According to the New York Federal Reserve Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, 44 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.4 trillion in student debt. Today student loan debt is surpassed only by housing debt as the most common debt households have.

If you are among the 44 million and looking for suggestions to aid in taking charge of your loans, here are a few ideas that may help you out.

First, understand your debt. Take ownership of the choices you made regarding college and debt. Compile a list of what is currently outstanding including the balance, interest rate, and minimum payment. It makes sense to understand just how long it could take to pay these loans off.

You may want to develop a realistic monthly budget. You might find areas where you can cut back and put the money towards making extra principal payments on your debt. The extra cash could also be used to build an emergency reserve. After all, it is stressful to choose between making a loan payment and fixing your car.

Look at all of your repayment options. These depend on whether the loan is a federal or private student loan. Discuss private loan options with your lender. For federal loans the options might include those mentioned below.

Standard plan: With these types of loans, you will pay a certain amount each month over a 10-year period. The interest rates on these loans can be fixed or variable. Fixed rates do not change. Variable rates may change each year.

Extended plan: This option allows you to extend the time you have to pay the loan. This period can be from 15 to 30 years. Your monthly payment will be lower, but the interest paid over the life of the loan will be higher.

Graduated plan: Recognizing that salaries are often lower during the initial working years and higher later on, the graduated plan allows you to start out with low payments and increase them as time goes on.

Income driven plans: Payments under these plans are based on income and family size. The four types are: pay as you earn, revised pay as you earn, income-based repayment, and income-contingent repayment. It should be noted that you must apply for these plans each year. Payments can equal between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income. Loan balances are sometimes eligible to be forgiven at the end of the repayment period. The federal student aid website at will have more details on how these work.

You may also find it helpful to refinance your loans to obtain a lower interest rate. Refinancing is available only with a new private loan. You might want to review federal consolidation loans, as well. Please note that if you refinance your old loans, you will have to abide by the terms and conditions of your new private loan. If you had federal loans, the option to use income-driven repayment plans is eliminated.

Private loans are never eligible for federal relief programs. Federal relief programs could include certain protections such as fixed interest rates as well as deferment and forbearance opportunities in times of hardship.

Another source to look for help with your student loans is your employer. While only about 4.0% of employers offer student debt assistance, more are predicted to do so in the future.

One final point is a note of caution: watch out for scammers. They may claim to get you access to a special federal loan assistance program for a fee. This could be a red flag for a potential scam as there is no fee to apply for any federal repayment plan.

Marc A. Hebert, MS, CFP, is a senior member and president of the wealth management and financial planning firm The Harbor Group of Bedford. Email questions to Marc at Your question and his response might appear in a future column.