With so much information out there about how to manage your student loan debt, how do you know which tips actually work? To gather the best repayment strategies, we reached out to experts for their student loan advice.
- Student loan advice starts with knowing your loan
- Track down your loan servicers
- Consider paying off the interest while you’re in school
- Avoid borrowing more than you need
- Understand your options for repayment
- Sign up for automatic payments
- Keep living like a student
- Pursue jobs that could lead to loan forgiveness
- Make debt payoff the focus (not your loan balance)
- Consider refinancing your student loans at lower rates
- Don’t ignore financial problems
One of the first steps to take as a student or new grad facing student loan payments is to get organized. It’s crucial to track down the details of your loans, from how much you borrowed to what your interest rates are.
“The most important thing is to understand the full cost of a loan,” said Sabrina Manville, cofounder of Edmit, a company that helps families financially plan for college. “This includes, of course, the interest — but also any up-front origination fees, and when the interest actually starts accruing.”
Before anything else, make sure you understand the following about your student loans:
- How much you’ve borrowed or are planning to borrow
- Your interest rate, which could be fixed or variable, and how it will affect your cost of borrowing
- The issue date on your loan, and whether you’ll have to pay an upfront fee
- Your first payment date, and whether you have a grace period
- How many years your loan term runs for
Once you have this information, use a student loan calculator to estimate your monthly payments and see how much interest you’ll be charged. This will give you a clearer sense of how much you owe on a month-by-month basis.
The interest costs are worth paying special attention to, since they’re the part of the loan you can affect, whether by refinancing or repaying your debt early. Knowing how much you pay in interest might even get you motivated to make extra payments to save money over time.
When repayment starts, the last thing you want is to be caught unaware. So along with going over the details of your loans, make sure you know exactly who your loan servicers are.
Attorney Adam Minsky of Boston Student Loan Lawyer sums up this advice on student loans best: “Figure out exactly what student loans you have and who is servicing them. … Make sure all of your loan servicers have updated contact info for you.”
If you have federal student loans, this is easy: You can find out which of the nine federal student loan servicers has your account by going to the National Student Loan Data System.
For private student loans, meanwhile, call your lender (whether it’s a bank, credit union, or online provider) for detailed information on your server. And if you’re not sure who the lender is, check your credit report via AnnualCreditReport.com — their name and info will be on there.
Finally, make sure to keep in touch with the servicer. If you’re moving or switching from a college email address to a personal one, share these details with them. Otherwise, you could run the risk of missing a payment simply because you never received correspondence about it.
Most student loans come with a grace period, meaning you don’t have to make payments until six months after you leave school. But if you can swing small or interest-only payments as a student, you could cut down on loan costs.
Brian Meiggs, founder of personal finance site MyMillennialGuide.com, was able to pay off his student loans ahead of schedule, partly because he made payments while in school. That’s why his advice for student loans includes getting a jump on repayment.
“If you do not have subsidized federal students, in which the government pays the accrued interest while you are in school, your student loans will accumulate interest the whole time you are taking classes,” said Meiggs.
“This is the case for unsubsidized federal student loans and private student loans. If you don’t make any payments during college, you will already owe thousands of more dollars than you took out in the first place once you graduate,” he said.
If you can cut away the interest while you’re in school, perhaps with income from a part-time job or work-study position, you can lower the cost of your loan. Plus, you can minimize the effects of “interest capitalization” (having your loan balance grow because unpaid interest is added).
“By making a few small payments a month, or even when you can, you can help ease the burden you will inevitably feel once you are required to start paying off your student loans,” said Meiggs. “Make a small sacrifice now to help yourself out in a big way in the future.”
If you haven’t taken out student loans yet, be very careful about how much you borrow. A large portion of the 45 million Americans who owe student loans (to the tune of $1.56 trillion) probably wish they could turn back time and take out less debt.
“While student loans can be a large source of financing for college, planning for cost and taking only the amount needed will help to avoid being overly saddled with unneeded debt,” said Robert Farrington, the money expert behind The College Investor.
Remember, even if you’re offered a certain amount of student loans in your financial aid award letter, you’re not obligated to take the full amount. Instead, estimate your cost of attendance, and consider defraying costs with a part-time job or side hustle. By keeping borrowing to a minimum, you’ll be out of debt sooner.
Part of your process should also include researching and understanding your student loan repayment options.
With federal loans, you have access to the standard 10-year plan, income-driven plans, extended repayment, and others. This flexibility can be really helpful if your income is limited and you need to lower monthly payments.
Liz Stapleton, who runs the finance blog Less Debt More Wine, has this student loan debt advice: “The repayment plan you choose now does not have to be the repayment plan for the entire life of the loan. As your financial situation changes, so can your repayment plan, and it can be changed up to once a year.”
Private student loans don’t usually have as many options, but some lenders do offer deferment or forbearance if you run into financial hardship or go back to school. If you’re looking to adjust monthly payments, speak with your lender about what you can do.
Did you know that some financial institutions offer a discount on interest when you sign up to pay your loans automatically?
“Contact the student loan issuer and ask about all of the available options,” said Taylor Schulte, a certified financial planner and founder of Define Financial.
With a simple phone call to the bank, Schulte’s family was able to lower the monthly interest rate on their loan.
“To our surprise, just by signing up for monthly auto-pay we lowered our rate by 0.25%. Pick up the phone and start asking questions — you might be surprised what you learn,” Schulte said.
Not only could autopay save you on interest, but it will also help you avoid missing a payment. You can “set it and forget it” — your loan repayment runs on autopilot, so you won’t have to manually pay your bills each month.
After graduating, it’s easy to start spending more money. You need professional clothing for interviews and furniture for your new place, right? It’s tempting, but do your best to avoid “lifestyle creep” during the early years after graduation.
“Keep living like a college student,” advised financial coach Whitney Hansen. “Even if you get a great job right out of college, continue living on your college student budget, and put all the extra income towards your debt. Your future self will thank you.”
Even as your income increases, avoid the temptation of lifestyle inflation. By sticking with a budget, you can repay your loans sooner and start enjoying that extra money without the uncomfortable feeling of debt breathing down your neck.
As you begin the job hunt, “research loan forgiveness plans to see if they exist in your field,” said Elizabeth Colegrove, who runs the real-estate investment site Reluctant Landlord. “Make sure you review [available student-loan forgiveness options] when considering positions.”
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, for instance, can wipe away your college debt after 10 years of working in a nonprofit, government agency or other qualifying workplace. Other professions — such as teacher, lawyer and doctor — can also sometimes qualify for loan forgiveness or repayment assistance.
At the same time, you can seek out jobs that offer loan payment plans as part of their employee benefits package.
“This can be worth a lot of money, so a lower-paying job might really be higher when considering this benefit,” Colegrove said.
You might be overwhelmed at the amount of money you have to pay back. This can be discouraging for anyone who’s just starting out in the workforce and still getting a footing in the world.
Lindsay VanSomeren, finance blogger at Science Finance, shares her best student loan advice on this problem: “Don’t focus on the huge balance; it’s overwhelming. Make debt payoff a priority, but focus on tackling small chunks at a time — $1,000 increments or so. Each small chunk is mentally easier to deal with, and they do add up.”
Two tried-and-true strategies for student loan repayment are the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods.
With the debt snowball approach, you focus on closing out the loan with the smallest balance first, directing any extra payments to that debt. The sooner one of your loans drops off the list, the more you might feel more motivated to keep going.
The debt avalanche method has you target loans with the highest interest rate first. While the debt avalanche will save you the most money, you might not get the same boost if you’re slowly chipping away at a high-interest loan with a huge balance.
Consider trying both strategies of debt repayment to see which one’s more effective for you. And remember, making extra payments is key to seeing rapid progress on your repayment.
Once you have a decent credit score and income — or can apply with a cosigner who does — you might qualify for student loan refinancing. Through refinancing, you can restructure your debt, adjust your terms and maybe score a lower interest rate as well.
But the benefits of refinancing aren’t for everyone, especially if you’re relying on federal protections.
“Once you refinance federal loans, you permanently lose access to the various federal aid programs, such as income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” warned Stephen Caplan, Certified Student Loan Professional and financial advisor at Neponset Valley Financial Partners.
So before applying for refinancing, first learn about all the pros and cons of this move.
“I have seen way too many borrowers jump at the first chance to lower the interest rate on their student loans without carefully weighing their options and considering the consequences,” Caplan said. “Make sure you do a thorough analysis before refinancing your federal loans through a private lender.”
If you don’t need those federal programs, however, refinancing could be a savvy way to adjust your monthly payments and save money on interest.
The final piece of student loan debt advice may seem obvious, but it’s an easy trap to fall into: Don’t default on your student loans if you can possibly avoid it. If you’re struggling to make payments, contact your loan servicer right away.
You might be able to pause payments temporarily so your loans don’t become delinquent or go into default. Defaulting on debt will likely just make a bad situation worse, as it can destroy your credit score, and in the case of federal loans, lead to wage garnishment.
Ignoring student loan problems won’t make them go away, so be proactive about dealing with your debt. Even though getting on top of your student loans might take time, applying this tried-and-tested student loan advice from experts will help you come out on top.
Carrie Smith contributed to this report.
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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.
The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.
To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of October 1, 2020.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of December 1, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 26, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/26/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
5 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of 5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.
As of 11/13/2020 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.97% to 8.54% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% to 8.77% Fixed APR with AutoPay.