If you have no other liabilities other than student loans, congratulations! But, you’ll still need to be strategic about how you will pay back what you owe. Most standard student loans have a ten-year payback period and a monthly payment schedule, but there are many more cost-effective options that are worth exploring.
Before you make that first payment, call your lenders and verify what the monthly amounts will be. If you simply cannot afford to make the payments, ask about alternative payment options. Most lenders offer graduated payment plans where monthly payments start about 50 percent below the standard amount and gradually increase over time. As well, you can frequently extend your repayment period up to 30 years. However, you will need to be careful about paying so little per month that you are only paying interest and no principal.
Another very effective way to decrease what you are paying each month is to is to consolidate your loans by doing a student loan consolidation. This is a great option for borrowers who have several loans at different interest rates. By consolidating these loans, you can lock in a fixed interest rate, lower your payments, and extend your repayment period. Also, consolidation can be quite beneficial for improving your credit because existing loans will be paid off before a new loan is issued. You can ask your current lenders if they offer consolidation plans. If not, there are many lenders who can help you with your loans, and you are able to consolidate during your grace period. Make sure to ask about interest rate discounts that are usually offered for signing up for auto-pay and for having extended on-time payments. Most borrowers who consolidate their loans will save a substantial amount on their monthly payments, up to 60 percent each billing cycle. However, remember that the interest rate on consolidated student loans changes every year on July 1st. Thus, if you are considering consolidation, make sure to submit your application well before this date. Interest rates will be going up more than 2 percent this year, so don’t delay.
If you are approaching the end of your grace period, and you are currently unemployed, disabled, or planning to return to school, you can defer payment on your loans for up to three years. The government will pay the interest on your subsidized loans during this time.