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Racquelle Perry has always prioritized education — she’s got two master’s degrees and the bills to prove it.

Perry owes $307,000 in student loans, she told CBS News, one of the millions who must now contend with the restart of those loan repayments and stubbornly persistent inflation.

She said looking at the number she still owes makes her wonder, “How am I ever going to pay this back?”

“If I pay this five, six, seven hundred dollars this month, how am I going to afford to buy food for the family for the month, for the week?” the single mother who teaches financial literacy to high schoolers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said.

Perry has avoided her payments recently, and she’s not alone. 

According to the Education Department, about 40% of borrowers who owed a payment in October when payments resumed failed to make that payment by mid-November. 

Borrowers won’t face late fees for a one-year grace period, but Betsy Mayotte, the president of the nonprofit The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, warned interest is still building.

“If the loan ends up defaulting, it’s going to be a big hit on your credit. Future debt that you need to take on — a mortgage, a credit card, a car loan — is likely going to have a much higher interest rate, and therefore cost you more,” she said.

While everyone’s situation is different, all federal loans offer an interest rate discount for those enrolled in autopay. For some, up to $2,500 in annual interest could be written off on tax returns.

The government also has several programs that can help eliminate or reduce loans, with options available through the online Loan Simulator tool.

“I would love to see every consumer with student loans getting in the habit of reevaluating their student loans strategy and checking in on things once a year,” Mayotte said.

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