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It’s a whole new world once you leave the cocoon of college and head off into the real world to make a living.

You’re no doubt overwhelmed with getting a job and finding a place to live. That’s understandable. But if you paid for your college education with student loans, it’s also incredibly important to check your credit reports and credit scores — especially before you make that first payment.

What Your Credit Reports & Scores Can Tell You

Under federal law, you are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion through AnnualCreditReport.com. In fact, this can be a good time to request a report from each agency, and check all three reports for errors and consistency.

Your credit reports should list all your student loan accounts. You also can double-check your federal student loan information and track down missing accounts by visiting National Student Loan Data System.

While you’re at it, don’t stop with the student loan accounts on your credit report. Your credit report also will list any credit card accounts, car loans or home loans you may have — with information on your current balances, monthly payment amounts and payment histories. Check those items for accuracy as well.

And if you see any errors on your credit report — this is the time to correct them. You want your credit record as clean and as accurate as possible as you begin to pay down debt and build strong credit.

Now is also the time to get familiar with your credit score. You can get your credit scores for free from several places, including Credit.com, to help you track your progress as you pay your debt down. Payment history is the biggest factor in your credit score, so it’s important to pay on time and as agreed, as that can help you build a strong credit history.

Getting Ready to Repay

The student loan servicer should have been sending you statements all along so you could keep track of your borrowing. It’s always a good idea to check the numbers against your credit reports, the Student Loan Data System or if you’ve been keeping track on your own. If there are any discrepancies, contact the servicer.

Once you know you have all the correct information in front of you, add those student loan amounts together. Now you’re looking at the aggregate amount that you borrowed for your entire college education (try not to get overwhelmed – it may be a large number).

Once you get a full picture of how much you owe, you can make a plan for paying down the debt. It’s not uncommon, especially when you’re beginning your career, to find that your student loan payments are more than you can afford right now. While it may be concerning, there are repayment options available to you. Now is the time to discuss those options with the student loan servicer so you can come up with a workable plan.

Making a habit of checking your credit and tracking your progress, in addition to having a repayment plan that you can reasonably manage — these are all very important first steps as you begin to pay your student loans and build your credit.

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