The single smartest thing you can do with your student loans, according to 3 loan experts

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  • A group of personal finance experts sat down with Business Insider's Tanza Loudenback to discuss student loan debt as part of our year-long series on millennials and money: "Master Your Money."
  • When asked for the smartest thing someone with student loans can do, the experts recommended facing your debt head-on, getting your finances organized, and finding someone who can hold you accountable to your progress.
Like most things in the personal finance realm, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with your student loans. But, experts say there are small, smart steps you can take today.Advertisement

For Business Insider's Master Your Money series, seven student loan experts and financial professionals sat down with personal finance correspondent and Certified Financial Planner candidate Tanza Loudenback to talk about dealing with student debt. Here are three of their suggestions on the smartest moves to make today to crush your student loan debt.

1. Face your debt head-on

Alison Hutchinson, a vice president at financial services firm Brown Brothers Harriman, said that getting real about your debt is the smartest thing you can do for your student loans.

"The mistake that many people make is feeling embarrassment, shame, and burying their head in the sand," Hutchinson said. "But you need to know exactly what you're facing, what your payments are, and have an idea of how you're going to approach it."
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Her advice is to start with a list. "The best thing that anyone with any kind of debt can do is build a personal balance sheet," she said. "It doesn't have to be fancy. It can just be pencil to paper on a legal pad with your debts on one side, and your assets on another."

Include everything you know about your debts, including their interest rates, monthly payments, and balances. On the other side, note your salary and any other income. Then, you'll be able to better understand what you owe, and what resources you have available to pay.

2. Get organized, and make a plan

Carmen Perez of Make Real Cents, who paid off $30,000 in student loans, finds that confusion can often stand in the way of paying off loans. Advertisement

"My biggest advice, and it's not glamorous by any means — and a lot of people are very averse to it — but get a budget," Perez said. She continued: "A lot of people run around like chickens with their heads cut off because they don't understand where their money is going and how much money they actually have coming in."

People tend to think of a budget as restrictive, but really, it's just planning ahead to decide where your money will go. How much will go toward groceries? How much will go toward gas? How much will go into savings, and how much will go toward loans? Apps like Mint, Personal Capital, You Need a Budget, and Zeta (whose founder is also on the money council) make it easy to see how much you've been spending in different categories, decide on a realistic budget, and track your progress moving forward.

3. Find someone to be on your team

Aditi Shekar, founder and CEO of money management app Zeta, suggests finding someone who can hold you accountable to the plans you've made and can be a resource, whether it's a friend or a financial planner. Advertisement

"People are usually really afraid and get a lot of anxiety and stress when talking about money," she said. "I would encourage folks to just find a person who can help," she said. "That person could be your partner, an adviser, or a friend who's just really smart about how to manage student debt."

She continued: "Find that person, put your trust in them, disclose the information to them, and then sit down and figure it out together, even if it's just one thing you have to do."

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