You may owe Student Loan Lender A $300 on the first of the month, while Student Loan Lender B doesn’t want their money until the 10th. And then there is Student Loan Lender C who takes their money on the 24th.
Is your head spinning yet?
If you are struggling to keep up with your payments and important dates, there are few simple steps you can take to better manage your student loan payments and keep organized.
Get to know your student loans
Starting off on the right foot means arming yourself with the most up-to-date information about your loans and lenders.
Luckily, the government makes it really easy for you to track down how much you owe and who you owe it to using the National Student Loan Data System (or NSLDS). As we’ve explained, all you will need is your FSA pin and social security number to get in. And because it is 99 percent accurate, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get the most comprehensive picture of the total amount of debt owed.
Now that you know the total amount you owe and who you owe it to, you can start looking at your monthly payments. If you have not received your first bill yet, you can use a student loan payment calculator to get an estimate. But for guaranteed numbers, contact your loan servicer directly.
Knowing the who, what, when, and where will save you from a surprise down the line when your first bill creeps up on you. In addition, having these facts at hand will help you manage your student loan payments with the help of the following five organizational tips.
5 simple ways to manage student loan payments
1. Create a budget
A budget is one of the most powerful organization systems you can use. For student loan borrowers, having a budget that incorporates your student loan payments will ensure your money is ready for the monthly payment.
It can tell you when your monthly payment may be too high for your financial situation or when you can afford to pay off more than the minimum.
Budget planners, such as online tools or spreadsheets, are available in many different forms. When deciding which budgeting planner works for you, think about how much time you want to commit putting in the numbers (by hand will take longer) and which system works for your lifestyle.
2. Make a System
Think about a regular day in your life: When you open your mail, where does it go? Does it sit on the counter, hang out in your car, make it to the garbage bin?
Stacks of mail can be a pain to sort through, but it can lead to you forgetting that bills are due or paperwork needs to be filled out.
Instead of suffering from mail pile fatigue, purchase an inexpensive mail organizer that manages a paper nightmare. Find one with slots or designated areas for unopened and opened mail, as well as “to-be-paid” and “paid” sections.
You can even go as far as to color code these slots based on each loan or bill you have to pay.
If your mail is the digital type, set up your online system just like the mail. Make folders in your email inbox for each loan and set your email to alert you when you receive a notification from a loan servicer.
3. Save the (important) dates
One way you can cut down on bills being due at different times of the month is to request a student loan payment due date change through your servicer. For instance, ask that all your payments be due on the first of the month, or on payday.
If a change isn’t possible, put aside one hour a week on Sunday or Monday as your “bill pay day.” During this time, sit down with your mail and pay all of your student loan bills due during that upcoming week. You’re more likely to stay on track when this becomes a weekly habit.
For those on a payment plan determined by their income (such as IBR), you may be required to reapply yearly with updated income information. Failing to provide this information on time can result in your payments reverting back into the Standard Payment plan where the amount you pay may be significantly higher.
To avoid missing a due date, be sure to use your calendar or planner (whether on your phone or an old-school paper version) to give yourself plenty of reminders. This is especially important if you will need to collect verification paperwork that might take extra time.
4. Put your bank to work
One of the easiest ways to organize your student loans is to not have to think about them at all! Opt for automatic billing, and as long as you always keep a cushion of cash in your account, you’ll never have to deal with a missed payment or a lost check.
Another option many organized budgeters love is to set up a separate checking account just for your student loans.
To make this method even easier, consider setting up a direct deposit that splits your paycheck up for you and puts the exact amount you need to cover student loan payments into the designated account automatically. This way, you’ll never miss it, and you’ll start to learn to live without it.
5. Consider student loan refinancing or consolidation
If you’ve tried every organization method out there, but you still feel overwhelmed by the amount of your student loan payments, it may be time to refinance or consolidate your loans.
When you consolidate your loans, all your individual loans are combined into one new loan, with one interest rate and one monthly payment. Usually, student loan consolidation doesn’t really save money, but it can help make multiple loans more manageable.
Refinancing your student loans can have additional benefits. Not only does refinancing consolidate all your loans into one, just like consolidation, but it can also potentially lower your interest rate and the length of your payment term, saving thousands of dollars over time.
The key to great organization
To stay on top of your loan payments, the best thing you can do is get organized — especially if you are paying more than one lender or are new to the loan payment process.
Learn everything you can about how much you owe on each loan. Then, build an organizational system that truly helps you manage your money effectively.
By getting a handle on your student loan payments, you can bid farewell to late fees and ensure your payment plan works for you and your budget.
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