It’s back to school time — do you know what your student loans are?
In all seriousness, this is my pet peeve: I have yet to come across a fellow college student who knew much about their student loans. How much have you borrowed? From who? At what interest rate? And the big Kahuna: how much will you owe when all is said and done at graduation?
It doesn’t have to be this way. Ignorance may seem like bliss, but you’re better off learning from my mistakes. Trust me: instead of bliss, ignorance means you get bit in the ass later. Staying on top of things is your real ticket to freedom.
Keep Papers In One Place
I know, I know — it seems like my solution for everything is a manila folder and an electronic folder. But it works! Hang onto all the papers relating to your loans. It may seem like a lot now, but you can weed it down and figure out what’s really important when you actually start repaying.
Keep a text document on your computer with all the information you can get about your loans. Who’s issuing the loan? Do you have a co-signer? How much are you borrowing per term? What’s the interest rate? Most importantly, most loans nowadays come with an online account you can log into — especially the federal loans. Keep all the information you need in order to log into that account. (Figure out how to encrypt this file — this is sensitive info!)
Run the Calculator
Now, and at the beginning of every semester/quarter/term from now on, you should run the Loan Calculator. Use the total loan balance you estimate you’ll have at graduation. There’s two big reasons for this:
1) Make sure you’re on track. The loan calculator tells you how much money you’ll need to make to pay off the loans you’re getting. If the number seems too high, you need to figure out a way to reduce your loans, stat.
2) A wake-up call. You’re in school. You’re paying to be there, whether you like it or not. You’ll have to pay this money back – not even bankruptcy can erase student loans! Not to scare you or anything. It’s just a way to keep the big picture in mind.
If You Don’t Know, Look It Up
Loan stuff all seems like gibberish. Subsidized? Unsubsidized? Perkins? Stafford? Graduated repayment? They don’t really lay it all out plainly for you, do they? Thankfully, you’re going to school in the information age. Don’t wallow in ignorance — put Google to work!
So what if you really don’t know what loans you have, and can’t find the info? You might be able to get a snapshot from the National Student Loan Data System. You’ll need to know your federal PIN, which is the number you use when you fill out the FAFSA every year. Also, check your college billing statements. If you still feel like you’re not getting the full picture, make an appointment with your school’s financial aid office.
This seems all pretty simple, doesn’t it? Keep track of your papers, know how to check your balances, and run the calculator once a term. But if you actually bother to do it, you’ll be ahead of just about everyone else with student loans. Because from what I’ve seen, most people just aren’t on top of the game. Peace of mind: If you’re on top of your loans, that means your loans aren’t on top of you!