Almost 70 percent of all US college students who graduated in 2013 held some amount of student debt, according to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS). That year, the average graduate owed $28,400 in loans from both private sources and federally-back loans.
It’s a sobering amount of money to owe so early on. But there are options that US graduates can look at to lower their overall loan amounts.
Should You Consolidate Student Loans?
If you’re approaching graduation or have already graduated, you probably have received advice to take several steps about your loan. Top of the heap: loan consolidation.
It sounds good — you pay one place instead of several. It’s less confusing. And it is a good idea if you need cash. Given the tough job market, you may be under-employed, subject to layoffs, and/or are barely getting by.
Bankrate offers these pros and cons for consolidation:
- PRO:Extending the life of your loan frees up cash you may desperately need and you may get a better interest rate.
- CON: You may lose any chance for loan forgiveness and lose out on lower interest your current loaner may offer.
Also, look at how much left you owe on your loan. If you just have a few thousand bucks, it probably makes sense to grit your teeth and continue the payoff on schedule.
How Important is Credit to You?
While saving money is good, Equifax warns that doing a credit switch early in your career can bring a small ding to your rating. Yes, you have years to improve your score. But if your heart is set on buying a home as soon as possible, or you plan on opening your own business, you want your credit as clean as it can be. Paying a bit more in interest may be a small price to pay.
Some employers run credit checks on applicants. They need your consent to do so. They also must tell you if your credit check resulted in a decision to not hire you, according to the legal site NOLO. A handful of states regulate whether this can be done at all, or stipulate when the practice is acceptable. Also bear in mind that landlords run credit checks, which is an important factor to consider if you intend to live away from family.
If you don’t already know, you can get a free credit report every year from each of the three major reporting companies. It’s important to do this because they can make mistakes. Try to stay informed about changes in credit rules, popular scams and other major financial news. Get the headlines through Twitter feeds from sources like LifeLock, which focuses on consumers rather than wealthy investors. Read and save or scan every piece of mail you get from your loan servicer.
Loan Reduction and Repayment Options
TICAS urges graduates to stay on top of their loans. This alone can save a lot of headaches and heartaches.
- Be sure your lender has your current contact information.
- If you’re not yet in the repayment period, check out your grace period to start paying each loan.
- If you are able to pay more than the minimum, do it! But be sure to tell your lender in writing that you want the extra to be applied to the loan balance. Otherwise, they’ll just deduct the extra from next month’s minimum payment.
- Pay off the loan(s) with the highest interest first; these are usually private loans.
- If you get laid off from work, you may be able to defer payments. Contact the loan servicer.
Of course, if you are unsure about any of the topics highlighted above make sure to seek up–to-date and location specific independent professional advice.