WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — There are nearly 1.4 million North Carolinians who have student loan debt.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows they owe a total of $51.2 billion. On average, that’s more than $36,000 per borrower.

This month, people will have to pay their loans for the first time in more than three years. They can expect to get a bill with their payment amount and due date at least 21 days before it’s due. It won’t be the same date for everyone.

If you graduated this past spring, you won’t have to make payments immediately. There’s a grace period, which is usually about six to nine months after graduation.

Student loan debt is something we typically associate with young people but that’s not always the case.

“I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get the extra income to pay this loan back,” said Patricia Sanders, a 1992 graduate of Winston-Salem State University. “Right now, I don’t see a see a way of it getting paid on the due date that they’re wanting.”

Sander is working to pay off her grad school loans and the loans she took out to send her two children to college.

“I’ve contemplated getting a second job,” she said. “Currently I work a full-time job, but now actually having to subsidize, get an extra job to be able to meet that payment each month.”

Sanders said the repayment process is confusing at first. It’s why some students and parents have reached out to Ronnette Hamilton, the director of Winston-Salem State University’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, to get their questions answered after three years of not having to worry about it.

“You didn’t have to make those loan repayments, so you know your attention went to other things and trying to pay off, other debt you may have had,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton recommends everyone first get in contact with their loan servicer. After that, you can find out if you qualify for any relief.

“There are still some loan forgiveness opportunities out there, especially if you’re working in public service,” she said. “If you’re a teacher, there are some opportunities for you still.”

In this first month of payments starting back up, the federal government is cutting borrowers some slack.

“The government realizes there’s confusion right now, so one of the things that they’ve done is basically for this next year, if you miss a payment, you’re not going to get dinged down your credit report,” said John Marske, a senior client advisor with Triad Financial Advisors.

Even so, Marske doesn’t recommend missing a payment.

“We’re still charging interest on those loans,” he said. “The longer you miss the payment, even though it won’t get reported, that interest is building over time.”

His best advice is don’t ignore your student loan debt.

“I think the natural reaction when you don’t understand something is I don’t even know where to start,” said Marske. “You’ve got to start.”

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Start somewhere, even if it seems daunting.

“It’s really stressful because I’m like, oh my gosh, I can’t afford what I have totally because with interest rates and everything going up, credit card debt, house payment,” said Sanders.

If you don’t know where to start, a good place is There, you can find out who your loan servicer is, how to pay and if you qualify for any relief.