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The New Grad’s Guide to Student Loan Debt

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Finishing college is surely cause to celebrate — but it is also time for some hard realities to hit. Once you send in your last college assignment and get the perfect champagne-popping picture, your mind may start wandering to the future. No matter your post-grad plans, you will likely have to start working on paying back those pesky student loans. You may think you figured all this out freshman year, but check out the guide below to help transition from student to graduate (and debtor).

When to Start

Many federal loans do not require payments until after you graduate and even feature a six-month grace period to help you get financially settled and choose your repayment plan. Interest will likely accrue during this time (so it’s good to remember that!), but at least you will not have to make payments if you are not prepared. You can work with your lender to create a schedule which will state when your first payment is due so it’s important to pay attention and be ready when it comes.

How Much to Pay

The amount you owe depends on the type of loan you received, how much money you borrowed, the interest rate on your loan and the repayment plan that best suits your needs and situation. If the number your lender quotes you seems too high for your budget to handle, there are student loan repayment options, but do your research and make sure you’re OK with the potential downsides. For example, pausing your payments can raise your total student loan bill significantly over the life of the loan.

While your monthly bill will tell you the minimum you must pay each month, a calculator can show you how paying more over a shorter time period can save you in interest. Just be sure that pre-payments don’t come with a penalty fee.

How to Pay

You can submit payments to your lender several ways, ranging from mailed checks to online payments. If your servicer offers the option of withdrawing payments automatically from your bank account each month, you may want to consider this option. Automatic payments can ensure you don’t miss a deadline and help you avoid late penalties.

How to Change Your Repayment Plan

If you are struggling to make payments or want to put down a lump sum on your student loan debt, it’s a good idea to contact your loan servicer. Do not miss payments without reaching out as consequences include default, lowered credit score, withheld tax refunds and negative effects on your ability to borrow in the future. You should be able to switch plans (or simply switch the date your payment is due) to suit your needs and goals. Just keep in mind this might come with changes in interest and the length of your repayment schedule.

Make a Budget & Come to Peace With Debt

When you are out of school and part of the labor force, it’s a good idea to go over your monthly expenses and create a comprehensive budget. This will help you find areas where you need to cut back and work out how you will pay loans, save and spend. Student loans can also build good credit and help you get a car loan, credit card or mortgage down the road if you make on-time payments. (You can see how your loans are affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Generally the more positively you think about the situation, the more constructively you can tackle your debt.

Entering the workforce with debt already on your plate can be stressful, but you can pay back your student loans. Set a plausible plan and get to work.

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