It’s scary to graduate from college, knowing student loan payments are just around the corner. The average student loan debt for 2017 graduates was a staggering $39,400 and that number increases every year.
While student loans and their payments aren’t something to be afraid of, it’s important to understand how they fully work and have a game plan to pay them off as soon as possible.
What Loans Do You Have?
First, start with the basics. If you don’t know or remember what type of loans you signed up for in college, sit down and gather that information. Ask your parents if they have any loan documents and go through your email inbox to see what you can find. Visit the National Student Loan Data System website to look up additional loan info. This is going to determine how much debt you have and when they need to be repaid.
Public student loans means the government funded the loans. There are three major types of federal loan programs: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, Federal Family Education Loan Program, and the Federal Perkins Loan. You can learn more about federal student loans here.
Private student loans come from lenders that have no involvement with the federal government. They typically are unsubsidized, meaning you are accruing interest on it throughout college and after.
Know Your Terms
Once you get your loans together, it’s time to figure the terms. The loan terms will be what you owe with interest and when it has to be paid. It’s important to know when you’ll have to make your first loan payment. For most loans, there’s a set period of time after you graduate or leave school before you have to begin making payments. This is your grace or deferment period.
For loans under the Direct Loan Program, your grace period will be 6 months. For loans under the Federal Perkins Loan Program, it will be 9 months. For private loans, your loan servicer will reach out to you and let you know.
After graduating, you will owe interest, which is the expense charged for borrowing money. Interest will be paid to the lender.
If you borrowed federal student loans while in school, you’ll have the option to set up repayment plans. These plans will meet your needs based on income and can be updated if needed.
Consolidating student loans is similar to refinancing; the idea is your loans will all be in one place, hopefully with a lower monthly payment. Consolidating your loans may make your payments easier, but could change your interest rate. Consolidating them into one lender means rather than having multiple loan payments, you’ll only have one.
To consolidate Federal Student Loans, you’ll visit the Direct Student Loan Consolidation website where you’ll need to fill out an application with basic questions, such as your name, SSN, date of birth, employer information, etc.
After that, the application will ask you what loans you don’t want to consolidate and you’ll have the chance to review your choices before submitting.
Consolidating private student loans will be separate from government loans and may also reduce the monthly payment. If your credit score has improved since you first opened your loans, consolidating is a great idea because ideally you’ll have a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments. If your credit score hasn’t improved, your rate might not improve; the only benefit would be you have one payment in one place instead of multiple and new repayment terms.
To submit an application for a private student loan consolidation, decide which financial institution you would like to apply through and follow their instructions.