As a recent college graduate, you have a lot to be proud of and to celebrate. You’ve weathered the years of hard work, endless studying, and tougher than nails exams. You’ve become an expert in your field of study, opening a range of doors and avenues for career success.
But let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: student loans. A recent study found that the average 2017 graduate left college with $39,400 in student debt. In total, Americans owe more than $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, a number that surpasses the country’s total credit card debt.
Graduating with debt is a tough pill to swallow, especially as you try to navigate the world of finding a job and figuring out housing. Use these 5 student loan tips to make a plan to get out of debt to avoid the pitfalls of student loans.
1. Understand Your Loans
If you’re like most recent graduates, you have a variety of student loans. Some of your loans may be federal loans while others are private loans. Not only do you need to keep track of the lender, but you also need to be well aware of the balance and repayment status of each of your student loans.
To find more information on your loans, you can log in to StudentLoans.gov, which provides details for:
- Loan amounts
- Repayment status
Be aware that this website only shows federal student loans. If you don’t see a certain loan, it’s likely a private loan. You can contact the lender or your school to get information about private loans.
It’s important to understand your student loans so that you can create the best plan of attack. Not knowing how much you owe or to who you make student loan payments to can create a world of confusion, missed payments, and mounting fees. Make sure you have a clear picture of your student loans before moving onto the next step.
2. Understand Your Grace Period
Different student loans have different grace periods. A grace period is the length of time you have after leaving school before you’re required to make a loan payment. For federal Stafford loans, also known as unsubsidized and subsidized loans, you have six months before a payment is due. For federal Perkins loans, the grace period is nine months.
If you have federal PLUS loans, the grace period is six months. For private loans, the grace period differs, depending on the lender.
By understanding your grace period, you can ensure that you don’t miss your first payment. This way you aren’t liable for late fees or other penalties.
3. Pay As Early As Possible
If all of your student loans are in a grace period, you may want to give yourself a few months of not having to worry about making payments. But, ignoring your loans during the grace period is one of the worst mistakes that college graduates make.
Instead of waiting to make your first loan payment, if you have the finances available, make a payment as soon as possible. Making payments early on means that less money goes towards interest, allowing you to pay off loans a lot quicker. Even the smallest amount, such as $50, can go a long way in decreasing the life of your student loans.
4. Choose the Right Repayment Option
Most federal student loans are based on a 10-year repayment plan, assuming you haven’t selected another option. If the standard plan puts you in a financial bind, there are other repayment options that you can use. Remember that while extending your repayment period lowers the monthly payment, you’ll be paying much more in interest.
One of the most common types of alternative repayment plan is income-driven repayment. Revised Pay As You Earn and Income-Based Repayment both allow you to make payments based on your annual income. Any debt that remains after 25 years is forgiven. Some plans offer loan forgiveness after just 10 years.
Private loans aren’t eligible for forgiveness, forbearances, deferments, or alternative payment plans. However, it’s best to contact the lender if you’re having trouble making the minimum payment.
5. Spend Wisely
So many college graduates walk off with their diploma and spend the little bit of income they make on trivial items. While you can (and should!) celebrate your achievements, it’s important to make wise financial decisions. Don’t graduate college and go finance an expensive car. You also don’t want to blow all of your income on nights out on the town.
Embrace your college student roots. Spend as little as possible, this way you have more money to put towards your loans.
Graduating from college is a notable life achievement. However, the reality of a college graduate involves student loans. Instead of ignoring your loans and allowing yourself to become overcome with payments, it’s best to have a plan so that you can pay them off and enjoy financial freedom as soon as possible.