Dealing with Student Loans: Getting Started in Five Easy Steps

To all of the newly-minted college graduates out there, congratulations! Diploma in hand, the world is your oyster.

However, you may be one of the millions of students graduating this year with some amount of student debt. The nation’s student loan debt is over $1 trillion and is not only larger than the country’s collective credit card debt, but there are also 5 million ex-students that are delinquent with their payments.

Student loans are unique in that they’re one of the few debts not discharged with bankruptcy. Only a federal judge can let you out of your obligation to pay and they don’t do that often. Not only that, but you can actually have your wages and even Social Security garnished for student loan payments! The only reliable way to get out of your student loans, therefore, is to develop a plan and pay them off.

People frequently get into trouble with their student loans, which then affects their credit score, and it makes getting a mortgage or a car loan much more difficult. While credit repair agencies can do a lot to help remove bad credit history attached to debts that are paid off, current debts are another story. A slip can haunt you for a long time.

This process makes it easier to handle your student loans effectively:

1. Assess your situation. Student loans can be confusing. You’re likely to have more than one loan and those loans were probably made by different financial organizations. The company servicing the loan might be completely different from the one that provided the loan.

  • A great central source of information is the National Student Loan Data System www.nslds.ed.govThis resource may provide all the important dates and other information about your loans, including the services.
  • Private student loans, however, are not covered in that data system. Your credit report can be a good way of tracking down the information regarding your private loans. Your college should also have the information you require.

2. Ensure your information is current. For example, the address listed probably belongs to your parents. When you have your own address, you should change your information accordingly.

  • Update all the applicable information, including your email address and phone number. You want to know when there is an issue with your account.

3. Create a strategy for repayment. Your options depend on whether your loans are federal or private.

  • Federal loans have very flexible repayment options. You can extend your payments out as far as 25 years. You can establish a plan with lower payments now and higher payments later on. Payments can even be a function of your income.
  • There can be other options for private loans, but they will vary, depending on who made the loan. Be sure to give them a call and see what other options are available.

4. Consider automatic payments. Federal loan interest rates are reduced by 0.25% if you have your payments taken automatically out of your bank account. Similar deals are usually available with private loans. Either way, you’ll never be late if the payments are taken out of your account automatically.

5. Be focused. Develop a plan for all of your outstanding debt, including any student loan debt. Because you most likely have more than one student loan, make sure you list each individual student loan out as you develop your plan. I recommend listing your debts in order of smallest to largest by outstanding balance, paying the minimums on all but the smallest balance, and throwing every extra dollar you can at that one until it’s paid off. Then continue on to the second smallest, and so on. By using this method, often called the “debt snowball” method, you will see wins early on, and gain momentum as you continue to work to pay them off. Debt is like a slow leak that keeps draining money away from you.

  • Consider a second job or “side hustle” to get rid of those loans quicker. The interest rates are relatively low on student loans, but the payback period is long. The interest adds up over 10 years or more. Pull out a calculator and look at the cost.
  • Create a goal of making all of your payments on time. Create a second goal of paying your loan back early.

Dealing with student debt is a big responsibility. It might even be a newly graduated student’s first big responsibility. While making loan payments is never fun, it’s a fact of life for most adults at one time or another. Get on top of the situation now, and the future will be much brighter.

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