Dear Student Loan Hero: How to Take Back Control of Your Loans in 5 Steps

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Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

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When you feel frustrated, you might find yourself talking in whole paragraphs.

But what if you feel lost — or worse, helpless — when it comes to student loan repayment? In that case, you might only drop us a line or two. One reader wrote, “You guys can’t help me. I tried.”

And that was it.

How to overcome feeling helpless about your student loans

Our reader was responding to an email we had sent him about refinancing student loans. Refinancing — or consolidating your debt and lowering your interest rate — isn’t an option that’s always available for everyone. For one, it requires building good-to-great credit, which doesn’t happen overnight.

If you feel like you’re hitting a major wall when it comes to refinancing, if you’re facing student loan default, or if you’re finding it difficult to quicken your repayment, remember this: Just because you feel that you’re beyond help doesn’t mean you are.

No matter your situation, here are five steps to get back in the driver’s seat and regain control of your debt.

1. Identify the roadblocks

If you feel at a loss when it comes to your loans, it’s probably not the only obstacle you’re facing. There could be a few other blocks.

Take the borrower we mentioned at the beginning of this article who tried unsuccessfully to refinance. He might have been unable to qualify because:

  • He has a poor credit history.
  • He lacks regular income.
  • He can’t find a creditworthy cosigner.

Your feelings of helplessness might be attached to some serious problems. Perhaps you have a mountain of debt in addition to your student loans, such as unpaid credit card balances due to medical bills.

No matter your situation, pinpoint what’s stopping you from moving ahead in your loan repayment process. Although it might seem frivolous, take the time to write these issues down and make a list. You’ll need it for taking the next step.

2. Set numerical goals

You’ve identified the factors that make your student loan situation look hopeless. Now let’s look for some solutions.

Our above reader looking into refinancing options might set the following goals:

  • Improve credit score by 100 points.
  • Increase income by $500 per month.
  • Identify at least three realistic options for alternative cosigners.

Putting a number on your goals will make it easier to track your progress. The numbers also will ensure your goals will push you forward. Say our borrower needs to increase his credit score from 560 to 660 to qualify for top refinancing lenders. Then he’ll know exactly how much ground he needs to cover.

3. Create an action plan

Numerical or not, the goals won’t seem achievable unless you put an action plan in place.

Our reader, for example, could come up with a list of smaller, more achievable to-dos that will help him work toward the more ambitious solution of making refinancing easy.

Let’s say he chooses to increase his income first. He could do the following:

  • Craft a resume and cover letter.
  • Build his professional network online.
  • Find a mentor to help with his job search.

Think about your action plans as a series of steps, and tick off one at a time. Each to-do should naturally lead to the next, giving you momentum. It wouldn’t make sense for our reader to start applying for jobs, for example, before working on his cover letter.

See if we address roadblocks and goals specific to your situation in our step-by-step guides. If not, contact us to learn more.

4. Hold yourself accountable

Unless you have a significant other, friend, or mentor who can help push you toward achieving your goals, this responsibility will fall entirely on your shoulders.

An easy way to hold yourself accountable is to set deadlines. Our reader might attach weekly deadlines to his action plan for finding a cosigner, for example.

His schedule could look something like this:

  • Week 1: Identify cosigner candidates in the network of family and friends.
  • Week 2: Set up a time to speak with each candidate.
  • Week 3: Prepare a pitch to recruit a cosigner.
  • Week 4: Meet with each potential cosigner in person.

Your situation might be a lot more complicated than our reader’s, so cut yourself some slack by spacing out due dates.

As long as you attach a time element to each step, it’ll be easier to reorient yourself if you lose your place.

5. Celebrate your progress

You’ve set ambitious goals and have been working to achieve them. Don’t forget to monitor your progress toward each one.

This can be an easy exercise if you set up a system for tracking goals. Whether it’s via a sticky note on your fridge or an Excel spreadsheet on your laptop, use anything from checkmarks to data to see how far you’ve come.

Our reader, for example, might use a budgeting tool such as Mint to track monthly changes in his estimated credit score. It’ll keep him grounded since borrowers with bad credit could have to wait for months or even years to see their score jump significantly, according to consumer credit reporting agency Experian.

If you’re in it for a similarly long haul, break up the monotony with celebrations along the way. Noting a 50-point rise in credit score or a $250 increase in monthly income, for example, will help you overcome debt fatigue. It also will help you keep an eye on the finish line.

Seek to empower yourself during student loan repayment

Think about your student loan repayment by picturing movement along a spectrum. What matters most is that you’re moving in the right direction, and as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t stay still.

Along the way, check out our blog for additional resources and support. You also might want to seek professional advice from a certified financial planner if you want to take a holistic approach to your overall financial situation.

Just remember: No one can help you as much as you can help yourself.

If you have a student loan question you’ve been waiting for an answer to, contact our customer support team. Your question might end up in this column.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.