So you are about to graduate from college or university with your degree.  Congratulations!  But the nagging thought you have that weighs you down is, "How am I ever going to repay my student loans?"

The best thing you can do to deal with this is to come up with a plan so that when the payments fall due, you will be ready. Here are some things you should do that will help!

Get Organized

The first thing you need to do is go through all of your records to know what loans you have, for how much, and when payment must start. For your federal loans, the best place to go is the National Student Loan Data System, which lays out everything you need to know about your Stafford, Perkins, and Graduate PLUS loans.

For New Jersey state CLASS loans, the website for the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) should be helpful.  For your private loans, you would need to check your private records.

You also need to know when the first payment is due on each loan.  For federal loans (Stafford, Graduate PLUS, and Perkins), there is an automatic grace period of 6 months from graduation for Stafford and Graduate PLUS, and 9 months for Perkins.

For New Jersey state loans, you may already be making payments depending on the terms of the loan when you took it out.  If you have been making principal and interest payments already, then you just need to continue.

However, if you were making interest-only payments, or no payments at all, then that is going to change immediately upon graduation.  If you need time to come up with a plan, you must apply for a deferment with HESAA; it is not automatic.

Private loans, unfortunately, fall due when they fall due, according to the terms of the promissory note. You need to read the note thoroughly to see what your options are, if any, so that you may start your planning.

Contact Your Loan Servicer

Be proactive; go to them before they come to you.  Your loan servicer is the company that will be collecting payments on your student loan and are also there to provide support.  With your federal loans, the servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan.

Even after you come up with a plan, your circumstances might change during your repayment period that could cause a problem with your plan, and your loan servicer may be able to help.  The NSLDS can tell you who your loan servicer is. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

Try On Different Plans for a Good Fit

The U.S. Department of Education offers many different repayment plans for federal loans, so it can be very easy to choose one that is a good fit.  See what the payments would be per month for Income Based Repayment (IBR), graduated, extended, and graduated extended plans.  If you do nothing, you will be placed in a ten year fixed plan.

New Jersey CLASS and private loans do not have the options that the federal ones do, but if you are able to get an affordable plan on your federal loans, it might make the payments on the other loans more affordable.

Pick the Best Plan for You

Once you try them all out, then pick the one that is most affordable.  Remember that you can always switch to a different one later if circumstances change.  If you choose IBR for your federal loan, the type of job you get might also allow you to have forgiven an unpaid balance.

If you work full time in the public sector, for a qualifying non-profit, or for a charity, you should keep records of your payments and look into an eventual forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).

If you live in New Jersey and would like help figuring all this out, then there is a great way to do so for free! Just click here to provide me with all the details on your loans. I will then, for free and with no obligation on your part, look at your situation to see if I can provide you with a way to deal with them. If there isn't one, it didn't cost you anything. If there is, then I will contact you to schedule an analysis session with my office to lay out a plan of action.

For more information on student loans, download my free book, I Graduated; Now What?  A Guide to Dealing with Your Student Loans.

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Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.