Offering student loan advice as part of a practice can help build business and aid some of the 44 million people in the United States who have student loan debt, said Justin Rice, a certified student loan professional and financial advisor with Personal Wealth Strategies in Hamilton, N.J.

“You should be talking to your clients about student loan debt,” Rice said. "Student loan debt has climbed to $1.5 trillion and is second only to mortgage debt in the United States. The average debt is $34.000. We have an opportunity to advise on that.”

Rice discussed the different student loan repayment options, eligibility requirements and forgiveness opportunities during a webinar sponsored by the FPA of New Jersey Thursday.

Student loans can be confusing in part because there are federal loans, which can be subsidized or non-subsidized, and private loans, all of which have different eligibility requirements and different repayment plans. Some federal debt is interest free and some is forgivable. The CARES Act, which provides stimulus payments to individuals and loan and grant programs for businesses, also has provisions that put student loan repayments on hold, Rice said.

A grace period of approximately six months is granted after graduation before loan repayments have to begin. Some repayments are amortized like traditional loans and others are based on income, Rice explained. In addition, sometimes the spouse’s income is included when determining income-based repayments and sometimes it is not.

Loans can be consolidated or refinanced, although refinancing for federal loans usually does not make sense because the borrower loses the benefits that come with a federal loan, such as having access to multiple repayment options, he said. Refinancing for private loans is beneficial if a lower interest rate can be obtained.

Advisors need to determine what type of loan their clients have and which repayment plan is the most beneficial depending on their clients’ future plans, Rice said.

The website offers advice and several private companies or financial planning organizations offer educational courses or certificates focused on student loan debt. “There are numerous ways advisors can obtain education on student loans or you can outsource it to an expert,” he added.

“This is something you cannot ignore” as an advisor and you want to make sure you are giving accurate advice. “Any incorrect advice can harm the client and can open the advisor up to liability issues,” Rice said.