According to the College Board, the average public four-year college's net price — the amount you pay for tuition, fees, room and board after accounting for scholarships, grants and tax benefits — jumped from $9, 940 a year to $13, 320 from 2003-04 to 2013-14. Not surprisingly, the average amount of student loan debt at graduation went up 56 percent between 2004 and 2014, the Institute for College Access & Success reports. Meanwhile, the median household income fell 6.5 percent between 2007, the year before the recession hit, and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Your concerns are real, and don't let anybody tell you that you just shouldn't have taken out student loans, or that you should have chosen a more lucrative major when you were 18 and couldn't plan past your next meal.
But there are ways to make your student loan payments more manageable so you can afford a wedding, a down payment and other trappings of adulthood. You can also recast your expectations of what you're supposed to achieve in your 20s and 30s to lessen that feeling of falling behind.
LOWER YOUR STUDENT LOAN PAYMENT
Affording your student loan bills should be your priority because the consequences of default can be severe. When you default, the government, for instance, has the power to withhold your pay or seize your tax refunds to collect your unpaid federal loan debt.
If you're having trouble making your payment, switch to an income-driven repayment plan . These options can reduce your monthly student loan bill to 10 percent or 15 percent of your income. Check whether you're eligible for student loan forgiveness, too: Public Service Loan Forgiveness will make your remaining loan balance disappear after 120 on-time payments if you work for a nonprofit or government agency.
Refinancing can also help you manage your student loans. A private lender will pay off your current debt and issue you a new loan at a lower interest rate. You must qualify based on your income, credit score and job history, so it's best for those who aren't in danger of falling behind on payments. You'll also lose certain benefits if you refinance your federal loans.
SET YOUR OWN EXPECTATIONS
Before you lament the cushy lifestyle your loans robbed from you, remember that those loans helped get you a college education. A degree earns 25- to 34-year-olds an extra $20, 000 a year on average compared with those with a high school education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.