4 tips for tackling student loan debt
Student loans and financing options can be confusing. And that’s without the scams floating around the internet.
Unfortunately, there is no magical way to eliminate student loan debt—and companies that charge upfront fees, promise immediate loan forgiveness, or pressure you to sign up are likely a scam.
“Scammers know student loans are something people worry about, and they’re hoping that your worries are going to override your natural sense of caution,” says D. Jean Hester, Vice President for Enrollment Management at CCAD. “Anything that sounds too good to be true is too good to be true.”
We talked to Hester and Chad Foust, Director of Financial Aid at CCAD, about financial aid and tips for tackling student loan debt.
1. Get to know your servicer
If you borrow money through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program, the Department of Education will assign you a loan servicer. The education department works with about 10 approved servicers, including well-known names like Navient. So, when it’s time to repay your loans, you should work directly with your loan servicer, and no one else, to repay the loan.
If you get a suspicious phone call or email regarding your loan, contact your servicer immediately. “Say, ‘I heard this. Is it accurate?’ Most likely they’re going to say, ‘This is not legitimate but thanks for reaching out,’” Foust says.
2. Bookmark studentaid.gov
The best site to monitor Federal Direct Student Loans is studentaid.gov. You can log in using the same FSA ID and credentials you used to fill out your FAFSA. And you can find the status of your loan, along with a repayment estimator to calculate determine monthly payments.
There are plenty of other resources, too, including Entrance and Exit Counseling online tutorials that explains borrowers’ rights and responsibilities. Foust says you should complete Entrance Counseling before you can receive your first disbursement from your student loans, and Exit Counseling in the final weeks leading up to your graduation or immediately upon your withdrawal from college.
3. Lean on your servicer
Typically, a loan servicer will set up a standard repayment plan requiring repayment over 10 years.
But a lot can happen in a decade. So, as your job and life circumstances change over the years, be sure to reach out to your servicer if you need to inquire about reducing your loan amount, consolidating your loan, shifting to a different payment plan, or going into deferment.
“The minute you’re in a jam, talk to your servicer,” Hester says. “Tell them, ‘Here’s my situation. What can you do?’ If they start calling you, that’s too late. The minute you go into default on your loan, they’re not going to help you.”
4. Make extra payments when you can
Loan servicers will accept extra payments any time you have the money to pay them. Be sure to specify that your payments go toward the loan’s principal amount, not just the interest, which may require mailing the payment to a different address or writing a note. Call your servicer for instructions on how to make extra payments toward against the principal of your loan.