THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Volunteer, cut college costs

Are you shocked by the difference between tuition costs and and the financial aid you'll get? Gerri offers creative ways to lower your debt burden.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- College tuition increases about 5% to 8% a year. And most students are now just beginning to get their financial aid packages.

If you're astonished by just how much money you'll be spending, here are some ways you can ease that student loan burden.

1. Let Uncle Sam forgive your student loan debt

Yes, the price tag for college can be daunting. A private-four-year college costs more than $25,000 a year. But there are some programs from Uncle Sam that can help you manage that burden through loan forgiveness.

To qualify, you must perform volunteer work, military service or teach or practice medicine in certain types of communities.

Volunteering Loan Forgiveness Programs:

  • Americorps: Serve for 12 months and receive up to $7,400 in stipends plus $4,725 toward your loan -- that amount is likely to increase.
  • Peace Corps: Cancel 15% of your Federal Perkins Loan per year.
  • Volunteers in Service to America: Provide 1,700 hours of service and receive $4,725.

2. Loan forgiveness for teachers

If you become a teacher in an elementary or high school with students from low-income families, you can have a portion of your Perkins Loan forgiven. Each year you teach you can get a portion forgiven, up to five years. Contact a school district's administration to see which schools are eligible.

Math and science teachers who work in high-need schools can also get up to $17,500 forgiven from their Stafford loan.

The American Federation of Teachers maintains a list of other loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Go to

3. Cut medical or law school bills

Many law schools forgive the loans of students who serve in public-interest or non-profit positions. Go to the American Bar Association for a summary of loan repayment assistance programs.

Here's a sampling of some student loan forgiveness programs in health care:

  • National Health Service Corps
  • Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program

These programs offer loan forgiveness to physicians and registered nurses who agree to practice for a set number of years in areas that lack adequate medical care -- and that includes remote areas or economically depressed regions.

The American Association of Medical Colleges maintains a database of state and other loan repayment programs for medical school students. Go to for more info.  To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send an e-mail,we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and

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