Once you graduate from college, leave college, or drop below half-time enrollment, it’s time to start thinking about when your student loan repayment period kicks in. Understanding the repayment process for your student loans is very important for a number of reasons – for one, if you don’t pay, your interest will accrue. Second, if you don’t pay, it will affect your credit score, which can hinder your ability to buy a home, buy a car, qualify for credit cards, take out a personal loan, or refinance your student loans.
If you graduated this past spring, your student loan repayment period will likely start around this time of year (if they haven’t kicked in already). Follow these tips to master student loan repayment and get yourself to a strong financial start after college.
Know How to Access Your Loan Information
A good first step is to acquire your loan information. This can typically be accessed via an online login. Monitoring your loan information will be essential during the course of repayment. If you took out Federal Student Loans, you can likely access your info at https://myfedloan.org/. If you took out private student loans, check with your lender for how to access your information. Tracking your loans will give you a gage on the status of each loan, the balance you owe, as well as interest rates for each loan. By understanding the status of your loans, you can make more informed decisions about how you want to prioritize repayment, what type of repayment plan you want to choose, or even whether you want to consolidate or refinance your student loans.
Know When Your Payments Start
Immediately following graduation, you’ll likely have a grace period, or a period of time before your first payment is due. This can vary depending on the type of loan you have, and they can be different for each loan. Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal loans have a six-month grace period. Perkins loans have a nine-month grace period. There is no grace period for PLUS loans; however, if you are a graduate or professional student PLUS borrower, you do not have to make any payments while you are enrolled at least half time and (for Direct PLUS loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2008) for an additional 6 months after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment. Private student loans will have differing grace periods so contact your loan servicer for more details. Knowing when your loan will be due is imperative to starting off on the right foot when it comes to your student loans.
Weigh Repayment Options
When you take out federal student loans and your grace period is complete, you will automatically enter the Standard Repayment Plan. This plan allows you to pay off your debt within 10 years, with the monthly payment remaining the same over the life of the loan. If standard repayment doesn’t work for your budget, you may want to consider some other options, or perhaps even refinance your student loans. The federal student loan program offers the following Income-Based Repayment plans:
- Graduated Repayment Plan – Gives you a smaller payment amount in the beginning and gradually increases the payment amount every two years.
- Extended Repayment Plan – Allows you to pay the least possible amount per month for 10 to 25 years.
- Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan or REPAYE Plan – Bases the monthly payment on you (and spouse’s) adjusted gross income, family size, and state of residence.
- Pay As You Earn or PAYE – Monthly payments are based on your adjusted gross income and family size. You must be experiencing a financial hardship to qualify. You must also be considered a “new borrower” as of 10/1/2007 or after, or be someone who received an eligible Direct Loan disbursement on 10/1/2011 or after.
- Income-Based Repayment or IBR – Monthly payments based on your adjusted gross income and family size. Must be experiencing a financial hardship to qualify.
- Income-Contingent Repayment or ICR – Based on your monthly adjusted gross income and family size. Typically chosen if an individual can’t qualify for the Pay As You Earn Plan or Income-Based Repayment.Any changes to your income or your spouse’s income will affect your student loan payment. For example, if your salary increases, your student loan payment will as well. If you are married, both your income and your partner’s income are combined. Two combined incomes will increase your total income, likely increasing your monthly payment.
Keep in mind that each repayment option will have positives, negatives, as well as eligibility requirements. Research each option before making a decision, and consider contacting your loan servicer if you have questions or need more information.
Automate Your Payments (If you can)
Setting up automatic payments will make student loan repayment less of a hassle, will avoid late payments, and may even score you an interest rate reduction. Just be sure you have enough money in your account month-to-month to endure the payments without overdrawing.
Make Extra Payments
When you make your monthly payment, it will first apply to any late fees you have, then it will apply to interest. After these items are covered, the remaining payment will go toward your principal loan balance (the amount you actually borrowed). By paying down the principal, you reduce the amount of interest that you pay over the life of the loan. Applying extra income by making larger payments or double payments will reduce the total amount you’ll end up paying.
Reach Out for Help if Necessary
If you’re having trouble making your monthly payments, particularly on your federal student loans, contact your loan servicer. They will work with you to find a repayment plan you can manage or help determine your eligibility for deferment or forbearance. If you stop making payments without getting a deferment or forbearance, you risk your loan going into default, which can have serious consequences to your credit.
Weigh Refinancing & Consolidation Options
If you have multiple student loans that are all accruing interest at different rates, you may want to consider student loan refinancing or consolidation to make repayment more manageable. The federal student loan program offers student loan consolidation, in which they combine your loans into one loan with a weighted average interest rate, rounded up to the nearest 1/8th percent. You can also consolidate your federal and/or private student loan with a private lender through the process of refinancing. Refinancing your student loans is much like consolidation, however it offers the opportunity to start new repayment terms and possibly lower your interest rate. Keep in mind that refinancing with a private lender may cause you to lose access to certain federal student loan repayment options that are listed above.
Look Into Loan Forgiveness
If you work in a public service position or for a non-profit, you may want to consider the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or another loan forgiveness program offered by the federal government. Other options exist for volunteers, military recruits, medical personnel, etc. Some state, school, and private programs also offer loan forgiveness. Check with your school or loan servicer to see if you may qualify for student loan forgiveness.
Earn Your Tax Benefits
If you are paying your student loans, you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on your student loans when filing your taxes. Deductions reduce your tax liability, saving you money and serving as a nice tradeoff for having to pay interest on your student loans.
Repayment of student loans can be a long, difficult journey – but by taking advantage of your resources and staying determined to pay off your debt, it is manageable. If you need more information on paying back your student loans or the options that are available to you, contact your loan servicer.
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