Well, we made it through another holiday season. Our favorite part of the holidays came right before Christmas, when we settled down with some hot chocolate and watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And our favorite part of that was the adventure of Hermey – the elf who didn’t want to be an elf.

“I don’t want to be an elf. I want to be a dentist.”

Hermey ends up saving the day by pulling the Abominable Snowman’s diseased tooth. That toothache is what made the Snowman so mean and abominable.

We have to wonder, however, what sort of savings plan came with working in Santa’s workshop.

The average student graduating today with an advanced degree in dentistry likely has around $285,184 in student debt. The average 2018 graduate took with their diploma around $29,200. The average household has a combined $47,671. According to the Brookings Institute, Americans are holding over $1.5 trillion in student debt.

Graduates throwing capsAs tuition rates rise, these numbers get worse instead of better. And increased competition in schools is making it unrealistic to “work your way through” college. Even those who defer college for a year or two post-high school aren’t catching a break. The debt load is higher for those who graduated at age 24 or higher. Many of these students, in an effort to afford higher education, are accepting a variety of loans, grants, and other forms of funding – often bundling as many as 15 different loans to complete their college education.

So how can you get yourself out from under this burden?

Some private lenders may help you refinance your student loans. It’s somewhat like refinancing your house – you’re getting a new mortgage. Your lender will pay off the loans being refinanced, and you’ll then pay back the lender. This should only be considered if you end up with a better interest rate and/or decreased monthly payments. It should be a means to reduce that monthly burden – not just a desire to pay things off more quickly.

Many students graduate with loans from the federal government. The government has a direct loan consolidation program. This bundles all of your government loans into one neat, manageable package. But the government won’t bundle any of your private loan debt. Some private lenders, however, will allow you to consolidate both federal and private student loans.

The federal government also has several forms of loan repayment plans. A very popular one is the Standard Repayment Plan. This allows you to agree to a monthly payment, and then keep that payment for up to 10 years. Many people get into trouble with variable interest rate products, like mortgages, car loans, and credit cards. Their base obligation rises and falls with current interest rates. Under Standard Repayment, if you’ve agreed to $100 per month when you graduate, you’ll be paying $100 per month 10 years from now.

Since there’s no guarantee that you’ll be swimming in cash immediately upon graduating, many students are attracted to the Income-Based Repayment Plan. This considers your actual earnings and determines a monthly payment based on that. If you’re making a ton of money, your payment may be higher. If you live paycheck-to-paycheck, your payments may be lower. A great benefit to this is that the government may forgive your outstanding debt at the end of 20 years. It will just go away. But like many forms of debt, underpaying, late payments, or missing a payment may take away your rights of forgiveness and you’ll be liable for the full amount of your loan.

Education is a great thing. And it would be great if it were available and more affordable for more people. But take a look at your student debt today, and learn how to manage it. Be like Hermey. Tame the Abominable Snowman of debt.