Fall is here and that means apple-picking, pretty Instagram pics, pumpkin spice everything…and maybe your student loan bill. For most May grads, the grace period ends in November. If you’re in that boat, here’s what to know as you prepare for repayment.
1. What you actually owe.
It’s easy to lose track of numbers while you’re busy with college. (Besides, who really wants to constantly remind themselves of their growing debt?) But now it’s time to get a handle on exactly what you owe—so you can put together a solid repayment plan. Create a spreadsheet of loan amounts, their respective interest rates, and the parties owed for each so you can strategize which ones to pay off first. You’ll find detailed information about federal loans you’ve borrowed at nsldsfap.ed.gov, the website for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). If you borrowed private student loans and are unsure of the details, contact your school’s financial aid office.
2. You can change your repayment plan.
Most federal loan borrowers are assigned to a standard 10-year repayment plan. If you’re able to make that plan’s monthly payments, great—it’s usually the cheapest in the long run since you’ll accumulate less interest. But if you’re struggling to make those payments fresh out of college, there are alternatives to consider. Federal loan borrowers can request a repayment plan change any time and at no cost, with options including graduated payments, extended terms, and income-based repayment. Learn more at studentaid.gov. Some, but not all, private lenders offer alternate repayment plans, so if you borrowed private loans, contact your lender to discuss your options.
3. Your job may help you pay your loan faster.
If you work in education, healthcare, or public service (including some types of military service), you may qualify to have some or all of your outstanding loan balance forgiven after a certain length of time. Learn more about the requirements for federal loan forgiveness programs at studentaid.gov. Not eligible for any of these programs? Another option is to target your job applications at employers who offer student loan repayment assistance as an employee benefit (a small but growing number of companies do).
4. “Minimum payments” are just that.
Think of your minimum payment as a starting point. As you earn raises, keep adding more on top of that minimum. One popular strategy is to make a second monthly payment whenever you’re able. Another idea: make occasional lump-sum payments after receiving a bonus or tax refund. Seeing a bigger-than-usual dip in your balance is a fantastic motivator to keep the momentum going.
5. You are in control of your debt and your financial future.
Facing down debt right at the start of adulthood can definitely be intimidating. Your best bet? Get proactive about repayment and keep learning as much about money as you can—and you’ll be well on your way toward your next big plans.