Pay up, you’re in the real world

Graduation is here and it’s time to celebrate. But don’t forget about the loans it took to get you there.

Ashley Bray

ItâÄôs my favorite time of year. ItâÄôs a day when I receive a large gift that IâÄôve waited months to receive. No, itâÄôs not Christmas. ItâÄôs student loans deposit day! When that large sum of money is dumped into my bank account, all is right with the world. Even though these funds are supposed to pay for another semester of school, it takes all the self-control I can muster to keep myself from heading to DSW for a little shopping.

For the past four years, this day has been one of the most exciting days of the year.

But now with graduation catching up with me itâÄôs becoming harder and harder to ignore that simple little word that brings all that past happiness crashing to the ground: “loan.” Alas, those large sums of money that were seemingly thrown at me over the years were not gifts at all, but money I must pay back with interest.

I know; thatâÄôs obvious, right? But letâÄôs be honest. IâÄôm willing to bet youâÄôd be hard pressed to find many students on campus that have never spent student loan money on something other than tuition and books. I would even wager that there are people like me who arenâÄôt even sure exactly how much they owe, or to whom they owe it.

Once you realize youâÄôre looking at IOUs somewhere in the $40,000-50,000 range, it gets a little nerve-wracking. Maybe you have all your ducks in a row and know exactly whatâÄôs going on with your loans. But I bet many of you are like me and need to do some catching up before the time comes to begin repaying the loans.

First, figure out what you owe and to whom you owe it. The best way to do this is to look at your promissory notes âÄî you know, those pieces of paper you signed when you got that money that you agreed to pay back. “The what?” you might ask. Yeah, I lost mine too.

The next best thing to do is check out this website: www.nslds.ed.gov. This site will show you the lender, balance and repayment status for all of your federal loans. However, this website doesnâÄôt show loans you may have taken out from the state, your college or from a private lender. This is especially important to keep in mind if you transferred and took out loans for a previous school, which might be different from loans used to pay for the University of Minnesota.

One way to figure out other loans you may have is to look for recent billing statements or even to contact a credit bureau, since all loans are reported to an agency.

Second, figure out the grace periodâÄî the amount of time you have before you must begin to repay a loan âÄî for each loan. Federal Stafford loans have grace periods of six months, Perkins loans have grace periods of nine months and PLUS loans depend on when they were issued. Private loans vary; itâÄôs best to contact your lender to figure that out.

Try to pay your highest interest rate loans first. Loans usually have flexible payment options, which you can discuss with your lender. Federal loans will be based on a standard 10-year repayment plan. You may choose to consolidate your federal loans, which means you take out a loan that combines multiple loans into one monthly payment at a fixed interest rate.

When you start repayment, make sure you pay on time, every month. If you do get into trouble and are unable to make a payment, talk to your lender. In most cases, lenders will work with you to figure out a way to make payments easier and this way, you wonâÄôt hurt your credit.

Finally, there is such a thing as loan forgiveness. Options are available for teachers, nurses, Americorps and Peace Corps volunteers, as well as for people in service jobs and other various positions.

Keep these things in mind and once you start paying, keep paying. While I will sorely miss student loans deposit day, I wonâÄôt miss being in debt. The faster these loans get paid off, the more money there will be to spend on things like shoes. By that time, hopefully it wonâÄôt be IOUs anymore.

 

Ashley Bray welcomes comments at [email protected].