If you find yourself in a situation where student loans are bogging you down, there are options to ease the stress of this type of modern-day indentured servitude. Sometimes I have to wonder if a student loan is the best option to finance one’s college tuition, and then I see the cost of a University of California public school is $29,450 per year. For some people the only way to afford four years of higher education is to take out the dreaded student loan; the idea of borrowing now and paying it back later sounds sweet while you’re in school. Not so much when you get out.

In retrospect, it’s the only way to get some people through school and the only way to keep them working after school to pay it off. It’s the gift that just keeps on taking your money. With our economy in turmoil and the prospect for jobs dire, many recent graduates are struggling to handle just basic living expenses, let alone student loans.

One option you have is consolidation, which takes all your loans, puts them together and if necessary extends the terms of your loan (the amount of months it takes to pay it off). By putting all your loans together instead of paying off a bunch of little ones, consolidating your loans might just be a good idea if you’re looking for a lower monthly payment.

The federal government Web site loanconsolidation.ed.gov is easy to use. You just need to be diligent with the paperwork and most of all, be patient with the process. Also something to consider when consolidating is an option called the Income-Based Repayment program. It calculates your monthly payments based on a percentage of your income each year, and they will forgive any amount remaining after 25 years.

Another option that actually helps to erase some, if not all, of your student loan is student loan forgiveness programs (as if student loans were a sin to take out in the first place). To help ease the pain of paying off your student loan, opportunities where you can trade in volunteer hours for money are available. It’s a good deal; volunteering not only for the intrinsic value but for the monetary payoff seems like a winner all around. Here are a few programs to check out:

AmeriCorps: Awards are given for completing 12 months of service including $5,550 for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. AmeriCorps is a nationally renowned community service group that partners with nonprofits to address critical needs in underserved communities. Volunteers work in capacities such as disaster relief, illiteracy, improving health services and cleaning parks and streams among other things. americorps.gov

Peace Corps: For 50 years the Peace Corps has been sending Americans to over 77 different countries to live and work. It is a commitment of 27 months, but during that time you’re able to defer paying your Stafford, Perkins or Consolidation Loans. You can even work to integrate Peace Corp volunteerism with grad school. Those only with a Perkins Loan can receive partial cancellation, up to 70 percent of their loan cancelled for four years of service. peacecorps.gov

Teaching: The Federal Government has programs allowing teachers working in low-income, special needs schools to reduce or cancel their Perkins or Stafford Loans. For Stafford Loans, you must teach full-time for five consecutive years. Studentaid.ed.gov

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA): Listed under AmeriCorps, this program is specifically organized to fight poverty. Volunteers commit for one year at a nonprofit or local government agency doing work such as fighting illiteracy and community building. By the end, you can either receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (See AmeriCorps) or an end-of-service stipend of $1,500.

If consolidation and student loan forgiveness programs aren’t for you, then simple diligence is the key. Making your payments on time every month and keeping your loan from going delinquent will help you stay in the clear. But for many Americans right now, keeping up with their loans is the problem. Student loans are one of the only debts that you can’t file for bankruptcy, so if you default on them, it will be on your credit report for seven years.