With graduation season complete, thousands of newly minted college graduates are entering Indiana’s work force. It’s a time for celebration, but as the pomp and circumstance fades, many recent graduates and their families are asking a serious question: How will I begin to pay off my student loans?

Hoosiers are right to be asking this. In Indiana, the average student graduates college with more than $29,000 in loans, a figure that stands to increase. In fact, student loans are the only form of consumer debt that has grown since the height of the Great Recession, now totaling more than $1.3 trillion nationwide – more than what the entire nation owes in credit card debt.

And it’s not just recent graduates who grapple with student loan debt. Their parents and adults who are years out of college also are burdened by sizable loans, which in some cases carry high interest rates.

That matters not just for borrowers, but for our state as a whole. Every dollar put towards paying off student loans is diverted from other important personal investments, such as payments on homes, cars, small businesses and retirement accounts – all of which stabilize and strengthen Indiana’s economy.

Individual Hoosiers, along with employers and policymakers, must make it a priority to ensure graduates are equipped for success in managing and ultimately paying off their loans. Three key strategies can help advance this goal:

Refinancing student loans offers a way for Hoosier graduates to reduce their interest rate payments and channel money towards other meaningful investments. Refinancing is worth exploring for most borrowers, even if it’s is not the right step for everyone. Employers can support their workers in this by helping them navigate refinancing options – or helping pay back student loans –as a benefit to attract and keep top talent. And policymakers can ensure Hoosiers have access to affordable options for refinancing, such as the nonprofit option INvestEd provides.

Thoughtful planning for college costs enables Hoosier students to avoid incurring onerous student loan payments in the first place. Before students and families begin applying for financial aid or mapping out payment plans, it’s important they factor in key calculations, such as graduates’ earning potential, the cost of college and the level of debt that’s manageable for them.  Working with financial aid literacy professionals – through high schools or in some cases, employers offering coaching to their employees as a benefit— helps ease the planning process.

Exploring all options for tuition loan providers is critical. As with all purchases, student loan borrowers must be savvy consumers. There are myriad lending options, from federal loans to those offered by private lenders and nonprofit, Indiana- based providers like INvestEd. Consumers should compare rates and benefits offered by each to determine the package of loans that makes the most sense for them.

Addressing the student loan challenge might seem daunting, especially considering that more than 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, a full 13 percent of the population. But proactive steps such as examining loan refinancing, planning for college costs and exploring loan options make the task of tackling student debt manageable. And doing so has never been more critical for our state’s economy.

By ensuring that paying off student loans is manageable, we will not only empower Hoosiers with more money to contribute to important investments; we also will make college completion more within reach for Hoosiers. That will lead to more residents with higher education in Indiana, which is critical, given that more than two-thirds of jobs will require education beyond high school by the end of this decade.

Indiana already leads among states when it comes to the generosity of our grants and scholarships for college students. We can build upon this success by becoming a leader when it comes to managing student loans. Doing so requires collective effort and key steps to ensure that every Hoosier graduate is equipped for success in paying down debt.

Joe Wood is the president and CEO of Indiana nonprofit INvestEd.

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