The first day of your last year as an undergrad is a satisfying day, because it puts you that much closer to the finish line of your bachelors. Unfortunately, it also puts you that much closer to the student debt you’ve spent the last three years trying to ignore. In my experience, student loans are the biggest underlying stressor of college, but ultimately being uniformed about your debt profile does you no favors. However, it’s not too late to study that beast and prepare for battle. Here are some tips to pay off that student loan:
1. Inform Yourself!
Before you graduate, you will be required to do exit-counseling for your loans. Because of the timing, it’s easy to push the exit counseling to the last minute, rush through it, and remember little of it. Although exit-counseling is time specific, learning your loan profile is not. Click on the emails you’ve been getting about your federal loans; mine came from NELNET. If you deleted them, click here. The National Student Loan Data System provides access to your federal student loan profile. Being aware of what you owe early means you can actually process the information and that graduation won’t be tainted by a sudden awareness of debt.
2. Be Prepared.
By which I mean, start thinking about your payments. First off, figure out the grace periods for each of your loans, because different federal loan types have different grace periods. In general, you have six months after you stop attending college to start making payments, but it pays to be sure.
Also, starting thinking about your payment plan. For a great source, visit the federal student aid site. You can estimate your payments on their payment calculator, which is both an excellent and mildly terrifying experience because it makes loan payments that much more concrete. For a breakdown of payment plans, go here. And remember, if you start out with a fixed payment amount that you become unable to pay, you can change to an income-based plan.
3. Have you looked into loan forgiveness?
Because my career field is in education, loan forgiveness has been on my radar for a long time. Education and public service are the primary categories of loan forgiveness. Of course, there are specific conditions for all kinds of loan forgiveness, cancelation, or discharge and it is possible you won’t qualify. Do some independent research, but also talk to your loan servicer, they might know something you don’t.
Try to pay down your most expensive loan first. You must make the minimum payment for all your loans, but putting extra money toward one will help save you money long term and get out of debt faster. Now what “most expensive” means is up for debate. If you have a private loan, it will probably have your highest interest rate and possibly your lowest total, making it a good first target. When it comes to the semi-collective mass of your federal loans, there are two beneficial approaches. The debt snowball and the debt avalanche are two contrasting methods, usually applied to credit cards, that prioritize one debt to reduce overall debt at a faster rate.
5. Don’t Panic!
Yes, student debt is scary. Yes, college is ridiculously expensive. However, almost all college students are in the same boat. You’re not alone in your stress and you can do this! Stay calm, keep yourself informed, keep up with your payments when they start, strategize for overall debt reduction, and keep moving forward.
Written by Mckenzie Candelot, Staff Writer — Mckenzie Candalot is a recent graduate of the College of Idaho, with a B.A. for English Literature, and is currently working on a Masters in the Art of Teaching. When not studying for classes or blogging, she enjoys reading, walking her dog, and embroidery.