SALT LAKE CITY -- There's just one way to repay the $1.11 trillion that 37 million American federal student loan borrowers currently owe: writing a monthly check until the balance is zero. Right?

Wrong, says Heather Jarvis, a student loan expert at Educational Resources and Training in Wilmington, N.C. She outlined multiple strategies for paying off federally guaranteed student loans at the 2014 NAPFA conference.

Not every borrower needs such programs, she noted. For graduates who will earn a decent income quickly after finishing school, she said, standard monthly payments could be the best option: "You could be better off paying off more quickly."

But borrowers who want other options might want to consider these:

Graduated or extended repayment plans. These can work for borrowers whose income will start small but grow later. Medical school graduates, who typically spend years as underpaid hospital residents, are one example.

Income-based and pay-as-you-earn plans. Such plans can help clients who have either a high income and high loan amount or a low income and high loan total.

Both plans compare the amount by which the borrower's adjusted gross income against 150% of the federal poverty rate for the borrower 's family, then ask that the borrower repay 15% (for the income-based plan) or 10% (for pay as you go) of the excess. After 25 years of payment, the income-based plan forgives any outstanding debt. The pay-as-you-go plan is more generous, canceling any remaining debt after 20 years.

Working for the government or in a qualifying nonprofit. These career paths can mean loan forgiveness in a decade, Jarvis says. After at least 120 qualifying payments over 10 years, she says, the balance is forgiven.


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