By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For recent college graduates, the caps and gowns have been put away, and before you know it, reality will sink in. As they search for jobs, student loan debt is on the minds of recent grads, too.

While consumers continue to reduce their mortgage debt and the balances on their credit cards, student loan debt continues to grow, and for recent grads, soon they’ll have to pay the piper. In general, you have a six month grace period following graduation until you have to start paying back both federal and private student loans.

According to Maurice Benson of Wells Fargo, first thing’s first. He says, “Build a folder, get organized, call around and find out where your loans are, who services your loans, who owns them, and make sure that they all are accounted for.”

Then request a repayment schedule from all of your lenders. It should include: when your first payment is due, the amount of those monthly payments, and an accounting of how many payments are required to pay off the debt. Also, understand your repayment options. If you’re unemployed at the six month mark following graduation, you may be able to get your loan payments deferred until you find work. If you have multiple loans, try consolidating them if you qualify for a lower interest rate.

“For federal loans, there are certain programs that you can enter into from teaching in a low income or certain majors if you work or participate for certain period of time, a portion of your loan can be forgiven,” Benson says.

Finally, be sure your lender can reach you. According to Benson, “If you don’t let the borrower know that you are moving, they may not be able to get that information to you in a timely manner.”

So if you took out a loan as a freshman or sophomore and you used an old address, e-mail or even cell number, be sure to update that information. Don’t think you can hide. In most cases, student loan debt can’t even be wiped out in bankruptcy, so this debt will follow you for life.

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