As recent graduates pursue their professional goals, they'll also have to dedicate energy to paying off loans. It's extremely important to be consistent and on time with payments. So, it's smart to create a plan right away.
First, all loan documents must be gathered to make a chart that includes the following for each loan: amount owed, interest rate, whether that rate is fixed or variable, term of the loan, minimum monthly payment, and the date needed to start repaying.
Pay off higher interest loans first, but be sure to pay at least the minimum every month on every loan. Defaulting on a student loan has serious consequences. Not only are there hefty penalties and fees, but a default could damage credit rating for many years.
Start by adding up monthly minimums. If the figure is out of reach, don't despair. There are options, including consolidation.
For federal loans, the government offers a Direct Consolidation Loan as well as several repayment alternatives designed to lower payments and possibly even forgive debt. Many private banks offer their own consolidation or alternate repayment programs.
Looking at the positives, consolidating can make life simpler.
Private and federal loans must be kept separate, but consolidating each group of loans would give just two payments, making it easier to manage debt. Even more significant, it is possible to lower payments by extending the life of loans. Plus, if there are several variable interest loans, consolidating into a fixed interest loan may reduce overall interest rate.
That all sounds great, but there are a couple of minuses to consider. If the loan term is extended, while monthly payments may go down, the amount of interest paid in the long run will go up. So decide how much you're willing to pay over the long term. For instance, if a 10-year loan is increased to 25 years, monthly payments could go down about 40 percent, but it results in paying almost twice as much interest over the life of the loan. Also, if some of your loans still have a grace period before repayment is due, when you consolidate that grace period is lost.
There are other various repayment options available for federal loans, including:
• Graduated Repayment: Payments start low and gradually increase every two years. The term of the loan can be up to 30 years, depending on how much is borrowed.
• Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Monthly payments are based on a percentage of discretionary income, not the amount owed. Discretionary income is your adjusted gross income (AGI) minus 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your family and state of residence. If you make less than 150 percent of the poverty line, your payment is $0. Otherwise, it's capped at 15 percent of your discretionary income. Any remaining debt and interest is forgiven after 25 years of repayment.
Recent legislation has changed the way certain student loans are handled, so I suggest digging before making a decision. Two good resources are www.ed.gov and Finaid.org.