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Student loan debt, before & during college

The pursuit of higher education is leading to a student loan debt crisis.

So, how do you fulfill that dream degree, while avoiding living under the pile of student loans?

Here are some ways to deal with student loan debt before it starts:

  • Save before you start college
  • Budget while in college to keep student loan debt down
  • Only take what you need in student loans
  • Pay off student loans as soon as you can to limit paying interest

How can I save before I get to college

Earn college credit in high school

Consider taking AP classes or college classes while in high school. In Spokane, Running Start offers eligible juniors and seniors in local public high schools the opportunity to enroll in courses at Eastern Washington University, Spokane Community College, and Spokane Falls Community College.

The Running Start Program encourages academically motivated and qualified public high school students to earn high school and college credit simultaneously, tuition-free up to 15 credits.

Stick around

Think about attending school in-state to avoid the higher tuition price for being an out-of-state student. Out-of-state tuition can be 3x more than regular tuition for in-state students.

Compare the costs of living on-campus with living at home. While independence from the parents sounds tempting, living at home while attending college could save you those additional living expense.

Before making a decision about where you will live, it might be helpful to ask the following questions:

  • How much is the apartment per month?
  • Are utilities included?
  • How long is the lease?
  • How much is the security deposit (usually one month’s rent)?
  • Will you have a roommate?
  • How will bills be decided (get in writing)?
  • Will you need a co-signer?
  • What will you need to furnish your apartment?

Apply for as many scholarships as you can

Last year, over $2.9 billion of financial aid went unused. Every dollar in scholarships mean one less you have to pay back! There are several places to search for scholarships:

  • Numerica Credit Union scholarships (Yep! Your local credit union has a variety of scholarships available, check it out.)
  • University scholarships (examples include academic, athletic, volunteer based, club based, leadership based, ethnic, religious, school of study, fellowship/work based, etc.)
  • Community scholarships (like your Rotary Club or similar community organizations)
  • Local business scholarships
  • Free websites (like and
  • Private donors (like relatives or individuals offering unique scholarships)

Work experience works

Get a part-time job to help with your expenses. The more you work and save, the less you’ll have to borrow in student loans. The more you can save before starting college, the less student debt you’ll wind up with. (Your future, graduated self is going to thank you!)

Who knows, that part-time job could help you find your passion and potential career– or what you definitely want to stay away from!

Once you’re in school, look into work opportunities on or off campus. Work-study allows you to work on campus to pay your tuition bill, but may have financial aid requirements, depending on the school.

Getting a job off campus may pay better and you might even get some hands-on experience for your career. Who knows – you could potentially find a job where your employer offers tuition assistance.

Only take what you need in student loans

Hooray! You got into school and are now you’re a student. You’ve applied for Financial Aid and secured what you need in the way of scholarships, grants, and loans. While scholarships and grants are essentially free money (you don’t need to pay back), loans are a different story and should be approached with caution.

The golden rule is “only take what you need” in student loans. And if you can start paying your loans while you’re still in college, do it… even if it’s just a little each month.

It’s tempting to take out what is being offered to you, but future you will thank you for just taking what you need.

Remember, even if you don’t graduate with a degree, you’re still responsible for repaying your loans. Repayment typically begins 6 to 12 months after you leave school.

Student loans are one of the few loans not forgiven with bankruptcy.

Understanding your options

Types of student loans

Federal Student Loan - A loan funded by the federal government to help pay for your education. A federal student loan is borrowed money you must repay with interest.

Student Loans

Unsubsidized Loan - In this type of loan, interest is accrued from the start and continues to accrue through the life of the loan.

Subsidized Loan - This type of loan is based on financial need. Students aren’t charged interest while they are in school. They have a six-month grace period once they are done with school, before interest starts to accrue.

Private Loan - A nonfederal loan made by a lender such as a bank, credit union, state agency, or school.

Other financial options

Federal Pell Grant - A federal grant for undergraduate students with financial need, which doesn’t need to be repaid (although if you leave school or fail a class you might have to).

Work-Study - A federal student aid program that provides part-time employment while you are enrolled in school to help pay your education expenses.

Scholarship - Money awarded to students based on academic or other achievements to help pay for education expenses. Scholarships generally do not have to be repaid.

Depending on how much you borrow, the standard repayment plan for federal loans has a relatively high monthly payment. If you can make payments while you are in school, you will save money over the length of the loan.

Make the most of your time

Work with an advisor to make sure you are attending the right classes to graduate on time. If you’re not sure what you want to major in, your advisor can suggest some core classes so that you can still maximize your time.

Get good grades on your classes so you won’t have to repeat them. Remember, repeating classes means paying for the class a second time. In addition, many scholarships are GPA-dependent, so that “free” money isn’t free if you don’t keep the grades up.

Learn to live within a budget

Learning to live within a budget is important, no matter what your income. The first step is to understand where your money is actually going. Use a budgeting app or complete this budget workbook to start getting your finances in one place. Take special notice of if there is an opportunity for saving.

Buy used textbooks or look for cheaper options. Sometimes, you’ll be able to check out the textbooks you need at the school’s library. Consider e-books instead of physical books to save you money. Usually, the electronic version of the book is cheaper. 

Get creative! DIY decorating ideas for your college dorm or first apartment can be a fun way to save money before setting out on your own.

Think about your transportation options. Owning a car means having insurance, gas, and maintenance expenses. Do you really need a car, or would you be ok riding the bus or walking? Are you living on campus? Consider parking your ride for a year and save that extra money.

Bottom line, living within a budget is the key to keeping student loans to a minimum before and during college, as well as the most important way you can pay down student loan debt afterwards. With determination, creativity, and planning, college doesn’t have to mean crushing debt or living the top ramen life.

Today's Rates

September 27, 2023