You’re in college and you’re almost done! But before you can don your cap and gown and toss your tassel in the air, there’s one very important thing you need to do: figure out what the heck is going on with your student loans.
Seriously, this is not a drill.
Your student loans are probably going to be the biggest financial burden you’ve ever had to deal with in your life, so it’s important to understand them before you graduate.
Here are some of the things you need to know about your student loans.
1. Who Are You Going to Pay?
The first question you need to ask about your student loans is who exactly you’re going to be paying. Is it the government? A private lender? Your school? Once you know who your loan servicer is, you can start getting some more information. For example:
- Their contact number
- Website for electronic payment or more information
- Mailing address
If you don’t know who your loan provider is, then you can do the following:
Check for Federal Loans:
The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (studentaid.gov) website is a single site that shows all your federal student loans.
- Log on to your Federal Student Aid (FSA) account at studentaid.gov. (you’ll need to enter your FSA ID or create one on the site by clicking on the “Create Account” button if you don’t have one)
- Once you log in, you’ll see your loan “dashboard”
- The aid summary will tell you information about your loan servicer and a link to the loan servicer’s website loan status, etc
- Federal loans will list the federal loan program name (Stafford, PLUS, Perkins, FFEL, William D. Ford Direct Loan Program, etc)
Check for Private Loans:
Unlinke with Federal student loans, there isn’t one consolidated site to see all these loans. So you’ll need to check your credit report to get the details on your private loans if you have any.
Request a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com to see if any lenders appear and their contact info, etc.
2. What Are The Details Of The Loan?
Not all loans are created equal, and that’s especially true when it comes to student loans.
There are two main types of student loans: federal loans and private loans. Federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans, so your type of student loan matters.
When you find out your loan provider, you will learn what type of loans you have and even more importantly, the details of the loan, such as:
- The interest rate
- The amount of time left on the loan
- The expected minimum payment
3. When Do You Have to Start Paying Them Back?
This is probably the most important question when it comes to your student loans.
The answer varies depending on the type of loan you have, but for most federal loans, you don’t have to start making payments until six months after you graduate.
That’s a long time! And it can be tempting to just put off thinking about your student loans until that six-month grace period is up, but trust us, that’s a bad idea. The sooner you start planning for repayment, the better off you’ll be.
4. How Much Do You Owe?
This is another crucial question when it comes to your student loans. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to find out how much you owe unless you contact your loan servicer directly. But once you know how much money you need to repay, you can start looking into repayment options and budgeting for your loan payments.
Bonus Tip: Use a calculator to determine how much you will pay back on your student loans if you pay just the minimum over the course of the loan. That $300 monthly payment for a $20,000 loan might not sound so bad until you realize that if you make that payment over the next 20 years then you’ll pay back over $60,000!
5. Your Repayment Options
There are a number of different repayment options for federal student loans, so it’s important to choose the one that’s best for your individual situation. If you’re having trouble making payments, there are options that can help like income-based repayment and deferment or forbearance.
They can help make your monthly payments more manageable, and may even lead to eventual loan forgiveness.
You can also consolidate your loans or refinance them at a lower interest rate. Be sure to do your research and choose the repayment option that’s right for you.
But for most providers, YOU have to ask.
They might not readily volunteer the different repayment options even though they should. So be prepared to ask to find out if you qualify.
Here’s a list of the federal student loan repayment plans.
6. Can It Be Forgiven?
Depending on what field you want to go into, your career goal could offer student loan forgiveness.
For example, if you want to go into public service or teaching, there are programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) that could help you get rid of some or all of your student debt.
That’s right, if you work in certain public service jobs, your student loans may be forgiven.
So if you’re tired of the stress and anxiety that comes with having student loan debt, and work in (or plan to work in) a public service job that qualifies for student loan forgiveness, including teaching, nursing, and working for a non-profit organization, then it’s worth it to find out the criteria for qualifications, what you’ll need to do and for how long.
One criterion for the PSLFP is that you must have been employed in one of these qualifying jobs for at least 10 years to be eligible – that’s the kind of info you might want to know when starting out if picking an employer, no?
Point is, get the inside information on your options to have the government help you pay off your student loans.
7. Why Did You Take Out Loans in the First Place?
Okay, this isn’t traditionally a question when talking about student loans, but it’s still an important question to ask yourself about your student loans.
Taking out student loans should never be a decision made lightly—after all, you’re going to be paying them back for years (and possibly decades) after graduation. So why did you take out loans in the first place? Was it necessary to attend the school of your dreams? Was it the only way you could get educational or economic advancement?
It’s important to think about these things before you graduate so that you can make smart decisions about repayment. It can also be very beneficial to understand exactly why you took out student loans in order to avoid any unnecessary debt burden down the line.
When it comes to money, mindset matters, and the better mindset you are in when it comes to your money, the better choices you make. And the more you understand your previous choices, the better your future choices.
Your student loan debt might seem like a daunting burden right now, but if you take some time to understand your loans before you graduate, they won’t seem so bad. Just remember the five Ws: who will you pay, what kind of loan do you have, when do you have to start paying back your loan, how much do you owe, and why did you take out the loan in the first place.
Once you know the answers to your questions, you can start planning for repayment. And trust us, the sooner you start, the better.