You’ve finally put college behind you: no more books, no more homework, no more lectures. But you may have one more hurdle left: paying off that student loan. If so, you’re not alone. Seven in 10 college seniors have an average of $30,000 in student loan debt.
Handling this debt could become your first -- and hardest -- lesson in adulting. If you miss a payment, or pay late, you’ll put your credit rating at risk, and that will mean you pay more on future loans (like an auto loan or mortgage). Plus, a low credit score can hurt your chances for finding a new job.
Your first priority is to make sure you’re on top of your repayment plan. Update your lender(s) with any new phone numbers, email or mailing addresses.
If you haven’t already done so, choose a repayment plan that works for you. Take time to understand your options, which may include a standard repayment (equal monthly payments over a ten-year period) or an income-driven repayment (monthly payments at a percentage of income). The Department of Education provides information and calculators regarding the various repayment options.
Consider auto payments, in which your servicer (the company that sends you a bill each month) automatically withdraws money from your bank account. Some lenders will discount your interest rate if you set up auto-debit.
If you have multiple loans, look into a consolidation loan, which may give you access to more beneficial repayment and forgiveness programs. But research the pros and cons carefully. Consolidating federal loans into a private student loan may mean you lose some borrower benefits.
Stay ahead of trouble. Don’t wait until you miss a payment; talk to your lender or loan servicer immediately if you anticipate having trouble making payments.
Ask about forgiveness. If you work in government, nonprofit or other public service jobs, you may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Find out more at studentloanborrowerassistance.org.
Ask your employer. A few companies offer favorable repayment terms as an employee benefit. This is a fairly new program, but it can’t hurt to ask your HR department if it’s an option.Try technology. For advice tailored to your situation, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s student loan decision tree. After you answer a few questions – such as the type of loan you have (federal or private) and whether you’ve missed any payments so far -- the tool will provide information for optimizing the way you pay off your student loans.