Let’s face it, the last thing you want to do after you’ve graduated college is to come up with a plan to tackle your student loans. But the sooner you do, the better money decisions you’ll make as you’re setting up your life in the real world.
Calculate your monthly loan payments. Recent grads: you typically have six months before you have to start paying back the federal government and all those banks. The average student loan debt for 2018 grads is about $39,400 – which is up 6% from last year. Figure out how much is going each month toward your loans (the average is $351 a month for borrowers between 20 and 30 years old), and factor them into your total cost of living now. This way you can avoid signing a rental lease you can’t afford, or buying a car that’s out of your budget.
Do not miss a payment. If you’re more than 45 days late on one payment, that delinquent status can sit on your credit report for up to seven years. Potential lenders use your credit score as a measure to determine whether or not to work with you. That means you can have a harder time getting a car, a place to live, and sometimes even a job.
You can adjust your payment plan. Last year, the student loan delinquency rate was 11.2%. That’s over 90 days in missed payments and there’s no need to get to this point. If you anticipate missing a payment, notify your lenders and work out a “hardship” payment plan that you can afford. Lenders and loan servicers will work with you because life can and will throw you some curveballs. Under some tough situations, you can find a legit way to defer or lower your payments.
For federal loans it’s called “deferment” or “forbearance” – but you cannot assume the government just knows you’re in a tough spot and automatically enroll you. You have to submit a request to see if you’re eligible.
Consider refinancing. If you have a lot of private loan debt and your credit score has improved, you can shop around for better interest rates and refinance a portion of your loans and save thousands on interest payments.
But be careful when you’re refinancing your federal loans because when this happens, your federal loans will be taken over by a private lender, and you’ll no longer qualify for things like income-based repayment plans or public service loan forgiveness.
Know your rights. If you need support resolving problems with a private lender, you’re not alone. It’s a widespread problem, and many states have public advocates, or student loan ombudsmen, to help you resolve disputes and hold lenders accountable for not servicing loans properly.
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