according to Business Insider.

I had put aside the morbid thought of future debt for the me-after-graduation.

The me-right-now could enjoy a juicy $26,000 check. Maybe if I had focused on repaying my student loans as I went through undergrad, my story could have been different.

“If you have a steady income in college, consider making it a goal to pay just the interest on your loans while in school. That may not sound like much, but the savings add up over time,” says Benjamin Dobler, certified financial planner at Stewardship Financial Counsel.

“This is because student loans carry compound interest — if you can pay down the interest, you’ll prevent interest from building on the interest, too.”

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Despite a complete lack of financial acumen, I was able to hustle my way through college in four years. I didn’t have a plan for what I would do after college or how I would repay my student loan debt. I had a degree in political science, an academic field that I loved, but I was, ironically, disgusted by what was happening in politics at that time.

So, at the age of 21, with thousands of dollars in college loans, I did what a lot of people do: I floated.

I traveled overseas and I auditioned for dance videos. I struggled to find my way. Finally, I decided to attend graduate school because, well, isn’t that what people do?

Student Loan Repayment Options

I burned through the financial aid I received in college, but my debt stuck with me well past my college years. I wish that I had known that there were options to repay student loans open to me, even though I was underemployed — or sometimes even unemployed.

Most federal student loans allow you to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan such as a Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE) or Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR). PAYE allows you to decrease your monthly payments to about 10 percent of your income, while IBR generally allows a decrease to about 15 percent. Depending on your family’s size and your income, your monthly payments may be eligible for a drop to zero dollars per month.

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Otherwise, many who still have to repay student loan debt but have little to no income “may be able to request that your loans go into deferment or forbearance — temporarily shutting off your required payments altogether,” Dobler adds.

For the longest time, I’ve felt like I kept my student debt a dirty secret from my family, friends, and the potential loves in my life.

Who wants to start a conversation with, “Sorry, sweetheart, but I have debt up to my eyeballs. Let’s get together”? No, I didn’t want to have that conversation. And so I didn’t. I avoided the conversation for one year. And then one year became two. Two became three. And then I found myself questioning the wisdom of continuing to avoid having the student loan repayment conversation with myself.

Student loan debt has affected the ability of borrowers like me to make major life decisions from buying a home to even having children, according to a study by the nonprofit organization Student Debt Crisis and social impact start-up Summer. One day I had enough. I was tired of letting a decision that I made when I was barely 18 continue to rule my life. I was going to repay my student loan debt and change my life.

The Bottom Line

In the time that had passed, I had learned about debt and debt repayment; and most importantly, I learned that I deserved a debt-free life. Do as I say and not as I do — explore your loan repayment options and think about talking to a financial advisor.

If you are a young person preparing for college, speak with your family about what they can afford. Go online and research what it means to take out student loans and what your responsibility will be after graduation.

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Connect with people who’ve taken out large student loans and are still repaying them. There are many people who will share their stories and provide you with suggestions on what to avoid so that you don’t find yourself delaying life once you graduate.

Learn from my mistake, and good luck!

Additional reporting by Alice Yeung.