4 Mistakes I Made With My Student Loans and How You Can Avoid Them

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It’s been tough for me to come to terms with, but, unfortunately for me, I am not in college anymore. In fact, this spring marks three years since I graduated from college and went into repayment on my student loans. I know, not the most exciting thing in the world, but important. So while I don’t claim to be a student loan expert, I have learned a lot of lessons along the way, mostly through trial and error. In hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes I did, here are some things I wish I had known when I was graduating and getting ready to start repaying my student loans:

  1. I should have kept track of what I was borrowing

Let’s be real. When you take out student loans to help pay for college, it’s easy to forget that the money will eventually have to be paid back … with interest. The money just doesn’t seem real when you’re in college, and I didn’t do a good job of keeping track of what I was borrowing and how it was building up. When it was time to start repaying my loans, I was quite overwhelmed. I had different types of loans and different interest rates. When I did eventually see my loan balance, I was pretty shocked.

You can avoid this problem. Had I known there was a super easy way to keep track of how much I’d borrowed in federal student loans, I would have been much better off. Just go to www.nslds.ed.gov, select “Financial Aid Review,” log in, and you can view all of your federal student loans in one place! How did I miss that?

  1. I should have made interest payments while I was still in school

If you’re anything like me, you probably consumed your fair share of instant noodles while trying to survive on a college student’s budget. Trust me, I get it. But one thing I really regret when it comes to my student loans was not paying interest while I was in school or during my grace period. Like I said, I was far from rich, but when I was in college, I did have a work-study job and waited tables on the side. I probably could have spared a few dollars each month to pay down some student loan interest. Remember, student loans are borrowed money that you have to repay with interest and more importantly, that interest may capitalize, or be added to your total balance. My advice: Even though you don’t have to, do yourself a favor and consider paying at least some of your student loan interest while you’re in school. It will save you money in the long run.

  1. I should have kept my loan servicer in the loop

If you’re getting ready to graduate or have graduated recently and haven’t heard from your loan servicer, make sure you check that your loan servicer has up-to-date contact info for you. When I graduated and moved into my first big-girl apartment, I forgot to change my address with my loan servicer. I found out that all of my student loan correspondence was going to my mom’s address. I hadn’t even thought to update my loan servicer with my new contact information. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Keep your servicer informed of address, email, and phone changes.

  1. I should have figured out what my monthly loan payments were going to be BEFORE I went into repayment

By the time my grace period was over, I had a decent idea of how much I had borrowed in total, but I had no idea what my monthly payments would be. I thought I was fine. I had started my new job and been paying rent and other bills for about six months. Then my grace period ended, and I got my first bill from my loan servicer. It was definitely an expense I hadn’t fully taken into account.

Don’t make the same mistake. Federal Student Aid has an awesome repayment estimator that allows you to pull in your federal student loan information and compare what your monthly payments would be under the different repayment plans that are offered. That way, you can choose the right repayment plan for you, know how much you can expect to pay monthly, and budget accordingly … unlike me.

I’ll be the first to admit that this whole process can be a little overwhelming, especially when you’re new at it. But just remember, your loan servicer is there to help you. If you have questions or need advice, don’t hesitate to contact them.

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement strategist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.


  1. I have a situation similar to Jane. I have 4 children that I put through college. Much of the cost I paid out of pocket, but some I borrowed. Because my kids are each about 2 years apart the amount borrowed was staggered. I have been repaying the loans for 10 years and the balance never seems to go down. About 2 years ago I asked for an accounting..,….. You know beg bal, princ payments made, ending balance and I was told the computer system was changed and in the new system only the balance was brought forward- no history. So it is impossibe for me to tell if I’ve overpaid, etc. And this is through the dept of Ed.
    Big government is a joke. Private sector could never get away with this garbage.

  2. Your choice is take the money or don’t go to school. My wife and I have $200k in loans – undergrad and grad. I have an MBA and she has a phd. We have great jobs and make over $140k a year combined. We can’t afford ANYTHING – house, car, kids -because we pay $1,800 a month in payments. Repayment needs to be more flexible and take this into account. Working a side job and paying down interest is a joke and so is this article. I don’t mind paying it back, but as my income increases, so do my payments. We need a more flexible repayment option – one that allows you to get on your feet before these payments start. Parents, beware. This was predatory lending at its best. Higher interest rates because its “unsecured debt” but you can’t discharge it even in death. This entire system needs to be fixed and fixed fast. Its sickening how much I make vs how much I keep. I live more paycheck to paycheck now than I did as a student.

  3. Students should be told the cost of a degree and the amount of their prospective earnings. Significant borrowing may be worthwhile for an engineering degree which starts at $50K/yr and not for an education degree that starts at $22K/yr.

  4. Jane should try to find out if this is a federal student loan or private. If it is federal it should not be so difficult to locate who has it. She could see if she can consolidate it to have it removed from default. Once the loan is out of default it would become eligible for income-driven repayment plans that may help make the payment more affordable for her. If Jane has private student loans, than that explains why it has been so difficult.

  5. I hear this all too often. This dilemma that is overtaking and shadowing college education is becoming an epidemic. There should be 3 “firewalls” to protect our children from leaving college heavily indebted and/or not being able to return to continue or complete their education due to the huge financial burden placed on them. They are:

    1. Parents need to play a more active role in making their children clearly understand what they borrow and how it affects them – money really doesn’t grow on trees theory. How relevant their borrowing relates to how they are going to meet the financial demand when completing their education.

    2. High School Counselors along w/college counselors need to be upfront and walk through not only the needed courses/college choices, but what each of these choices mean to their financial obligations.

    3. Revisiting college tuition/costs reflect heavy obligations onto the students when salaries/benefits/books/building additions continue to be included in the student’s cost.

    Thank you.

  6. Thank you! I have a daughter going off to college in the fall and she will need to get student loans. This information is very helpful.

  7. Drowning in Debt

    Please allow me to unveil a very sad situation. A friend whom I will call Jane is in her early fifties. As a young woman Jane had a dream of becoming a teacher. In 1987 she embarked on a teaching degree at a public university. With no outside funding she relied on Federal Student loans to pay for books and tuition. Graduating in 1991 with an elementary Teaching degree she got her first teaching job in a rural school district. She began paying off those loans.

    Three years later she became a mother. Her son was born with arthritis. She managed as a young teacher and mother. A few years later her daughter was born with a heart defect. The father signed the kids off and left their lives offering no help whatsoever. Jane struggled to manage work and two sick children and stretched finances with expensive medical needs for many years. Then the discovery of an aggressive cancer in her own body was the straw that broke the camels back. Although Jane has school district medical insurance, out of pocket premiums for her children is near six hundred dollars a month. In addition her wages are being garnished almost nine hundred dollars a month.

    She has now been teaching for 21 years. Jane, like any mom, has given her life for her family only to now face destitution from a student loan collection policy that will strip her of any kind of retirement. Currently she owns her car. She rents a house and has no savings.

    Jane’s student loan was sold. At this time the new loan owner failed to provide contact information except to begin garnishments of her pay. Kids, medical issues, and the time commitment required to be a good teacher as well as being stonewalled by a creditor have resulted in the garnishments continuing. She originally borrowed around 30,000 dollars. She has paid that back and more. The balance is now 50,000 dollars and growing exponentially. Her nearly 900 dollar a month payments go to creditor fees and interest. They will not give her information, as required by the new law, about getting the loan out of garnishment because it is so lucrative for them to maintain status quo.

    Jane is trapped. It has proven impossible to get through to NSLDS to even find out who has the loan. Meanwhile, Jane has been parenting, teaching and trying to find this information for over a year. She is a good teacher. She inspires learning makes huge strides from fall to spring. Her style of self sacrifice for her students has left her personal well being in shambles. Jane is responsible and is embarrassed to be in this situation. If you could PLEASE tell me what we can do.

    All the details surrounding Jane’s circumstances are true to the best of my knowledge. Jane is ineligible for forgiveness programs because of the current state of the loan. She would be the most in need of that ability now.

    Bill Bieg

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