Student loans, including federal and private ones, have soared in the past few years, as more Americans have been able to save and invest.
But the debt loads have also grown, with average monthly payments increasing to $1,100 from $926 in 2012, according to federal data.
The growth in debt, combined with a rising share of Americans making less than $50,000 a year, has forced many students to consider alternatives.
A growing number of students are using personal credit cards and debit cards to pay for college.
Some have resorted to loan repayment plans to help cover student loan debt, while others are borrowing from friends and relatives to pay the bills.
Student loans have been a major topic in this year’s presidential election, with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for a moratorium on new student loan borrowers.
But it is the growing number who are making their way to the lender that is the most troubling.
What are the main reasons for college debt?
The amount of debt students carry is one of the biggest determinants of their ability to pay off student loans.
Some states have passed laws that limit the number of borrowers who can be eligible for federal student loans or private loans, but the federal government also sets limits on borrowers’ incomes and the amount they can borrow.
Students with high incomes and small balances can get federal loans, while students with lower incomes and larger balances may not be able to get federal student aid.
For those who are low income, or have lower incomes than others, federal student loan forgiveness has been a key benefit.
The federal government has offered financial assistance for students whose incomes are below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
But a recent report from the Education Department showed that some states have made student loans easier to get by allowing borrowers to qualify for loans that have a lower interest rate.
In many states, borrowers with incomes between 125 percent and 250 percent of poverty, or who owe $200 or less in student loans each month, may qualify for federal aid.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that about half of all borrowers who have loans that are in default could be eligible to receive loan forgiveness.
The rest of the borrowers in default would be eligible only for federal loan forgiveness, the Fed said.
Many states also offer federal student-loan relief programs.
In addition to the forgiveness of student loans in some states, some states also have federal programs that allow students to use a credit card to pay down their loans, as well as some federal loans that may be forgiven.
Are there alternatives to student loans?
Students can borrow for tuition at private colleges or through state programs, but many students opt to use private lenders.
Some private lenders offer more lenient loan terms than public lenders.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers has more than 6,000 members and has about 2.6 million student borrowers.
The association’s student loan services team offers a free loan calculator to help students determine whether they qualify for student loans that meet their needs.
Other alternatives include student loan deferment plans and student loan forbearance.
In some states that offer a deferment plan, borrowers can defer the amount of their loans for up to 30 years and then be able pay them off at any time, while in others, deferment loans can be paid off with income-based repayment plans.
Aboriginal student borrowers in Alaska and Hawaii have been allowed to defer their student loans up to five years while the government works to increase federal loan repayment.
And in California, students with Native American tribal affiliation can receive income-driven repayment plans for up of 10 years after they complete college.
For more information, visit the National Student Loan Resource Center at www.sba.org/studentloanrecovery.
Students who are struggling with their student loan bills can apply to the federal student assistance program.
The program provides financial assistance to low- and moderate-income borrowers, and it helps borrowers who are working full-time and do not have the money to pay their loans off.
The money can help pay for tuition and other student expenses.
Students may also qualify for grants, loan forgiveness and other assistance if they make a qualifying contribution to a college fund.
For a more detailed look at the issues students face in paying their student debt, read this recent story from the Los Angeles Times.