saving for college

With your college graduation now an exciting memory, you may be thinking ahead to loan repayment and wondering exactly how much you’ve borrowed. The type of loans you have, where you borrowed them from, the terms of the loans, and the total amount borrowed are all critical pieces of information you need to have in order to tackle the loan repayment process. While students typically attend an “exit counseling” session prior to graduating at which important loan repayment information is shared, it’s equally important to go one step further on your own to ensure that you have identified all of your education loans. Understanding the exact amount of your student loan debt and developing a detailed repayment plan is the key to being a successful borrower.

Step 1: Account for All Your Federal Loans

Because students may borrow federal loans or private education loans offered by state agencies, banks, or other financial services companies (all at the same time!), the first step is to account for all your loans. Borrowers can learn more about their federal loans by logging into the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS); this site houses all the information pertaining to the federal loan programs, such as Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, PLUS Loans, and Health Professions Loans. NSLDS not only provides the comprehensive list of all the federal loans borrowed by a student, but also includes the loan servicer’s contact information, the amount of the loan(s) including accrued interest, and the amount and due date of monthly payments.

Step 2: Account for All Your Private Loans

Although NSLDS is a valuable repository of information on federal loan programs, it does not contain information about any private educational loan programs. Students must look at their credit report for details pertaining to any private education loans borrowed, such as the amount of the loan and the contact information for the loan servicer. I recommend that borrowers use Annual Credit Report.com to obtain a free credit report for this purpose. Via that website, consumers can get one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion, and Equifax). Borrowers can even stagger their requests for free credit reports and obtain an updated report every four months, which will serve as a vital tool in helping them stay on top of their credit responsibilities.

Step 3: Identify Your Loan Servicer(s)

After using both NSLDS and the credit report as a guide, borrowers should identify their loan servicer(s); these are the entities that will collect the loan payments from you and serve as your principal resource during repayment. Loan servicers really should be seen as a resource in repayment, not an enemy. Many college graduates have a difficult time balancing their ever-growing student loan payments with their other financial responsibilities, so the importance of reaching out to the loan servicer if needed cannot be stressed enough! I encourage borrowers to consult with their loan services if they have questions about their loan repayment options, wish to select an alternative payment plan, hope to apply for a deferment, or want to apply for forbearance. This must be done before payments are past due.

Now that you’ve identified what you need to repay, the next step is to pay them off! Join us next week for further tips on student loan repayment.

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Written by Jan Combs
Jan Combs is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, Jan was Director of Financial Aid at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Boston University.