Student loan debt isn’t just a problem – it’s a crisis. In fact, reports from early 2018 show that the crisis is worse than we originally thought. But the massive debt isn’t really a surprise.

Enrollment in postsecondary education (such as college or vocational school) has increased in the last 30 years from 54 percent of the U.S. population in 1980 to 94 percent in 2012. Right on cue, tuition costs skyrocketed between 1980 and 2014 by 260 percent. The emphasis on a college education, combined with how easy it can be to get a student loan, became a recipe for crippling debt, even in a strong economy.

But student loan debt is manageable with discipline and creativity. Here are a few ways to get ahead of student loan debt:

  1. Pay debt off as quickly as you can. Student loan debt gains interest, and that can build up quickly. You can pay more than the minimum payment every month or make extra payments when your funds allow. The faster you pay the debt off, the less you’ll end up paying in interest.
  2. Be creative with your budget. Devote a portion of your monthly budget to student loans. If you don’t already calculate your monthly income and expenses, try a budget calculator to get an idea of where you are. If you have access to extra funds through a raise, a bonus, a new job or a tax return, increase what you’re able to put into your student loan budget. The new tax reform law means millions of workers are going to see savings from tax cuts, so that might be a good place to start looking for extra cash.
  3. Prioritize your payments. When looking at an average budget, there is spending that is necessary and spending that’s discretionary. Groceries, gasoline and rent are payments you need to make to survive and work, while things like dinner at restaurants or movie tickets are payments made for enjoyment. When you make a budget, make your scholarship payments a necessary part of your monthly expenses. Stay in the mindset that student loans are a necessary expense to pay off so that you’re paying less in the long run.
  4. Find alternatives to student loans. Maybe you haven’t had to take out student loans, but you or your children are thinking about it. There are plenty of scholarships and grants available that can drive down the cost of college. Scholarships are available for community service, academic achievements, athletic ability, personal background and areas of study. Plan a strategy for finding scholarships locally, statewide or even nationwide using churches, school counselors or just simple internet searches.

Student loan debt doesn’t have to define you. It takes some work, sacrifice, research and dedication, but you can put that debt in the past. Check out the resources above to help pay down the debt and be free of the burden!