An anonymous reader sent the following story about the approach she is taking to tackle her debt.
First I need to point out that this won't work for everyone. I only have a two-year degree from a community college, so my total school loans were only up to $10,000 — a drop in the bucket compared to some people.
After making regular payments for a couple years I was left with a little over $8,000 in loans. Then I lost my job and was unemployed for five months. I was on unemployment, but with food, shelter and utilities, I had to stop paying on my loans. Like an idiot, I failed to file for a hardship forbearance and my credit took a nose dive. About this time I found out that I had old hospital bills that I thought my parents were going to cover for me (another bout of idiocy on my part).
So I was pretty much in over my head. The first thing I needed to do was get a job, so I ended up signing on with AmeriCorps VISTA. Since AmeriCorps is a volunteer program, they only pay a living stipend of $800 a month (for my area at least). This means you have to live near poverty level, which is good practice for living within (or under) your means later in life. The VISTA program also provides members with an $4,725 education award when they complete a year of service. The education award can be used to pay off certain types of student loans (mine all met the criteria) or as tuition at a qualifying school.
I am half way through my second year in AmeriCorps. By the end of it, I will have paid off all my student loans and have a couple hundred dollars left for future tuition. The hospital bill I was able to pay off thanks to a larger than expect tax return last year. All in all, AmeriCorps helped me get back on my financial feet.
Obviously, many people will have trouble swinging the $800 a month, but for people just leaving high school or college with limited job prospects, AmeriCorps can be a great starting place.
One of my close friends did Teach for America after college, which offered similar loan repayment benefits. I knew several people from school who served in the Peace Corps. Do any of you have experience with AmeriCorps or similar programs?