CHICAGO – The clock has run out – for now – and it’s time for millions of college graduates to pay up. Their first student loan payment in about three years is due Oct. 1. That’s because the government no longer has them on hold due to the pandemic.
In a FOX 32 money saver special report, we ask the experts how you can come up with this money when times are already tight.
“It sucks. Plain and simple as it is. It’s scary and I wish that it was different,” one student said.
She’s not the only college grad who feels that way about the government resuming payments on the student loans it has issued.
“I already still owe over $8,000. I am not able to pay $8,000 out of pocket to be able to go to school now,” another student said.
If you don’t like those numbers, wait until you see your payment slip.
“As an undergraduate on the federal loan side, you’re looking at about $245 to $275 a month in a new payment. If you don’t sign up for IDR [income-driven repayment]. A graduate student with graduate and undergraduate debt, you’re looking at about $500,” said Jack Wallace, director of governmental and lender relations at student loan refinance company Yrefy.
If you’re a married couple where both of you went to graduate school, your loan payment may be the same as your mortgage payment. That’s if you don’t take advantage of what’s called IDR, or income-driven repayment programs. They are offered by either your loan servicer or the U.S. Department of Education.
How do you sign up for one?
“It’s best to go on StudentAid.gov and use their calculators there to see what programs you might qualify for,” Wallace said.
If you don’t qualify for those programs based on your income, you still have other options to help you manage your student loan payment.
“What you want to do is consolidate your federal loans in to one payment if you haven’t done that already. If you do that, you’ll be able to extend the term which will lower the monthly payment. It will also help you from a credit perspective in getting a better score,” Wallace said.
Make sure you are paying your loan with pre-tax dollars, which Wallace says you can do.
“There’s a little provision buried in the CARES Act and that permits the payment of $5,200 per tax year in pre-tax dollars,” Wallace said.
“Very few of the corporations are offering it. Less than 10%. Go to human resources tomorrow. Ask them if they have the program. If they don’t have it, tell them to sign up for it. It’s in the CARES Act and it’s in the IRS code, section 127,” Wallace said.
Next, you need to take a good hard look at the terms of your loan and your budget.
“We can’t make a plan until we actually understand what’s going on in our financial lives. So even if it is uncomfortable. And it undoubtedly will be if this is something you have not looked at for a while. I do need you to sit down and get honest with yourself. Without the shame and judgment. And start putting a plan together,” said financial advisor Tori Dunlap.
When it comes to your budget, experts say you need to look at everything. Even something as small as an extra DVR cable box.
“Sure maybe it’s only a $4, $5 or $6-a-month saving,” said Andrew Woroch, a consumer savings expert. “But when you find a little bit of savings here and there, it really adds up and can give you some extra room in your budget to put towards your student loan payments. I would also look at your insurance premiums. Have they gone up over the years.”
Woroch says you could see some serious savings just by switching companies and all it takes is a quick search online. She also says another good place to look for quick savings in your budget is food.
“Look at your grocery spend. How much are you spending each month. Are you able to cut back a little. Are you throwing food away. I would recommend adopting a meal plan strategy. Also try to cut back a few take-out orders each week. It’s going to help you save a lot each month,” Woroch said.
Once you’ve figured out how to come up with the money for your monthly student loan payment, make a plan to keep that plan in place.
“There’s Mint, PocketGuard. These would be really good apps to use to track your budget moving forward. Because think all of your financial accounts and bills in one place. So it just gives you a snapshot of how you’re doing each month to make sure you’re over spending in any one category,” Woroch said.
One final note from our experts: make sure your loan servicer and the U.S. Department of Education have your correct contact information. If you’ve moved in the last few years, they might not have it.
If they don’t have your current address, you might not receive your letter and default on your loan payments.
For more resources to help manage your student loan payment, visit the following website:
Federal Student Aid: StudentAid.gov
American Consumer Credit Counseling: ConsumerCredit.com/debt-programs/
Institute of Student Loan Advisors: FreeStudentLoanAdvice.org/
National Association of Consumer Advocates: ConsumerAdvocates.org/for-consumers/student-loans/
National Consumer Law Center: StudentLoanBorrowerAssistance.org/
National Foundation for Credit Counseling: NFCC.org/who-benefits/students/