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Facing student loan debt? You aren’t alone. According to Consumer Reports’ most recent article on student debt, it’s estimated that Americans owe more than $900 billion in federal and private loans, which could have “potentially crippling ramifications for the U.S. economy.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for borrowers. Consumer Reports offers these 7 tips for paying off federal student loans:

1. Find out how much you owe and to what lenders.

2. Choose a repayment option.

3. Explore options if you can’t afford payments.

4. Consider jobs or volunteer programs that qualify for deferment or forgiveness.

5. Consider loan consolidation.

6. Think twice about going back to school to avoid unemployment.

7. Contact your lender immediately if you can’t pay.

For more details or for tips on how to avoid borrowing for college, read the full article at www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/04/student-debt-grows-to-alarming-levels/index.htm.

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The debt-ceiling compromise was signed into law this week, which means that more than $17 billion in federal Pell Grants will still be available to eligible students through at least 2013. So Tuesday’s deal is great news for the approximately 309,000 students who attend Virginia colleges using Pell Grant aid.

However, the legislation cut two aid programs that helped student borrowers. First, graduate students with federal loans will lose their interest subsidy, meaning they will begin accruing interest on their loans immediately, instead of after they graduate. Second, students will no longer receive on-time repayment incentives for federal loans, including the Stafford.

Does this mean that students should no longer count on federal student loans to help cover their college costs? Not at all. It just means that students and their families should carefully read the fine print and understand how and when federal loans need to be repaid.

If you have questions about how the August 2 legislation will affect your federal financial aid, contact your institution’s Financial Aid Office.

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