Here’s How Student Loan Exit Counseling Works — and Why It’s Important

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As graduation approaches, you might be feeling clueless about your student loans. Fortunately, student loan exit counseling helps you figure out the next steps.

Exit counseling is required for all federal student loan borrowers. It covers your repayment options, rights, and responsibilities.

Student loan exit counseling is an essential step as you transition away from college. Here’s what exit counseling will tell you about student loans.

What is student loan exit counseling?

Student loan exit counseling teaches you how to handle your student loan debt. Anyone with Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), or PLUS Loans must go through exit counseling after leaving school.

There are three scenarios when you must complete exit counseling. These include:

  1. Graduating from college
  2. Withdrawing from college
  3. Dropping below half-time enrollment

Exit counseling is handled in a couple of ways. You could simply sign into your account at StudentLoans.gov and complete the process online. Exit counseling via the web usually only takes about 20 or 30 minutes.

Alternatively, some schools offer in-person exit counseling sessions. These might take place one-on-one or in a group setting. In-person exit counseling can be helpful if you have questions about your specific situation.

Check your school’s website to see how it handles student loan exit counseling. If you can’t find this information online, get in touch with your financial aid office.

Here are the 5 steps of exit counseling

After you finish exit counseling, you should feel prepared to tackle your student loan debt. Here are the five main parts of loan exit counseling.

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

1. Review the basics of your student loans

The first part of exit counseling goes over the basics of student loans. At the top of this page, you’ll see your total federal student loan balance.

Then, you’ll get an overview of each type of federal student loan. You’ll learn about Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans, FFELs, Grad PLUS Loans, and Federal Perkins Loans.

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

This section of exit counseling also reviews how student loan interest works. So, keep an eye out for the current interest rates of each type of loan you have.

All of this information should basically be a repeat of what you learned during student loan entrance counseling. It goes over the basics to make sure you understand what loans you have and how they work.

Once you’ve read this information, move onto part two to learn about your repayment options.

2. Learn about your options for repayment

The second stage of exit counseling is probably the most useful. It goes over all of your options for student loan repayment, including the standard plan and income-driven repayment.

Plus, it has a repayment calculator so you can estimate your monthly payments on each plan. You’ll enter information like your projected annual income and monthly housing costs.

Then, the calculator will balance your other expenses with your student loan payments. You can compare plans to see which one best fits within your budget.

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

A second calculator shows how much you’ll save by paying interest during the grace period. Even though you may not have to immediately start making student loan payments, the earlier you start, the more money you’ll save.

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

The final interactive tool shows how much you could save by making extra payments toward your student loans. If you can swing it, a regular extra payment each month could shave years off your plan (and thousands of dollars from the total cost).

Beyond these calculators, you’ll also get some extra loan payment tips. For instance, you’ll learn about the 0.25 percent interest rate deduction you can likely score if you set up automatic withdrawals.

This step is one of the most important parts of exit counseling. Make sure to review the information thoroughly so you know which student loan repayment plan is right for you.

Note that you can change your plan in the future if your circumstances change. Some borrowers even refinance their student loans and switch to a new lender.

3. Read tips on avoiding default

The third stage of student loan exit counseling is all about avoiding default. It teaches you about your options if you run into financial hardship.

Instead of bailing on your student loans — which has a number of consequences — you might put your loans into deferment or forbearance. These two options temporarily pause your payments.

That being said, student loan interest will continue to accrue in most cases. The tool below estimates how much interest will add up if you pause your student loan payments.

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

You’ll also learn about the benefits of federal loan consolidation. While consolidation won’t save you money, it will combine multiple student loans into just one. As a result, it will be easier to keep track of your bill and due date.

This step also goes over your options for federal loan forgiveness and discharge. Forgiveness programs include Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

You might also qualify for loan discharge if your college closes or you have a disability. This information is most useful for borrowers who are worried about their ability to pay back their loans.

Here, you can learn about all your federal options for avoiding student loan default.

4. Get advice about financial planning

The next stage in exit counseling asks you to think about your personal finances. It goes over how to plan for the future and set long-term financial goals.

These are a few of the key takeaways in this step:

  • Build up a three- to six-month emergency fund
  • Create a monthly spending plan
  • Pay off your full credit balance every month
  • Establish and build up your credit score

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

Although the information on this page is pretty basic, it contains the central tenets of good money management. This page also encourages you to be more aware of your spending and saving habits.

5. Update your contact information

This final step has some action items for you. Here, you’ll put what you learned from exit counseling into practice by choosing your repayment plan. Note that your federal loan servicer will still have to review your information to approve your repayment plan request.

You’ll also enter your most recent contact information. Lots of people move and change their emails after graduation. This step ensures your loan servicer has your most up-to-date info.

Image credit: StudentLoans.gov

If you already have a job lined up, you’ll also enter your employer’s information. Plus, you’ll write in the contact information for a relative and two references. In the case of default, the loan servicer will call your references to track you down.

Make sure to review this page before you hit submit. If you need to update your information later, you can sign into your account to do so. And if your income changes, speak with your loan servicer about your options.

After you finish filling out your information, you’re all finished with student loan exit counseling. Once your loan servicer approves your repayment plan, you’ll be ready to enter repayment on the first due date.

Stay updated on your student loan repayment options

Student loan exit counseling is a helpful introduction to student loan repayment. But it doesn’t go over everything, like how to save money on student loans.

Refinancing with a private lender, for instance, can lower your interest rate and monthly payments. Plus, a number of states offer Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) in exchange for service.

While exit counseling is important, it doesn’t tell you every option for student loan repayment. Seek out other resources for more information.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
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.