1. CALCULATE YOUR TOTAL DEBT

Only by knowing your total debt can you develop a plan to pay it down, consolidate it or possibly explore forgiveness.

2. KNOW THE TERMS

As you sum up the size of your debt, also itemize the terms of every loan. Each one could have different interest rates and different repayment rules.

3. REVIEW THE GRACE PERIODS

These too can differ. For example, Stafford loans have a six-month grace period, while Perkins loans give you nine months before you must start making payments.

4. CONSIDER CONSOLIDATION

The big plus of consolidation is that, often, it lowers the weight of your monthly payments burden. It also frequently lengthens your payoff period, which is a mixed blessing: more time to pay the debt, but more interest payments, too.

5. HIT HIGHER LOANS FIRST

As with any debt-payoff strategy, it is always best to pay off the loans with the highest interest rates first.

Once that is paid off, apply the total monthly amount on that loan (the regular payment, plus the overage plus the regular amount) to repaying the debt with the second highest interest rate. And so on.