Student Loan Payments: Everything You Will Ever Need to Know

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Once you finish school, the real world intrudes. It’s time to find a job and get serious about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Oh, and there’s a good chance you’ll have to take these weighty steps while figuring out what to do with your student loans.

Student loan payments can feel overwhelming, especially when you look at the raw numbers associated with four (or more) years’ worth of college debt.

There’s a lot to know about student loan payments: How to extend your grace period, how to make sure you get credit for extra payments, and when the best time is to consolidate your loans. As you get ready to begin repaying your student loans, here’s what you need to know.

Making your first student loan payment

The good news is that, in many cases, you have a brief period of time before you have to start repaying your student debt. Your grace period gives you time to figure out your finances and set up a student loan payment plan that works for you.

How long is your grace period?

The length of your grace period depends on the type of loan you have and your servicer. In general, federal student loans come with a six-month grace period, starting from your graduation or the date when you leave school or drop below half-time enrollment. Realize that interest accrues on unsubsidized loans during your grace period (but not on subsidized loans).

There are exceptions to the federal loan grace period. For example, PLUS loans enter repayment as soon as they are disbursed. As a result, you may need to defer your payments if you aren’t prepared to begin. Your loan servicer can provide you with information on deferring your PLUS loan payments.

Another exception is the Federal Perkins Loan. Even though that program is discontinued for the time being, you might still have a loan from earlier semesters. The school where you received the loan, or your current servicer, can help you determine your grace period.

Finally, if you have private loans, you need to check with your servicer to find out if there’s a grace period for those. Some private lenders, like Citizens Bank[d], offer a six-month grace period, while others expect you to begin paying as soon as you finish school. Still others require repayment while you attend school, so you might need to ask for a deferment if you want to wait until graduation.

Changing your grace period

There are situations that can impact the length of your federal student loan grace period. Here are three circumstances that can result in changes:

  1. Student loan consolidation. When you consolidate during your grace period, you give up the remainder of the time you have. In general, the first payment on your consolidated loans takes place about two months after the process is completed.
  2. Active duty military. When you choose to serve the country as a member of the military, your grace period extends throughout your entire service, as long as you are on active duty for more than 30 days. A full six-month grace period starts when you receive your discharge.
  3. Returning to school. If you re-enroll in school (including grad school) for at least half-time before the end of your grace period, you can suspend your payments. The grace period starts again, providing you with the full six months, once you leave school or your enrollment drops below half-time.

Once again, private lenders may have different programs and rules related to your grace period. Double-check the rules surrounding changes to your grace period with your servicer.

Find your student loan servicer

You can’t make a payment if you don’t know where to send the money. The federal government uses other institutions, called servicers, to manage your loan payments. In most cases, your loan servicer should contact you directly, letting you know when your first payment is due and how much you owe.

If you don’t have that information for your federal student loans, you can look it up by going to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). You will need a Federal Student Aid ID to make it happen. If you don’t have one, you can create one through the NSLDS.

Do you already know the name of your servicer, but aren’t sure how to contact them? Use this list, provided by the Department of Education, to find the contact information for your federal loan servicer.

student loan payment

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

If you have questions about setting up income-driven repayment, or need other information about managing your student loan payments, your loan servicer should be able to answer your questions.

For private student loans, you need to check through your mail or email correspondence to see who is servicing your loans. Try to keep information on your loan servicer in an easy-to-find place so you can access it quickly when needed.

Consolidating your student loans

Student loan payment often seems like too much because you may need to make more than one payment each month. Because of how student loans are disbursed, each year is considered a separate loan with a separate payment.

Depending on your situation, it’s possible to simplify matters through federal student loan consolidation. With this process, your loans are grouped together in a way that allows you to make only one payment each month. You can start the federal loan consolidation process by going to

Because you give up the remainder of your grace period, it can make sense to apply for consolidation toward the end of your six months. Carefully review your options and consider consulting with a financial professional to help you decide if consolidation is the right move.

It’s also possible to consolidate private student loans. Contact your servicer to find out how they manage the process.

Refinancing your student loans

Borrowers can consolidate private and federal student loans through refinancing. In some cases, this can lead to a lower interest rate and save you money overall.

If you have multiple private student loans from different lenders, refinancing using one lender can help you get on top of the payments. It’s often easier to keep track if you only need to make one payment and you only have one interest rate.

However, before you decide to refinance federal loans, you should consider the fact that you will lose access to income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). By refinancing federal student debt, you replace those smaller loans with a bigger private loan. Once that’s done, you lose some of the options that come with federal loans.

Weigh the benefits of a lower interest rate against the possibility that you might need income-driven repayment or PSLF later on. If you are worried about losing access to those options, then you’ll probably want to stick with federal loan consolidation.

Deciding to refinance or consolidate during your grace period can make a lot of sense, since it sets you up to have a repayment plan in place before your first payment is due. Use your grace period to research your options and decide what works best for you.

Set up your payment process

Now it’s time to set up your student loan payment process. If you still use checks, find out the payment address by contacting your servicer. However, chances are you probably want to make things easy by using automatic payments.

When you receive the information from your servicer, look for directions on setting up your account for online management. You should be able to receive your statement electronically and make payments on online. Many servicers allow you to pay through their websites, or set up autopay so the money is automatically deducted from your bank account each month.

Ask your servicer about programs that allow you to receive a discount on your APR when you sign up for autopay. While it might not be a huge savings, every little bit can help you pay less overall on your student loans.

If you decide to set up automatic payments through your bank or credit union, you will need information about your loan servicer, including the name and address, as well as your account number.

Once this information is in your financial institution’s system, you can go in once a month to pay your bill, or have your bank or credit union pay it automatically. When you use this method, understand that some financial institutions actually cut checks for the bills. Plan ahead and arrange to pay the bill five to seven days before it’s due so the check arrives on time.

How student loan payments are applied

Now that you’ve made your first student loan payment, it’s a good idea to understand how your payments are applied.

First of all, if you are in good standing, your payment goes first to the monthly interest and second toward paying down your principal. Say you have a monthly payment of $452. Your interest each month is $25. That $25 goes directly to your loan servicer, while the remaining $427 goes toward reducing your principal.

If you owe fees due to late or missed payments, those are often applied even before the interest. So if you fall behind on your debt, even less of your monthly payment will go toward principal reduction. Using the example above, if your late fees and previously accrued interest add up to $250, that will come out of your payment first. Your monthly interest is then taken out of the remaining $202, leaving only $177 to reduce your principal.

There’s an exception for income-driven repayment, however. If you are on one of those plans, the allocation favors interest before fees. However, you still have the fees taken before any amount is applied to your loan principal.

Whether your interest or fees come out first might not make a difference in the long-term if your monthly payment covers everything. If you have high enough fees to overwhelm your monthly payment, though, the fees coming out first means that you might not have enough left over for your interest. And that means the interest keeps adding up — and could be added to your loan total. Being able to take care of interest before handling fees can keep you from seeing your loan balance grow over time.

Extra payments

Student loan servicers automatically apply anything extra you put toward student loans to future payments. So, if decide you want to pay $100 extra each month, it’s not going to automatically reduce your principal.

In the example above, let’s say you decide to pay $552 each month instead of $452. Rather than reducing your principal, the extra hundred dollars is applied to the next payment. So next month, you only need to pay $352. If you keep paying that $552, the following month, it will look like you’ve reduced your monthly payment requirement to $252. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you’re out in front of your payments, but you’ll be paying future interest rather than just the principal.

Setting up an autopay with your servicer based on your minimum payment can also derail your efforts to pay off your loan faster. Say you have an autopay of $452 set up with your servicer. You decide to make extra payments, and set up a separate payment for an extra $100. But again, each extra payment you make goes toward a future payment, rather than directly reducing your principal.

Over time your autopay plan with the servicer is adjusted to reflect that you’ve made future payments. The servicer might decide to reduce what it takes out in autopay each month, effectively ruining your attempts to repay your student loans early.

You can save money on interest and pay off your loan faster by putting extra money toward your payment each month. However, when you do this, you need to do it right. The best way to ensure extra money goes toward actually reducing the principal on your debt is to contact your loan servicer and specify that your additional payment shouldn’t be used for future payments.

What happens when you miss a student loan payment?

Life happens. Sometimes you aren’t able to meet your debt obligation. Unfortunately, missing a student loan payment can result in a lower credit score, and your student loans can go into default if you fall too far behind.

Ending up in default not only impacts your credit score, but it can also reduce your access to federal programs like PSLF and FHA mortgage loans. Wage garnishment and tax return withholding are two other potential consequences of federal student loan default. Private lenders can also sue for wage garnishment.

How to avoid student loan default

If you end up in a situation where you can’t make your student loan payments, contact your federal loan servicer as quickly as possible to discuss these options:

  • Deferment, which allows you to delay making payments for up to three years. You can extend your deferment if needed. Your interest stops accruing on subsidized loans during deferment but continues accruing on unsubsidized loans.
  • Forbearance, which can be an option if you don’t qualify for deferment, allows you to put off making payments for up to 12 months. Interest accrues on all federal loans during forbearance.
  • Income-driven repayment (IDR) can help you reduce payment amounts so they are affordable. If you have a low income, IDR can provide you with a way to continue making payments without breaking your budget. Before contacting your servicer, check out our complete guide to IDR, so you are educated about which plan might work best for you. Our handy calculator can also help you identify a plan likely to fit your needs.

If you have private student loans, you should get in touch with your servicer right away to look into possible solutions. Some private lenders and servicers offer hardship relief and payment plans that can help you find a more manageable payment while you work on your financial situation.

What if you’re already in default?

If you’re already in default, it’s important to contact your servicer to work on a solution. You aren’t eligible for IDR  until your federal student loans are current, but your servicer can help you create a payment plan to catch up on your loan and regain good standing. When your loans are current, ask your servicer about IDR and other affordable payment options.

How to report a problem with your servicer

Complaints about student loan servicers are on the rise. Concerns about how payments are credited, and lack of information about federal programs and resources, are some of the issues.

If you feel like your servicer is treating you unfairly, file complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Education. It’s also possible to contact a student loan ombudsman to help you resolve problems with servicers.

In the end, understanding the student loan payment process can help you be a better advocate for yourself and stay on top of the situation.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 7 lenders of 2019!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

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: 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 3.45% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.99% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.81% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.49% 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 November 6, 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 11/06/2019. 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, email us at, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student 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.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.46% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% APR (without AutoPay). Variable rates currently from 2.31% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% (without 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 2.31% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.31% plus 0.75% margin minus 0.25% for AutoPay. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your credit history and the term of the loan 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.

3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

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. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
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.

This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.


There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.


For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
For eligible Associates degrees in the healthcare field (see Eligibility & Eligible Loans section below), Lender will refinance up to $50,000 in loans for non-ParentPlus refinance loans. Note, parents who are refinancing loans taken out on behalf of a child who has obtained an associates degrees in an eligible healthcare field are not subject to the $50,000 loan maximum, refer to for more information about refinancing ParentPlus loans.


Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).

Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.

All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to for applicable terms and conditions.

For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.


The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.


The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.


After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.

If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.


This information is current as of November 8, 2019 and is subject to change.

4 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.

5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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 1.9299999999999997% effective October 10, 2019.

6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via 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 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 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 11/07/2019 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% to 8.65% Variable APR with AutoPay and 3.49% to 7.75% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


7 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

College Ave Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.

2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.

4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 09/23/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

1.81% – 6.49%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.31% – 7.36%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.99% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.43% – 7.60%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.02% – 6.30%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.90% – 8.65%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.74% – 6.24%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit College Ave

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. 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 to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with 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.

Published in Student Loan Repayment, Student Loans

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