Consumer Alert: How to avoid student loan traps

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- While many students are back in college, many of those who just graduated will soon have to start repaying their loans.

Two out of three who've graduated from college carry some sort of debt. Here's what graduate need to know to avoid falling into a money pit.

Oakland resident Valerie Coleman graduated in June from UCLA with a masters in urban planning and affordable housing. She did her undergraduate work 10 years ago at UC Santa Cruz.

Coleman still owes 10,000 for her undergraduate studies and in November will begin paying off $80,000 she owes from graduate school.

"I'm nervous. I have to get a job that's going to pay back these loans," Coleman said.

She has reluctantly rejected two job offers in affordable housing because they do not pay enough to reduce her debt.

Erica Sandberg is a consumer finance expert based in the Bay Area. She told 7 On Your Side, "It's becoming a problem that more and more people are dealing with because they are taking out a lot of loans, and they aren't getting the jobs they expect to get."

Some graduates are also being lured into financial traps by companies claiming they can lower interest rates and consolidate debt.

"There will always be people who are trying to take advantage of vulnerable, scared, stressed out borrowers," Sandberg warned.

Coleman knows enough to avoid them. She said, "I'm terrified of them. I don't want to get into a worse situation than I already have."

The attorney general's office suggests anyone with a federal student loan apply for a free loan consolidation program through the Department of Education. There are no upfront fees.

Anyone with a private loan should go back to their lender and avoid unsolicited offers.

Those with a combination of private and student loans should treat them separately.

Despite the stress Valerie remains optimistic for her future. Coleman told 7 On Your Side, "I am really passionate about education, and really getting the tools that you need to be able to do the work that you want. I'm just not sure how I'm going to make it work."

Here are links about the federal loan consolidation program plus other useful links that can help you make good decisions about both obtaining a loan and paying one off.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Eligibility requirements, benefits and potential warnings for federal loan consolidation program

Make a list of all federal student loans

Apply for federal loan consolidation program

Repayment plan options for federal student loans

Determine best federal student loan repayment plan

Student Loan Hero
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