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Most students end up with debt, but why do more of them tend to be women?

The scale of student debt today is on an unprecedented level. Around $1.4 trillion is the current estimate of what is collectively owed to the state by graduates. Reports indicate that women hold as much as two-thirds of this debt, a figure that is not in line with college attendance demographics. So what is happening here, and why are more women in debt than men after college?

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) claims that the total amount of debt held by women is over $830 billion. This figure is nearly double the approximate $480 billion share of the student debt than men are accountable for. The percentage of women at college is a little higher than men at around 56%, but it is definitely not two-thirds, so what is going on?

Further studies reveal that women are more likely to default on debts and are slower at repaying them. Women generally have a lower expected family contribution than men, resulting in access to fewer resources to put towards tuition fees. Consequently, their dependence on student loans is higher. A gender wage gap does not help the situation, as the average female wage for a college job is 20% lower than that of the average male. Other financial burdens such as childcare also put more pressure on female students.

A third of women struggle to manage their finances and repay loans compared to only a quarter of men, according to the AAUW. It has been estimated that it takes women around two years longer to pay off their loans, resulting in a delay in saving and planning for their first home and retirement funds.

Loan consultants advise women to investigate some of the options available to them, such as female-oriented grants and scholarships. Pell Grant programs are good options for students on low incomes. An income-driven repayment plan for federal student loans can reduce repayments based on your discretionary income.

Trying to combat the wage gap is another step forward for women. Any equal opportunity employer will recognize and support efforts to reduce gender-based discrepancies in the workplace and campaign for paycheck equality. Asking for what you are worth and demanding equal pay is always a good start. You may be surprised at how easy it is, especially if you have a female boss.

Other options include refinancing and student loan consolidation. This works by taking out another lower interest loan to pay off the higher interest one quicker. Private lenders are a good option, since they offer loans for this purpose and can usually beat the interest rate on popular federal loans such as PLUS loans. Check the small print, though, as many private loans do not have the same benefits as federal ones. Forbearing and deferment options are also there, but they are just delaying the inevitable. The quicker you can pay off the loan, the better life will be for you.

Equal pay isn’t just a women’s issue; when women get equal pay, their family incomes rise and the whole family benefits… Mike Honda.

Written by Miriam Metzinger, editor for the financial website Seeking Alpha.