You’re a new grad, maybe in a new city with a new job, apartment and friends. But not all the new things about postgrad life are fun and sparkly; you likely have a new debt to deal with, too.
If you graduated in May, your first student loan payment will probably come due next month. And if you’re like a lot of recent graduates, you’re craving some structure amid all the newness. Follow this three-step plan to help you start chipping away at your student debt.
Step 1: Become an expert on your own loans
Start with the basics. You should be able to answer the following questions about your student loans to best know how to tackle them:
- Who is your federal loan servicer?
- How much do you owe total and what are your interest rates?
- How much do you owe each month and when is your first payment due?
Find this information about your federal loans by logging into your Federal Student Aid account or checking with your loan servicer. If you have private loans, contact your lender.
Step 2: Budget for your monthly payments
A depressing reality of postgrad life is that you’ll need to make room in your budget for your student loan payments. Plan to pay the minimum amount due every month to keep your credit in good shape. Another tip: Set up autopay. In most cases, you’ll get a 0.25% interest rate discount for automating your payments.
It’s also a good time to figure out how your student loan payments will fit into your overall financial picture. Based on the 50/30/20 budgeting strategy, you should spend about 50% of your take-home earnings on needs, including your minimum student loan payments, rent and other necessary bills.
Step 3: Income too low? Adjust your payment plan
If your student loan payments eat up too much of your paycheck, switching to an income-driven repayment plan may be what you need. The plans base your minimum federal loan payment on your earnings and can lower your payments; depending on your income, you may not be required to pay anything. It sounds like a no-brainer, but keep in mind that they also increase the amount of interest you’ll pay in the long run.
If an income-driven plan makes sense for you, it’s free to sign up through the Department of Education. Apply on the Federal Student Aid website to get started.
Once you get into the groove of making your monthly payments, check out ways to save money on your student loans:
- Refinance your student loans to save money in interest. You’ll likely qualify if you have good credit and a high income compared to your other financial obligations.
- Get federal loan forgiveness based on your employer or occupation. For instance, you’re eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you work for the government or a nonprofit.
Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @teddynykiel.