I have $80,000 in student loans and I work 60 hours a week. How can I trade?

How to get out of student loan debt.

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Ask: I’m buckled but I want to be free. I have $80,000 in student loan debt. I work 60 hour weeks in 12 hour shifts just to make ends meet. I’ve been living check to check because I’m the sole breadwinner between my husband and myself. We have no children. Apparently, the only way to get out of debt is to take a second full-time job during the day. What should I do?

Reply: Working so hard and still struggling to make ends meet is undoubtedly frustrating. The good news: There may be ways to reduce the debt burden. If you have personal student loans, talk to your lender about changing your loan term so you can afford the payments, says Andrew Pentis, student debt and higher education expert at Student Loan Hero. “Lowering your monthly payments like that would give you some breathing room and give you some time to establish a longer-term approach,” says Pentis. And if interest rates on your personal student loans are high, you might want to consider refinancing (see Lowest Interest Rates You May Qualify For) to a lower rate, which could result in lower payments.

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If you have federal student loans, think twice before refinancing as you will lose federal protections like earnings-based repayment plans and loan forgiveness. Instead, “enrolling in an income-based repayment plan might be your best option. It ties your monthly bill amount to a portion of your income and extends the period over which you pay off the debt. It’s the best option for getting a cheaper payment, but could end up paying more interest over time,” says Anna Helhoski, student loan expert at NerdWallet. With an income-based repayment plan, if your income is extremely low, your payment can be as low as $0 and still count as a payment. And income-related repayment plans waive the remaining debt after 20-25 years, depending on the plan. “Make sure you recertify your income level annually or whenever it changes,” says Helhoski. This ensures that you pay an amount of money that is within your budget each month.

loan forgiveness

You may also be able to get loan forgiveness if you have federal loans. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is offered to many full-time employees employed by government or non-profit organizations who meet these qualifications. For those who qualify, their remaining student loan balance will be forgiven after approximately 10 years of making monthly payments under one of the qualifying repayment plans.

Employers help with student loans

Some employers also offer help for those burdened with student loans, paying off their employees’ student loans by offering them things like straight-up cash or payment-match programs.

Handling Your Payments

Regardless of what type of loan you have, the most important thing you can do now is stay on track by making monthly payments to avoid defaulting on your loans, which can hurt your credit score and lead to other consequences like hung wages.

You also need to take a look at your expenses and income, pros say. “You can only budget and cut costs up to a point, so your attention should be on ways to increase your income,” says Pentis. Need help with these things? Certified Financial Planner Lisa Weil says, “A wonderful book to review and realign your financial priorities and help you get back in control Your money or your life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.”

One more thing to consider: Can your husband get a job to bring more income into the household? In fact, the first place to start would be to get him a job if he can, says certified financial planner Cait Howerton. “I recommend him to file for unemployment to temporarily put some money in the household if it’s temporary unemployment,” he says. If your husband has a permanent disability and you will always be the primary breadwinner, Howerton recommends that he apply for a federal disability income.

“You might also have to think about bankruptcy if those loan payments are totally unmanageable,” Howerton says. Just be aware that paying off student loans in bankruptcy is difficult.

The questions have been edited for brevity and clarity

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