Stay Out of the Student Loan Doghouse
A student loan is the first experience with credit management for many students. To protect your credit history, you must take proactive steps to successfully repay your student loan. Below are student loan guidelines to consider before borrowing, during school and after school, when entering repayment.
Borrow only what you’ll need. When accepting a student loan, know how much money you’ll actually need to cover your school expenses, which include your basic living expenses for the school term. Many students will be offered more loan funds from outside sources than they actually need. Be cautious in pursuing additional loans outside of those offered by your financial aid office. Ask the financial aid counselor for advice if you’re considering taking a “private” student loan in addition to those that have been offered by the financial aid office. Since loans must be repaid, it’s best to borrow only what you need to pay for school.
Be salary savvy. Consider the starting salary for your chosen occupation before taking out student loans. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your total amount borrowed is less than your expected starting salary, and some experts recommend that the monthly student loan payment should be no more than eight percent of your first-year monthly income after graduation. Research starting salaries in Oklahoma by visiting www.oesc.ok.gov, and estimate monthly loan payment amounts using the debt/salary calculator at www.MappingYourFuture.org.
Always go for free money first. When paying for school, take advantage of all grants, scholarships and college savings available to you before taking out a student loan. If you must borrow to pay for school, exhaust all federal loan options before considering “private” (sometimes called “alternative”) loans, which can have higher interest rates and fewer flexible repayment options.
Keep seeking free money. Grants and scholarships aren’t only for freshmen. Talk to your financial aid office or use resources like www.UCanGo2.org and www.Fastweb.com to locate grants and scholarships that you might qualify for.
Take interest in paying your interest. If given the option to pay the interest accrued on unsubsidized loans during your college career, do so. These quarterly payments are usually affordable on a tight budget and can save you hundreds over the life of your loan!
Plan for payments. Start thinking about repayment before it begins. Make sure you adapt your budget to include your monthly student loan payment before your grace period ends. Consider your spending habits and priorities; are changes needed to make room for your loan payment? Should you delay the purchase of a new car for a while to make room for your student loan payment? Also, get real about how much you owe and use the loan calculator at www.ReadySetRepay.org to help you prepare to manage your debt.
Don’t nix the fixed. Recognize that your student loan payment is a fixed expense. Repaying your student loan is not optional, even if you withdraw from school before graduating. Remember, your monthly student loan payment is just as important as your rent, car payment or any other fixed monthly expense.
Pay your dime on time. Make your loan payments on time or your credit score could suffer! If you know your payment will be late, contact your lender immediately to discuss your situation. Even if you apply for a deferment or forbearance, continue making payments on your student loan until you receive confirmation that your request has been processed and approved.
Talk it up. Communicate with your lender regularly. Remember to notify your lender/loan servicer of any changes in your name, address or ability to repay.
Revamp your repayment. The right payment plan makes successful loan repayment easier. Contact your lender/loan servicer to explore alternate repayment plans and choose the one that's right for your situation. Bear in mind that flexible repayment programs, like deferment and forbearance, aren't automatic; if you need help, you have ask for it.
Don’t discard documents. Keep copies of all loan correspondence. Create a "my student loan" file to hold statements, notices and other important documents.
Ask questions! This is your money we're talking about, so don't be afraid to ask for help or for more information when you just don't get it. Call the financial aid department or your loan servicer.
This information presented in cooperation with Oklahoma Money Matters, the financial education outreach initiative of the Oklahoma College Assistance Program. For more information about OKMM, visit www.oklahomamoneymatters.org or call 1-800-970-OKMM.