Consumer Alert: Stay informed to avoid student loan struggles

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More than 2 million young adults graduated from college this year, and in a few months, many will get a serious wake-up call when their student loans come due.

A college degree has long been seen as the key to a good job, but more Americans are carrying student loan debt these days. Americans now owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans -- and one study finds that 40% may default in the next four years.

Credit repair specialist Paul Oster says student loan debt can lead to other problems.

"The average consumer who has student loans carries higher credit card balances," Oster says. "When you carry higher credit card balances, you have lower credit scores. When you have lower credit scores, you pay higher interest rates and higher insurance premiums."

LISTEN: Hear more of Walt's interview with Paul Oster in a companion podcast for the News 12 Talks New Jersey podcast.

It's no wonder that student debt has become a political issue. Presidential hopeful Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are pushing plans to forgive student loans and make state colleges tuition-free. But that's unlikely to happen anytime soon, if at all.

So what can you do right now? If you’re struggling with a federal loan, you can request a deferral or forbearance. That will bring short-term relief – but the interest will keep accruing.

If your child hasn’t begun college, Oster says consider asking them to go to community college for the first two years. And if you want to help your kids with college costs, be sure you can handle the debt -- $86 billion in student loans are now owed by people over 60.

If you’re cosigning for a student loan, assume that you are 100% obligated to pay back the debt.

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