Adulting, (verb): “To do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as a 9-to-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grownups.”
Not included in that definition? Managing and paying off your student loans.
On top of everything else you need to do to properly adult — go to work, do laundry, feed and clothe yourself, pay your taxes — managing your student loans can be both overwhelming and scary. Fortunately, there are a variety of wonderful, affordable resources student loan borrowers can turn to when they need personalized student loan help.
How to get student loan help
Your loan servicer
Your student loan servicer is the company that handles the billing of your student loan; it’s their name on the top of your bill each month. Because they’re in charge of collecting payments, they’re very invested in ensuring borrowers are making their payments. If you’re unsure about your loan or would like to talk someone about your payments, your loan servicer should be the first call you make.
Many servicers offer custom programs, such as hardship and economic forbearance in the event of job loss, that you can set up directly with them. Visit their website or call the number on your bill to get started.
Credit counseling isn’t just for those struggling with mountains of credit card debt — it can work for student loan debt as well! When you work with a credit counselor, you’ll likely take part in a free session where a counselor advises you on best financial practices and outlines strategies you can use to pay down your debt. It’s basically a therapy session about your money habits.
Your counselor may also set you up with a debt management plan. They work on your behalf to lower your interest rates or your debts, and receive a fee from your lenders for doing so. After all, your lenders would rather have some money repayed than no money.
When searching for a credit counselor, keep the following in mind:
- Be sure you’re working with a counselor accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), as this organization has not-for-profit status and has set the standards within the credit counseling industry.
- Interview multiple agencies, as what may be right for one person may not be right for you.
- If you find a credit counselor you like, check with your city and state’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Consumer Protection Agency to double check for any complaints.
- Keep in mind that “non-profit” doesn’t mean they’re automatically good for you, or that they conduct business according to fair ethics. Do proper research, regardless of how the agency markets themselves.
The NFCC has a great debt relief agency locator, or you can ask around for recommendations.
A credit counseling agency should never charge you astronomically high fees, ask you to buy products that leave you in more debt than when you started, or refuse service if you can’t afford to pay. Beware of these practices, as agencies that use them likely don’t have your best interests in mind.
Investopedia estimates it shouldn’t cost more than $100 to get set up on a debt management plan with a professional credit counselor, or more than $50 a month to work with a credit counselor or other student loan help agent on an ongoing basis. Be sure to get their fees in writing, and do a little homework of your own to make sure your chosen counselor is right for you.
Contrary to popular belief, financial planners can help with more than just investment advice. In more and more instances, these advisors are helping millennials manage their student loan debt, too.
Financial planners help people set and accomplish long-term financial goals — in this case, it may be as simple as repaying student loans, or as complex as repaying your loans while simultaneously saving for a new home and your retirement. After your planner has looked at your income, debt, and assets, she can help you come up with feasible goals and put a plan in action to help you achieve them.
Financial planners may be paid based on fees or commission. Whatever payment model your planner works on, get the terms in writing and make sure you understand what the cost to you will be.
When you’re searching for advisors, always make sure they are a certified financial planner (CFP) — this means they have met education, experience, and ethics requirements. CFP Board can help you search your area for a certified financial planner, or ask friends and relatives if they’ve worked with anyone they can recommend.
There are several non-profit organizations borrowers can turn to for student loan help. These non-profits may offer professional one-on-one help for free or at a lower cost than professional credit counselors, or simply provide a free hotline you can call for answers to your most pressing questions. We like NFCC.org and StudentDebtCrisis.org.
How to prepare for your first meeting
Once you’ve decided to work with one of the above options, what documents do you gather for them? Bring your student loan statements, pay stubs, and your monthly budget. Most importantly, come prepared to be honest. You can’t get true help without baring it all, and keeping parts of your financial situation hidden could affect the advice you’re given.
Here’s a sample of some questions to ask your credit counselor/financial planner/non-profit representative when you need help with student loans:
- What services do you offer?
- What are the qualifications of your counselors?
- What are your fees?
- Are educational materials included in the pricing?
- What if I can’t afford to pay your fees or make contributions?
- Are you licensed in my state?
With the variety of assistance options available for those seeking student loan help, there isn’t an excuse not to reach out. At the very least, starting with your loan servicer is a quick and easy first step in the process.
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