The Federal Reserve Economic Data calculates student loan debt to be a whopping $1.52 trillion, with graduate students bearing the brunt of the bill. The average MBA student leaves college owing $45,000 in student loans. Medical students owe a lot more — would-be doctors have a median loan debt of nearly $200,000.

“While you are focusing on career growth or personal life milestones, your personal banker should be watching over your financial interests.”

The numbers are daunting, but for individual borrowers, paying off student loans can be manageable.

“If you’re hoping to buy a home, start a business or make a large financial commitment in the future, paying off graduate school loans doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but it does require a plan,” says James Herbert, Senior Vice President and Head of Student Loan Refinancing for First Republic Bank.

Personal approach

Staying on track and getting ahead is doable if borrowers are smart in handling their finances. Sometimes it helps to call on an expert, such as a personal banker at a trusted bank.

A good personal banker can help graduates focus on laying the appropriate foundation so they can start building wealth and setting themselves up for long-term financial success.

“While you are focusing on career growth or personal life milestones, your personal banker should be watching over your financial interests,” says Herbert, noting that this should include opportunities to refinance debt into lower rates, creating saving and investment plans, capitalizing on workplace retirement plans and tax savings, and overall preparing you to reach your financial goals.

Any successful wealth-building strategy starts with prioritizing your debt. Herbert says refinancing or repaying student loan debt first can be a great option, especially if you have high interest rates. If you have credit cards with even higher rates, consider paying those off before the student loans. What’s more, you can boost your credit score simply by paying off smaller balances.

“Good habits build good credit, and a high credit score is important in securing favorable loan terms when you want to make a large purchase, like a new car or home, or invest in starting a business,” says Herbert.

By planning carefully and repaying debts in a timely manner, individuals can gradually reduce the amount of monthly loan payments they owe, and therefore shorten the total time to loan satisfaction.

Smart moves

Personal bankers can also guide graduates to maximize their repayment plans, including refinancing and consolidating student loans.

Consolidating all debts into one loan means payees don’t have to worry about managing multiple bills with different due dates. Plus, by refinancing to a lower interest rate, students can potentially reduce their monthly payments and save more cash in the long term. Keep in mind, however, that the refinanced loan is not a student loan and no longer delivers special benefits, such as forgiveness or income-based repayment.

Pharmacist Theresa Nguyen was able to manage her student loan debt and purchase her first home sooner than she expected by refinancing her student loans with First Republic, which offers some of the lowest interest rates in the nation.1

“It’s helped me a lot,” she says. “It’s opened doors for me to have money to invest and play with instead of having it bound up somewhere else.”

The fact that her banker was always accessible made a big difference too. No longer restricted to traditional “bank hours,” Nguyen’s personal banker was available to assist her through calls, emails, texts and in-person communication.

Nguyen liked that her First Republic personal banker was responsive to email, especially since the young pharmacist was busy during the day. “She was accommodating and helped me out by answering all my questions via email,” she says.

By focusing on refinancing, Nguyen freed up money that she would have otherwise had to use for loan payments.

First Republic Bank does not provide tax or legal advice; therefore, you should consult your own attorneys and/or tax advisors to understand the tax and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this document.