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Millions of Americans are affected by student loan debt.
About 12% of North Carolina residents have student loan debt, according to the finance company LendingTree, and the “average balance” for borrowers in the state is $36,293.
Research shows people with student debt or more likely to experience financial difficulties than those without outstanding loans.
In a 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, a third of respondents aged 25 to 39 said they were struggling to get by financially. Only 32% said they were living comfortably, while more than half of college graduates with no student debt reported the same.
If you want to pay for college without taking out student loans, here are five ways you can do it.
File your FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows students to request grants and work-study programs. The deadline to submit applications for this year has already passed, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year.
Some FAFSA applicants receive Federal Pell Grants, or money for school that typically doesn’t have to be repaid, according to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. The amount you get depends on your financial need and the cost of tuition at your school.
The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2022-2023 academic year is $6,895. Pell Grants are only available to undergraduates and payments are limited to 12 semesters, the FSA says.
Those with the “most financial need” may also qualify for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, an award of up to $4,000 per year, according to the FSA.
Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who have demonstrated financial need, allowing them to earn money to pay their tuition and other expenses, according to the FSA.
Students who are employed on campus usually work for their schools, while those who work off campus work for nonprofits or public agencies, per the FSA.
Seek other grants and scholarships
Outside of federal aid, the state of North Carolina offers a few types of grants and scholarships for students with financial need, according to the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC):
N.C. Education Lottery Scholarship: An award for those with financial need enrolled in a state community college or one of 16 UNC system campuses.
N.C. Community College Grant: A grant for those with financial need enrolled in a state community college.
UNC Need-Based Grant: A grant for those with financial need enrolled in at least six credit hours at one of the 16 UNC system campuses.
N.C. Need-Based Scholarship: A grant for those with financial need enrolled at least three-quarter time as undergraduates at an eligible independent non-profit campus in N.C.
RELATED: College can get expensive. These scholarship programs offer aid to NC students.
There are thousands of other scholarships available to academically gifted students with various requirements. Scholarships can often be accessed through your college’s financial aid office or high school counselor, or by contacting local civic groups, businesses, religious groups and non-profit organizations, CFNC says.
Consider alternative routes to a degree
The less time you spend in school, the more money you’ll save in the long run.
Earning college credits in high school by taking Advanced Placement courses or participating in a dual enrollment program can shorten your path to a degree.
You can also enroll in a local community college, where courses usually cost a fraction of the price at traditional universities, and transfer to a four-year program.
RELATED: Thinking about community college? Here are some schools in the Charlotte are to consider.
Staying in North Carolina and attending a public university is another great way to save money, since residents have access to in-state tuition rates, and you can save even more by living at home with your family or a relative if you go to school nearby.
Start saving money now
If you’re set on going to college, having money saved to help pay your tuition can help you avoid having to take out loans.
A 529 plan, a savings plan designed to encourage saving for future education costs, is a state-sponsored program where you can withdraw money tax-free to put towards your tuition, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
If you’re already enrolled in college, you can open a high-yield savings account to earn more interest on the money you save.
Have your student loans forgiven
Those who have already borrowed money for education may be able to have their student loans forgiven, depending on their circumstances.
If you received federal loans, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness under the following programs, according to the FSA:
Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Available to those who are employed by a government or not-for-profit organization.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Available to teachers who have taught for at least five consecutive years at a low-income elementary school, secondary school or educational service agency
Closed School Discharge: Available if your school closes while you’re still enrolled or soon after you withdraw.
According to LendingTree, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lawyers and automotive professionals may also be eligible for student loan forgiveness.
Observer staff writer Mary Ramsey contributed to this report.