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The thought of paying off student loan debt may be daunting. The average college student has a loan balance of about $26,000, but that’s only the average. There is still a large pool of people who may receive post-graduate degrees and have accumulated loan balances upwards of $100,000.

Take 44-year-old Nicole Jackson for example. Almost 10 years ago, Business Insider says, she borrowed $80,000 and her balance to date hovers around $186,000. That’s an over 100 percent increase in her loan balance. Like many people, Jackson has had times where she couldn’t afford to make payments and had to place her loans in deferment, but this is one of the worst things you can do when it comes to student loans since the balance and the interest are growing in tandem.

This said, her growing balance has caused her to face the reality that unless she hits the lottery, her loans will never be paid in full. Jackson has decided to put the goal of paying off her student loans on the back burner. With a family and expanding priorities, paying off the debt seems impossible and she has better ways she would like to spend her money, like saving for her children’s college education.

I would imagine this has to be the sentiment for many Americans with sizable debt. Even if you are making a good living, most times just paying the interest can cost over $1,000 per month and paying beyond that to put a dent in the principle balance can cause financial strain. This leads many college grads to the same conclusion as Jackson.

If you carry a considerable amount of student loan debt most payment plans will extend to 20 or 30 years based on your balance. That’s as long as a mortgage. And if you ever place your loans in forbearance or deferments that only extends your terms. In addition, if you are on an income-based or interest-only payment plan, you may never tap into the actual principle and carry a balance forever.

With little being done in Congress to bring down the cost of education and the possibility of increases in federal interest rates, this might be the new reality for American students. If you can’t afford to pay for your higher education outright, but can afford to make the minimum payments on your financed education, you may just have to live the rest of your life with this debt.

However, in some cases even the largest amounts of debt don’t have to last forever. In most situations, student loan debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. So unfortunately, there are few alternatives besides if you can’t afford to pay:

1.Total and Permanent Disability: If due to medical circumstances you cannot be gainfully employed you may qualify to have you loans discharged.

2.Death: Wow. For some this will be the only way out of student loan debt,. But on the dimly-lit bright side, in most cases if you did not have any co-signers on your loans the loans will be fully discharged upon your death and will not be the responsibly of living heirs or spouses.

3.Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Compared to the other options, this is the healthiest way to get rid of your debt. For some public service jobs, after making 120 payments the rest of your loans are forgiven. So after 10 years of making payments you could be debt free. Many public jobs don’t pay as well as the private sector, but if you can pay off your loans in 10 years by working in the public sector, you can later move into working for a private firm and have funds to stash away. Make sure you before you make this move.

The student loan crisis in the United States has many well-educated people feeling helpless when it comes to the vast amount of debt they are accumulating to attain the American dream. Even with the possibility of living a life of debt, many believe this is the best type of debt you can have.  But who would have expected making an investment in your future would come at such a cost? We are only left to wonder what long-term impacts this growing amount of unplayable debt will have on our economy in the future.

But back to the original question: Will more people simply stop paying and accept the consequences to their credit? What do you think?

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