If you’re confused about how to handle your student loans, you’re not alone.
It’s one of the most common questions I get asked by readers and clients alike. And at a financial planning conference I attended just the other week, one where the attendees were financial professionals, the most popular standing room only session was a DOUBLE BLOCK about student loans.
It’s a big, important issue affecting a lot of people. And the fact that even professionals are climbing on top of each other to learn more about how student loans work shows you just how confusing it is to navigate the system.
So again, if you’re unsure about the best way to handle your student loans, you are most definitely NOT alone.
And I want to fix that.
Welcome to Student Loan Month!
I’m making October Student Loan Month here at Mom and Dad Money. Over the next four weeks, I’m going to share the best strategies I’ve learned for understanding your student loans and creating a plan to pay them off as efficiently as possible.
The goal is to help you save as much money as possible, get rid of your debt as quickly as possible, and do it all in a way that makes it easier for you to reach your biggest personal and financial goals.
Here’s what we’ll to be covering:
- How to organize your student loans (today!)
- Which student loan repayment plan is right for you?
- When you should consolidate your student loans
- Advanced student loan techniques
This isn’t the most exciting part in the process, but it’s necessary if you want to handle your student loans as effectively as possible.
And to make it as easy as possible for you, I have a downloadable set of instructions for gathering this information, along with a spreadsheet to help you organize it all.
Quick note: A lot of what I know about student loans has come from the AMAZING student loan expert Heather Jarvis. She has some fantastic resources on her site, so if you’re looking for more information I would definitely check it out: http://askheatherjarvis.com/.
Which student loan details matter?
There’s no straightforward, one-size-fits-all answer simply because there are a lot of variables to consider. The right choices for you really depend on the specific details of your student loans.
Down below I’m going to show you how to get all the information you need to make these decisions. But first, let’s talk about which details even matter.
Here’s the information you’ll want to collect for each student loan.
- Federal or Private? – Federal and private student loans have VERY different repayment options, so making this distinction is an important first step.
- FFEL or Direct? – Before July 2010, federal student loans used to be given out in two different ways. FFEL loans were federal student loans given out by private companies. Direct loans were given out directly by the federal government. You’ll need to know which type each of your federal loans is in order to make both repayment and consolidation decisions.
- Subsidized or Unsubsidized? – Subsidized loans have more lenient repayment terms than unsubsidized loans and you may be able to use that to your advantage.
- Type – For federal student loans, the specific type of loan can affect the repayment options available to you. Here are the major types of federal loans:
- Subsidized Stafford
- Unsubsidized Stafford
- Grad PLUS
- Parent PLUS
- Federal Consolidation
- Status – Is your loan in repayment, grace, deferment, forbearance, delinquent, default, etc. (If your student loans are delinquent or in default, you may want to check out the Student Loan Borrower Assistance website for help.)
- Current Balance – How much you currently owe.
- Current Monthly Payment – Your minimum monthly payment.
- Interest Rate – The interest rate being applied to your current balance.
- Co-signer – Is there a co-signer? If so, who is it? They are just as much on the hook for the loan as you are.
- Date of Disbursement – When the loan first started.
- Servicer – The company administering your loan. This is the company providing the online tools for you to check your balance, make payments, etc.
- Lender – The company that actually lent you the money. This may or may not be the same as the servicer.
How to find your student loan details
Okay, so that’s the information you need. But where can you find it?
The process is different for federal student loans than it is for private loans, and both are outlined below.
I would recommend going through both processes, even if you think you only have one type You never know what you might find out.
FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS
You can follow these steps to get your federal student loan information:
- Visit www.NSLDS.ed.gov.
- Click the Financial Aid Review button.
- Log in if you already have a username and password, or go through the process to Create An FSA ID.
- You’ll see a summary page and you can click the blue numbers in the far left column to find more detail on each loan.
- Click My Student Data Download to download an ugly .txt file with all the important details.
And that’s it! It’s not a fun document to read through, but it’s the best source of information on your federal student loans.
PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS
There are two main sources of information for your private student loans:
- Your credit report, which you can pull for free at annualcreditreport.com. (The other “free” credit report sites aren’t really free. Use this one.)
- Each loan’s official Promissory Note, which is a legal document explaining all of the loan’s terms and conditions. You can request this from your loan servicer.
How to organize your student loan information
Once you have all of that information, you’ll want to organize it in a single, simple document. That will make it easier to quickly look through all of your student loans at once to understand which repayment plans you might qualify for, whether you have consolidation opportunities, and which student loans you’ll want to pay off first.
And instead of leaving you to create this document for yourself, I’ve created a simple template you can use.
Your job is simply to use the documents you gathered to fill out that spreadsheet. With that information in hand, you’ll be ready to take the next steps.
If you’ve done all of that, you’re more prepared to handle your student loans than most people ever are. You have the information in hand and now you’re ready to use it.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover the some of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make with this information, including:
- Choosing a student loan repayment plan.
- Deciding whether to consolidate your student loans.
- Some advanced student loan techniques to help you pay them off even quicker.
What are your biggest student loan questions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can cover them in future blog posts?