In an effort to help borrowers who are struggling with their student loans, the U.S. Department of Education will begin contacting borrowers to inform them of their available options. Starting this October, officials from the Department of Education will send out e-mails to students who borrowed money for their education about paying off their debt. In line with the Obama administration’s goal of lowering student debt, which totals over $1.1 trillion, this plan is a needed move. Students should be encouraged to consider their options in paying off their loans — and that process should begin early.

Part of the confusion surrounding loan repayment is the vast number of programs available through the Department of Education. According to The New York Times, enrollment in the department’s income-linked debt repayment plans — plans that target those with lower incomes following graduation — is “modest.” Programs like Income-Contingent Repayment, Income-Based Repayment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Pay as You Earn are alien to most college students and even graduates — partially due to lack of communication to seriously consider options. “The challenge is getting the word out,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Outreach has now become a mainstay of the Department of Education’s future plans. With this effort, students can learn of their options sooner — hopefully reducing incidence of defaulted education loans.

Action just from the Department of Education, however, will not suffice. The University must also take steps to help its students understand their options in paying off their debts. With the average Michigan graduate owing, on average, more than $27,000, it’s now time to take a proactive role to help students from being buried under an insurmountable debt. Following the lead of the Education Department, the University’s Office of Financial Aid should make a concentrated effort to inform students of debt-repayment options — and not just after students earn their degrees. E-mail reminders early on, debt counseling and lessons on how to manage debt should be incorporated into student advising as soon as students arrive on campus.

The Department of Education’s active role in tackling the debt of graduated students should be commonplace. The Obama administration has prioritized higher education, and students should be able to do so while understanding their financial options from the get-go. It may not be the most pleasant thing to think about while on campus, but knowing your options before leaving Ann Arbor may save you from serious financial woes in the future.

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