Frightened by reports of college grads being crushed by student loans? Protect yourself by limiting how much you borrow.
-- Choose a school that fits into the family budget. That doesn't mean sacrificing quality. Check out Kiplinger's Best College Values special report at kiplinger.com/reports/best-college-values.
-- Bypass the four-year route. Starting at a community college and transferring to a four-year school can save a lot. You may be able to slice a year off your expenses by taking Advanced Placement courses in high school or qualifying for college credits through the College Level Examination Program.
-- Use money you don't have to pay back, like scholarships and grants. Also, it's never too late to save, especially if you live in a state that gives an income tax break for contributions to state-sponsored 529 plans.
-- If you must borrow, borrow smart. Start with government-sponsored loans, which offer flexible repayment options -- such as lower payments and deferral -- and fixed interest rates. These include Perkins loans, for eligible students, and Stafford loans, which may be subsidized. Avoid risky private loans, if possible. (For more information on student loans, go to StudentLoans.gov.)
-- Know what you're getting into. Use the Student Loan Advisor calculator at FinAid.org. It provides an estimate, based on starting salaries of various professions, of the maximum in student loans you should take out and how much it will cost to pay the loans back.
-- Choose a marketable major. It helps to pick a field of study that is in demand. That doesn't mean you have to major in engineering or computer science. But if you're majoring in economics, it couldn't hurt to take accounting.