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Alaska borrowers owe an average of $29,454 in federal and private student loan debt, the fourth-lowest amount across the U.S. This figure is a considerable 20% decrease from the national average student loan balance of $36,689.

The state offers merit- and need-based aid opportunities, like the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grant, to make higher education accessible. Some students, however, still rely on federal and Alaska student loans to fund their tuition gap.

Alaska student loans: Borrowers owe average of $29,454 in federal, private debt — and more facts

To keep educational costs low, college-bound students from The Last Frontier can consider attending one of the 10 two-year colleges in the state. Alaska also offers 18 four-year institutions to students, including three campuses within the University of Alaska system:

  • University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA)
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)
  • University of Alaska Southeast (UAS)

Before entertaining federal and private student loans, in-state residents can apply for state-funded scholarships and grants to reduce out-of-pocket college expenses. The Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS) provides merit-based aid to high school students at three tiers, based on GPA, ACT or SAT scores, and high school curriculum. APS award amounts are up to $4,755 a year, based on your GPA and scores, and students can reapply for up to four years (eight semesters).

The state also sponsors the Alaska Education Grant (AEG), which is a need-based grant. If awarded, students can receive $500 to $4,000 in aid for an academic year. Maximum award amounts go to students who demonstrate the most financial need and enroll in at least 15 credit hours at an eligible institution.

Although the state provides generous aid programs to its resident students, it doesn’t always cover college’s entire cost. In these situations, some students borrow student loans, which add to their post-graduation student debt.

Student loan debt by ZIP code in Alaska’s largest city: Anchorage

Loan repayment programs for Alaska residents

Student loan assistance programs help reduce borrowers’ debt burden faster. Graduates whose loans are in their grace period or in repayment can look into the list of student loan forgiveness programs available to Alaskans.

Alaska SHARP Program

The Alaska SHARP Program offers loan repayment assistance to qualified behavioral health, dental and medical health care professionals. In exchange for a service commitment at health professionals shortage area (HPSA) locations in the state, health providers receive up to $47,000 a year. Award amounts vary depending on occupation tiers, designated as a “regular fill” or “very hard to fill” role.

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

Fully licensed attorneys in Alaska can apply for the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program. The federal program is available to public defenders and prosecutors who work full time for a minimum of three years at the local state, or federal levels.

NHSC Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP)

The NHSC LRP is another federal loan assistance program that’s available to eligible Alaska residents. For a minimum two-year service contract, licensed primary care professionals can receive up to $50,000 in awards toward student loan repayment.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

PSLF is available to Alaska borrowers who work full time for a government or nonprofit employer, regardless of their occupation. To qualify for this federal program, borrowers must have direct loans, be enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and make 120 qualifying payments toward their debt. Afterward, their remaining loan balance is forgiven, tax-free.

Alaska federal student loan borrowers younger than 25 owe less than national average — and more comparisons

How to refinance Alaska student loans

Currently, 6.6% of Alaska borrowers have a federal student loan debt of $100,000 or more. Student loan refinancing is a strategy that can help borrowers — especially those with six-figure debt — pay off their student loans faster.

In a student loan refinance, the goal is to secure a lower interest rate and repayment terms that best suit borrowers’ financial situation. The refinancing lender pays off the original federal or private student loans, or a combination of both types. Then, the lender creates a new private student loan based on the combined amounts.

One option for state borrowers is the Alaska Refinance Loan through the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. It offers fixed-rate refinance loans with terms of five, 10, or 15 years. Borrowers must be state residents, have a minimum of $7,500 in eligible loans, and have a credit score of 720 or higher (or a cosigner who meets credit criteria).

There’s minimal risk in refinancing private student loans. Federal student loans, however, offer benefits that private loans don’t provide. These perks include income-driven repayment plans and access to impactful loan forgiveness programs like the ones above.

They also give borrowers protection in the event of unexpected financial hardship with deferment and forbearance options. Although some private refinance lenders offer deferment and forbearance, they vary — and not all private lenders guarantee them.

Before settling on an offer, compare a handful of refinancing options and use a student loan payment calculator to see how much money each one can save you.

Sources

  • U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2020
  • Anonymized My LendingTree June 2020 credit reports
  • Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax as of June 2020
  • mappingstudentdebt.org

Because the latter data is from 2015, researchers estimated the increase in student loan debt per borrower in the state using statewide data from anonymized credit reports.

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