5 Must DOs Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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Almost time to start paying back your student loans?  Contrary to popular belief, your student loan payments don’t have to stop you from living your life. You just have to weigh your options and find a strategy that works within your budget. Here are some steps to get you started.

1. Compare monthly payment amounts

The amount you pay each month toward your student loans will depend on the repayment plan you choose. If you take no action, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount or you want a lower monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, where your monthly payment could be as low as $0 per month. Just know that when you make payments based on your income your monthly payment amount may be lower, but you will likely pay more in total over a longer period of time.

Use our repayment calculator to compare the different repayment options.

repayment estimator output

Calculate

TIP: If you’re interested in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you should apply for an income-driven repayment plan and submit an Employment Certification Form.

2. Decide whether to consolidate

If you borrowed federal student loans before 2011, you may need to consolidate any FFEL loans into the Direct Loan program before you can qualify for the better income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. You may also want to consolidate if you have multiple loans and/or servicers and want a single monthly payment. The application takes about 10 minutes.

Consolidate my Loans

3. Choose an affordable repayment plan

If you decide to consolidate, you will choose a repayment plan from within the consolidation application. If you’d like to choose an income-driven plan, choose the Pay As You Earn Plan. It’s the best plan available, and if you don’t qualify for it, your servicer will put you on the next best income-driven repayment plan.

If you aren’t going to consolidate and you’d like to enroll in one of the income-driven repayment plans, learn how to choose the right income-driven repayment plan and apply here. The application takes about 10 minutes.

Repayment Plan Selection

Apply for an income-driven repayment plan

If you’re interested in a plan other than the standard or one of the income-driven plans, contact your servicer to ask how to enroll.

 4. Set up your payments

You will never pay the U.S. Department of Education directly. In most cases, federal student loan borrowers will make payments to one of our loan servicers. Loan servicers work on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to collect your payments and provide customer service. If you don’t know who your loan servicer is, find out here.

Your loan servicer will contact to let you know when your first payment is due and how to make a payment, so it’s very important that you provide your servicer with updated contact information.

TIP: To simplify the repayment process, consider enrolling in auto debit and your payments will be automatically taken from your bank account each month. As an added bonus, you get a 0.25% interest rate deduction when you enroll. Ask your servicer how to enroll.

5. Know who to contact if you need help with your student loans

Beware of student loan scams.  You never have to pay for help with your student loans. As you’re researching repayment and forgiveness options, make sure you’re getting information from trusted sources, like .gov websites or your servicer’s website. The government and your servicer will never charge application or maintenance fees, so if you’re asked to pay, walk away.

If you have questions or need help, contact your servicer.

TIP: Save your servicer’s contact information in your phone so you can access it when you need to.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Image by Getty Images

13 Comments

  1. what about parents who cosigned and kids cant pay and we have to and cant pay the payment they want why don’t the same rules apply .Credit ruined already by this wish someone could give me an answer.

  2. Sadly everything on the loan servicer website will end up costing you more money in the long run. When you make a $185.00 a month payment and $85.00 still went to interest. I paid the loan off with a credit card with a 18 month no interest and I’m making larger payments. To bring the balance down faster. I estimate I will save at least $5000 in interest. Students loans is a money making scam with the amount of interest that is paid.

  3. Well this is no help at all! I thought after 5 years of teaching in a title 1 school district I could receive $5K off my student loans. If it is not until I pay 120 payments well that is ten years worth of payments… Which is the whole loan, so how would I be eligible for loan forgiveness if there is no more loan owed?????

    • I think you may be confusing two different programs. I believe teachers do receive a loan forgiveness of $5000 to $17,500 depending of subject matter taught and school type that happens after five years. Public Service Loan Forgiveness is entirely different and takes 10 years. The Department of Education has indicated that teachers in some circumstances can qualify for both. You first receive the teacher forgiveness and then after another 10 years you can receive the Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

  4. If I choose the income – driven repayment after I graduate from law school in June, and five years into repayments the law changes that you don’t acquire forgiveness/imputed as income after 25 years. Will I be grandfathered in under the new law, or will I be forced to continue to pay many thousands of dollars extra in interest that I could have avoided if I would have just stuck with the traditional 10 year standard repayment plan?

    • Hi Cynthia. We cannot guarantee the future availability of income-driven repayment plans or income-driven repayment plans with terms and conditions that exist today. If the law changes to eliminate or modify an income-driven repayment plan, the language of the law will determine what will occur.

    • This conversation highlights the unintended consequences of income based repayment. We seem to be encouraging people to not fully repay their loans. Why would you if you don’t have to? Why borrow responsibly and stop at one masters degree when you can get two or three and pay the same low amount?

  5. I am a teacher in the District of Columbia School system.I have tried to get loan forgiveness without success. Please help!!!!!!!

  6. Thank you for this info…. I will be passing it as well as using the much needed advise. Prepare to succeed or fail.!

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