Support your struggling grads

Kids having trouble paying back student loans? Help out without shelling out.

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By Beth Kobliner, Money Magazine

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(Money Magazine) -- The average college grad comes out owing $22,500, per FinAid.org - a scary sum in good economic times. Now unemployment for BA holders is at its highest since the Labor Department started keeping track in 1992, making that debt burden even more onerous.

If your kid is crushed by the bills, offer this advice before offering to write checks.

Ask for a break. Unemployed or underemployed borrowers may be able to defer paying back federal Stafford or Perkins loans for up to three years at a time, says Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org. On some loans the government pays the interest. If your kid doesn't qualify or his loans are private, ask for a forbearance, a temporary reprieve during which interest still accrues.

Pay a percentage. Switch monthly payments on federal loans from a fixed amount to 15% of "discretionary income," as defined by the Department of Education. If your child's income stays low and she still has a balance after 25 years on this plan - 10 if she's in public service and has certain loans - the government swallows the balance.

Stretch 'em out. Consider increasing the term on loans of 10 years or less, says financial planner Matthew Davis. Extending a 10-year loan to 20 years slices 34% off monthly payments. The interest over the life of the loan doubles, though, so once your kid's income goes up, he should get back on the original schedule.

Cut the rate. Since 2006 new Stafford borrowers are locked into their rate. But older Staffords can be refinanced based on 90-day T-bill rates, now at record lows. For information visit loanconsolidation.ed.gov.

Beth Kobliner is the author of the newly released "Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties" (Simon & Schuster).

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