Let’s get one thing straight: There are all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t hire a student loan counselor, at least not right away. For one thing, you don’t need to pay someone for what you could accomplish on your own.
With that said, however, consider what counselors offer before you write them off.
5 ways you can expect a counselor to help
Although they treat clients as individuals facing unique repayment challenges, counselors typically use the same formula. I know because I’m a student loan counselor myself.
Unlike your federal student loan entrance or exit counselor, a student loan counselor is typically a certified individual working for themselves or at a nonprofit or private company. They don’t need to be expensive though — by looking around, you can usually avoid exorbitant fees for financial professionals like counselors unless you prefer spiffy concierge service.
Aside from the cost, here’s what to expect if you decide to sit down with a counselor for a consultation on your repayment.
1. Determine the status of your loan repayment
Your counselor will aim to build a rapport with you, but they’ll simultaneously be looking to learn about your debt situation. You should expect a barrage of questions about your loans, income, employment and tax-filing status. This information is necessary to develop an action plan for your repayment.
You might not have all this information off the top of your head, or even know how to find it. Although a counselor has no special, private portals to access, they know where to get your info quickly and easily.
To start, they’ll help you use the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) to catch up on your federal loans, as well as checking up on your private loans via your credit report.
Counselors will also need to know the following:
- Loan program: Direct Loan, Perkins Loan or Federal Family Education Loan
- Loan status: Grace period, active repayment, delinquency or in default
- Borrower type: Student or parent
- Disbursement date: When you borrowed your loans
Each of these data points — plus basics like your servicer relationship, monthly payments and remaining balance — could affect your eligibility for repayment strategies, such as switching repayment plans.
2. Examine your repayment challenges and goals
During this second stage of the loan counseling process, a counselor might prove their worth as an objective party that’s able to take a hard look at your repayment problems. You might not feel up to the task yourself, or that your lender or loan servicer has neither the time or interest to mull over your situation.
A counselor would help you identify why your repayment isn’t going the way it could, whether that’s because of a debt collector breathing down your neck or money issues specific to your situation. If your loans are a strain on your finances, for example, the counselor might review your budget.
Once you’ve identified the challenges together, the counselor could explain your range of opportunities. If you didn’t find room in that budget to make consistent loan payments — 8% of your gross monthly income is the recommended upper limit — the counselor might explain the value of switching to an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.
Now that you know your problems can be solved, your counselor will likely lead a goal-setting session. They’ll ask what you want out of your repayment, whether it’s making your repayment more affordable, putting a finish line on your debt, or something in between.
3. Explore possible solutions for your repayment
Before working toward your loan repayment goals, you and your counselor would review the best ways to achieve them. Depending on your loan status, you might only have two or three options at your disposal. Prepare to evaluate these approaches in exhaustive detail, comparing their pros and cons.
For many borrowers, these options include:
- Forgiveness and cancellation: There are many ways to receive a partial or full forgiveness of your loan balance, including debt forgiveness based on your health, career, school or other factors.
- Switching repayment plans: Transitioning your federal loans from their standard, 10-year term to an IDR plan, for example, would limit your monthly dues to a percentage of your discretionary income.
- Deferment and forbearance: Applying to pause your repayment because of eligible causes, such as a job loss or military service, could give you the break you need before resuming payments.
- Rehabilitation: If your federal loans are in default, you could rehabilitate them with nine straight payments of a lower, agreed-upon amount to remove derogatory marks from your credit report.
- Consolidation: You could group your federal loans into a direct consolidation loan to get out of default or simplify your repayment going forward.
- Student loan refinancing: If you’ve handled your federal and private loan repayment well to this point, you might qualify to consolidate your debt — and potentially lower your interest rate — with a private lender seeking creditworthy candidates.
Keep in mind that none of your specific repayment options are likely to be perfect or immediate solutions to your education debt. A good counselor should temper your expectations by explaining what each option could deliver, and at what cost. An IDR plan, for example, lowers your monthly payments but increases the total cost of your loan due to mounting interest.
4. Set a loan repayment action plan
Hopefully, you and your counselor will agree on a specific solution for your repayment problem. Although the onus will be on you as the borrower to execute it, your counselor should provide you with a written action plan to serve as the map for your journey.
If, for instance, you’ve decided that switching to Income-Based Repayment, a type of IDR plan, is in your best interest, the plan should detail:
- What information you need to apply for Income-Based Repayment, such as your gross monthly income
- How to submit an IDR plan request via StudentLoans.gov
- What next steps you need to complete once your servicer has accepted your plan request
- How a revised budget or spending plan ensures you can afford your monthly payment
The document should also list your new estimated monthly payment, payoff date and total loan cost.
If the counselor is genuinely working to help you achieve your goals, that should be reflected in the plan. If it isn’t, remember that the counselor works for you. Ask them to head back to the drawing board.
5. Keep tabs on your loan repayment progress
Like anyone who assists your student loan repayment, they’re doing just that — assisting. You wouldn’t count on your counselor to take every step of your repayment for you.
However, you should be able to rely on a counselor to check in and follow up on your progress. You might even call upon them to assist further, such as in the case that your loan servicer has unfairly denied your request to switch repayment plans, or — more likely — in severe cases, loan rehabilitation and collections.
Good counselors don’t end the relationship when their client walks out the door or hangs up the phone. Instead, it should continue until you’re completely done with your debt.
Do you need a student loan counselor?
Financial experts’ advice on student loans shouldn’t be ignored, but one-on-one consultations aren’t necessary for every borrower.
You could work your way through the five steps above using free, accessible online sources, including Student Loan Hero’s trove of tools. On the other hand, you could find that a certified been-there-and-done-that pro could get you the answers you need without as much effort or frustration.
Whether or not you plan to work with a pro-bono counselor, or even to hire a private one, consider all the people with helpful advice on repayment. Sometimes it’s good to have some help to push you to the debt-free finish line.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2019!
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1 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
2 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 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.54% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.27% 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 March 18, 2019, 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 0318/2019. 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@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
© 2018 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.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
4 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.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.
All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.5% effective February 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.54% – 7.12%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.54% – 7.27%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.67% – 8.96%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.23% – 6.65%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.69% – 7.43%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.98% – 9.72%6||Undergrad & Graduate|