KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- American student loan debt totals more than $1.53 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

In fact, 44 million Americans are writing a check to pay down their debts each month.

The reality is there’s also a big emotional cost to student loan debt.

A new study is now saying it’s causing depression for young adults.

The study done by First Republic Bank said that 74% of the two-thousand people they surveyed agreed that student loans are depressing.

The study also found that 51% say the emotion most strongly associated with making their monthly student loan payment is frustration.

Then 43% believe having student loan debt can impact their opportunities to enter a serious romantic relationship.

The immense burden is also prompting some young professionals to delay major life and financial goals.

According to the Federal Reserve, student debt has hurt the housing market with loans preventing 400,000 young Americans from buying homes.

“The mental side is very taxing, and it’s very overwhelming because you think about how long you have to pay for it,” Klassie Alcine, a UMKC graduate said. “And when you see folks taking 20-30 years to pay off their student loan debt, it seems like it’s just forever.

KCTV5 spoke with both counseling services and a financial aid expert at UMKC on how you can avoid becoming depressed by your student loans.

For advice, here is the full Q & A.

- What can students do to prevent them from becoming depressed over student loans?

Student loan debt is becoming an increasing source of stress and depression for students, even before they enter college. One way students can help prevent this stress is to have a very frank discussion with family and either the institution’s financial aid advisors or a personal financial advisor prior to enrolling in college. Many college financial advisors are available to high school students to talk about the “real” cost of college and help families understand how to obtain all forms of financial aid, as well as how to manage student loan debt. For example, UMKC Financial Aid Advisors have gone to KC Area High Schools during Parent/Teacher Conferences to speak with families and their student about Financial Aid overall (including loans, scholarships and grants), how to complete the FAFSA, how to live on a budget during college and how to pay back those student loans. The best way to avoid massive debt is to work with a school that is committed to lowering the cost of attendance for students, through financial aid, scholarships, open-source educational materials such as online textbooks, and other forms of assistance that the school can provide.

While students are matriculating, it is important to stay on top of their studies! Dropping classes and failing classes can actually increase your loan debt because you have to retake courses, you extend your stay at college (missing time that you can actually be earning a salary) and you jeopardize your financial aid package in terms of loans and scholarships (which might have certain GPA and/or credit hour requirements).

We encourage students to seek help if they feel they are struggling in classes, socially or emotionally. Students face several stressors in addition to academics and seeking the appropriate help to manage those stressors can make the difference in retention and academic success. Contacting your institution’s Student Services Resources e.g. Counseling Center, Student Health, Disability Services, Supplemental Instruction will help students stay on track academically and overall.

-- Lynette Sparkman-Barnes, Psy.D., Associate Director, UMKC Counseling Services

- How worrisome is it that student loan debt is taking an emotional toll beyond the commonly associated financial cost?

Issues like 400,000 young Americans having their ability to buy homes significantly impacted due to student loan debt is not something to take lightly. Schools should remain diligent and committed to lowering the costs for students, through financial aid, scholarships, and open-source materials and any other forms of assistance. – Scott Young, director, UMKC Financial Aid & Scholarships Office

- What types of realistic goals should be set to manage student loan debt?

Students should plan ahead for costs and work to save money prior to going to college and, if necessary, work while in college. Students should always look at living on a budget while in school and definitely after graduation, when they must begin paying their student loan debt. It’s important for students to continue to manage their finances and live below their means, especially right after graduation. I encourage students to consider the job and financial prospects for their major (i.e. how much they can expect to make once they graduate and go into an entry level position, as well as the salary range for their chosen field). Students must weigh their job and financial prospects with the cost of getting a degree in that field and consider how they can pay for their education with not only loans, but with scholarships and grants (if they qualify for those)

-- Lynette Sparkman-Barnes, Psy.D., Associate Director, UMKC Counseling Services

- According to a new survey, nearly half haven’t explored refinancing because they don’t know where to start. What tips do you have on the process?

I would be careful with this process, because as with so many other things, the benefits will vary based on your own personal circumstances. If you have federal loans, you need to consider all of the benefits you have with those loans. For example, are you eligible for a loan forgiveness program? It may require the loan to specifically be the federal loan or possibly a federal consolidation loan to qualify for the program. You should be thinking about a lot of factors as you look at lending companies. What is your credit score? What kind of interest rate could you receive compared to your current rates? Is the interest fixed or variable? What are the benefits tied to the loan? Are there any fees? What is the customer service like with the companies you are looking at working with? What if you decide to go back to school, can the loan be deferred? Are there forbearance options? If you need a co-signer, is there a co-signer waiver process?

It depends a lot on your circumstances, but the best advice I can give is, do your research and ask lots of questions. This can be a great resource for reducing your interest rates if it is right for you.

– Scott Young, director, UMKC Financial Aid & Scholarships Office

- How can you consolidate your loans into a single payment to make it easier to manage?

StudentLoans.gov has an application online to start the process if you are interested. Here are some things to keep in mind: The interest rate for a Direct Consolidation Loan is based on the weighted average of the interest rates on all the loans being consolidated. For a lot of people that can really simplify the payment process and help students out. But be careful, do the math on the interest you would pay if you individually paid each loan and compare that to the interest you would pay on the consolidated amount at the weighted average. If you are interested in certain repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs you need to be careful of the types of loans you include in the consolidation loan as well.

– Scott Young, director, UMKC Financial Aid & Scholarships Office

- How do you determine if it makes financial sense to refinance your student loan?

A lot of what I said about loan consolidation is also relevant. Determine what the adjusted interest rate might look like and do the math on the interest you would pay if you individually paid each loan and compare that to the interest you would pay on the refinanced loan. – Scott Young, director, UMKC Financial Aid & Scholarships Office

- Where can people with student loan debt learn more about their options?

StudentLoans.gov has a lot of great resources for repayment and consolidation. Students can also access their federal student loan history via the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). Private loans will be available on a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Students might also reach out to the schools where they attended. They may have the resources or partners that can gets students the information and help they need. – Scott Young, director, UMKC Financial Aid & Scholarships Office

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