After College: Know What — and to Whom — You Owe Your Student Loans

If you graduated last spring after borrowing federal student loans, you’ll need to begin repaying them soon. So now’s the time to confirm what you owe and to whom you’ll make your payments.

Fortunately, the government has two easy-to-use websites through which you can IMG_0137find such information in a matter of seconds. One is the Federal Student Loan Repayment Estimator. It’ll identify your outstanding loan balances and project your monthly and total repayment amounts under each repayment plan for which you’re eligible. It can also compare these amounts if you consolidate your federal student loan debts.

This information is the key to selecting the right repayment plan before you begin making monthly payments. And if consolidation is right for you, now is the time to look into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan.

IMG_0138Where can you identify who you’ll repay and/or to whom you should apply for a consolidation loan? That’s the National Direct Student Loan System (NSLDS). You can use NSLDS to identify the loan servicer — and its mailing address, phone number, and website address — for each of your Federal Direct Loans and, if you have them, Federal Perkins Loans.i

Both the estimator and NSLDS are secure federal websites so, to access and use them, you’ll need your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID.

About those federal student loan servicers . . .

They work for your lenders — the government for your Federal Direct Loans and the colleges and universities that awarded your Federal Perkins Loans. Each lender will places all loans you owe it with a single servicer.

If you owe on Federal Direct and Perkins Loans, you may have a servicer for both and you should consider consolidating those debts.

Finally, your servicer doesn’t just collect your debt. It can also to provide services to help you manage that debt — advice about resolving problems; explanations and information on the practices, rules, and systems that apply to your loans; and responding to your requests on consolidation loans, repayment plans, and payment postponements. Make sure your servicer always knows where to contact you in case it needs to reach out to you about such matters.

Knowledge is power, and knowledge about what and who you owe give you a powerful edge in managing your student loan debts. Use that edge — you’ll benefit from it!

You’re always welcome to contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for no-charge consultations on repaying your student loans.

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During College: Save by Prepaying Unneeded Loan Funds Within 120 Days of Disbursement

So your student’s currently in college? And he borrowed a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan for this fall? He can save a lot on that loan by prepaying during the next 6 weeks. This is worth considering, because only 38.6% of college seniors look back and feel all they borrowed was essential to continuing their education.

Federal regulations say any prepayment received within 120 days of disbursement must be used to reduce that disbursement’s principal — and interest and loan fees on the prepaid principal must be automatically cancelled, too.

IMG_9849For example, a college freshman prepays $100 of his fall 2017 Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan within this 120 day period. This’ll reduce the total amount he must repay by an additional $175. Actual savings will depend on his choice of the federal repayment plans he’ll be offered — a choice he’ll make after leaving school.

These regulations also apply to upperclassmen. Their savings may be a bit less, but they’re still significant.

How to do this? First, your student should check with his financial aid office to see if it’ll submit his prepayment for film. If so, he should follow its directions. Otherwise:

  • Do Some Research: The National Student Loan Data System has his most recent Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan disbursement date (i.e. “Loan Date”). It’ll also identify his federal student loan servicer and its mailing address.
  • Meet the 120-Day Deadline: He’ll write a check to his loan servicer for the amount IMG_9854he wants to prepay and mail it 7-10 days (for delivery and processing) before the 120th day after disbursement.
  • Direct the Prepayment’s Application: To make sure his prepayment goes 100% to his most expensive federal loan — that Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan — he should write “Apply to [INSERT LOAN DATE] Unsubsidized Loan” on his check’s memo line before mailing it.

But be careful. You student should only prepay funds he doesn’t need to finish the current term. So if he doesn’t already have a spending plan, help him build one when he’s home for Thanksgiving. More about this next Wednesday.

The right to prepay at any time without penalty helps make federal loans superior to most other forms of credit available to America’s college students. And prepaying within 120 days of disbursement saves extra money, making them even better!

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years of experience in a wide variety of student finance issues, including student loan debt management. Contact us at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for cost-free consultations.

After College: Save by Prepaying During Your Grace Period

Did you get your bachelor’s degree this past spring? While in college, did you borrow Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans? If so, you’re fast approaching the last day of your 6-month “grace period.” The next day what you’ll repay on those loans could easily multiply.

IMG_9822Lenders charge interest on student and other loans they make, and what borrowers repay equals the principal amount they borrowed and the interest they’re charged. Interest on your Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan installments began building when you received them, and any of this interest outstanding at the end of your grace period gets added to those loans’ principal.

It’s a legal practice called “capitalization.” Many lenders do it, including the government on Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Once capitalized, your outstanding interest gets added to your principal. This inflates the total amount you repay because, the greater your principal, the more interest you get charged as you repay it.

Fortunately, this can be prevented — if you can afford it — by prepaying your IMG_9824outstanding interest before capitalization occurs. Say you borrowed the maximum allowable Federal Direct Loan amount during each of the last 4 years. Assuming you earn the average starting salary for a 2017 graduate, every $100 you prepay during your grace period reduces the total amount you’d repay by an additional $94 to $113.

Here’s what to do:

  • Get Information: Identify your grace period end-date and get a projection on the interest you’ll owe on that date. Your federal student loan servicer should be able to supply both and, if necessary, you can obtain its contact information from the National Student Loan Data System.
  • Prepay Before Your Grace Period Ends: Prepay as much interest as you can. Ask your servicer how to send this prepayment electronically, or mail it a check 7-10 days before your grace period ends.

Any payment made before it’s due is a prepayment. You can prepay any time without penalty on Federal Direct Loans. Prepayments reduce outstanding interest first, then loan principal. So if you can prepay even more than interest during your grace period you’ll also diminish your loan principal, further shrinking the total you end up repaying.

Prepaying during your grace period will save you money in the long run, giving you more to invest and spend on other things. So use your grace period to prepay as much as you can!

Look here next Wednesday for how currently enrolled students can save even more in the total amount they repay.
Seeking ways to manage the repayment of your student loans? Consult College Affordability Solutions at no charge. Contact us at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354 to do so.

 

During College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

Your College Finance Plan (CFP) needs strategies for you and you student toIMG_9592 implement before, during, and after college. Let’s look at the “During College” phase.

Research at a major university indicates that, looking back, almost 4 out of every 10 seniors conclude part or all of their student loans weren’t essential for their educations. Therefore, some of these strategies focus on personal money management so students can spend and borrow less of the interest-bearing educational debt that, over time, increases college costs. These include:

IMG_9555Also, the faster your student gets her degree, the less cost and debt she’ll incur. Still, the latest national data show that only 39.8% of undergraduates earn their bachelor’s degrees within 4 years. Here are some strategies that’ll help your student graduate on-time, if not before:

 

Look here for why you need a CFP. You can find summaries of strategies for your plan’s “Before College” phase here. And next Wednesday there’ll be samples of “After College” strategies for your CFP here.
Beginning October 16, check this website every Wednesday for a more detailed account of a strategy you may want to use in your CFP’s before, during, or after college phase.

After College: Pick Your Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan Carefully

If you graduated this past spring after borrowing Federal Direct Loans, your loan servicer will soon contact you about how to repay them. You can pick from as many IMG_8761as seven different repayment plans.

There’s information about these plans on the government’s federal repayment plan website. To see how each plan will work for you, use the government’s Federal Student Aid Repayment Estimator. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Standard Repayment: You get a standard plan if you don’t select any other repayment approach. It offers fixed monthly payments for up to 10 years (30 years for Direct Consolidation Loans). It’s the quickest way to eliminate your debt, and you’ll repay the least amount possible over time. But it’ll also generate the highest monthly payments of all the plans at your disposal.

Other plans lower your monthly payment amounts but generally increase the total amount you repay:

  • Extended Repayment: This is available only if you owe $30,000 or more in Federal Direct Loans. You’ll get a 25 year repayment period, but no loan forgiveness when it ends.
  • Graduated Repayment: This begins with low monthly payments that increase every two years regardless of your income. Your repayment period will be 10 years — 30 years if you consolidate. But there’s no loan forgiveness after 10 or 30 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Depending upon when you borrowed your IMG_8763first Federal Direct Loan, IBR sets your payment amount at 10% to 15% of each year’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for a 20 to 25 year repayment period. If you still owe money when your repayment period ends, it’ll be forgiven.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): ICR payments equal 20% of each year’s discretionary income, with debt you still owe after 25 years forgiven.
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE): PAYE requires monthly payment amounts equal to 10% of your discretionary income every year for 20 years. Anything you may then owe will be forgiven. Discretionary income resets every 12 months based on your family income and size. Spousal college debt and AGI are also factors if you’re married and filing jointly.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): REPAYE is identical to PAYE, except it gives you 25 years to repay and to await the forgiveness of any remaining loan balance.

Don’t forget, you can change repayment plans any time, so pick a plan and then, as your financial situation evolves, decide whether to switch to another plan.

College Affordability Solutions offers no-charge consultations on student loan repayment strategies. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Special Bulletin: Help’s Available for Current and Ex-College Students Affected by Hurricane Harvey

 

A little-known fact is that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has policies in place to help currently-enrolled college students hurt by federally-declared natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. These policies also provide relief to disaster-affected ex-students and parents struggling to repay their federal loans.

A description of these policies, and what should be done to use them, is available on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Programs’ Hurricane Harvey web page. Texas counties that have been declared federal disaster areas are listed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hurricane Harvey web page.

Here are some examples these policies:

  • Aid Eligibility: Harvey will no doubt undermine the ability of many families to come up with the money they planned to provide their students for the 2017-18 academic year. Students from such families should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to request aid. If they’ve already filed their FAFSAs, students should contact their campus financial aid offices to learn what documentation is needed for them to request “professional judgment” reviews that can determine if they qualify for additional financial aid.
  • Damaged or Lost Documents: Sometimes students are required provide certain documents before getting their aid to verify the accuracy of their FAFSA data. If these documents have been damaged or lost due to Harvey, students should notify their financial aid offices. ED has given those offices the authority to not require those documents in such situations.
  • Dropping Out: Some student who’ve already received their fall financial aid may need to drop out to go home and help their families recover from Harvey. Such students should contact their financial aid offices and let them know why they are dropping out. In these circumstances, ED allows schools to waive a regulatory requirement that usually compels drop-outs to pay back federal grants received for the fall.
  • Temporary Postponement of Loan Payments: Many ex-student and parent borrowers are likely to find their ability to make federal educational loan payments disrupted because Harvey adversely affected them. Such borrowers should contact the “loan servicers” (contractors Washington hired to collect their federal debts) and request “administrative forbearances.” These forbearance allow affected borrowers to postpone their federal education loan payments for up to three months. Ex-students can get contact information for their loan servicers through the government’s National Student Loan Data System.

In the wake of all the problems stemming from Hurricane Harvey, current and ex-student borrowers who need help should review and use these policies!

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

After College: If Your Student Loan Servicer Mistreats You . . .

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is the lender to which you owe what you borrowed under the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP). But ED doesn’t collect payments, answer questions, or provide help related to your FDLP debts. It’s contracted those jobs to one of nine private companies called a “loan servicer,” something many lenders do for their student and other consumer loans.

IMG_6914Loan servicers are usually very helpful. However, in one year alone there were over 30,000 documented complaints about them denying or discouraging the use of loan deferments, forgiveness, and repayment plans to which borrowers were entitled; inappropriately charging late-payment fees or increasing interest rates; losing or misapplying loan payments; and otherwise doing injustices to student loan borrowers.

If your servicer messes you over, here’s what you should do:

  1.  Go to ED’s Federal Student Aid website and review the applicable section under “How to Repay Your Loans” to make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities as a federal loan borrower.
  2. Call your servicer for help in resolving the problem. If necessary, speak with someone in management. Keep detailed notes — date, time, names, what you said, what they said, etc.
  3. Problem not resolved? Submit a complaint on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) website. The CFPB is an independent agency under current IMG_6917federal law. It has the authority to investigate servicers, fine them, and require them to repay the money borrowers lost due to their errors. The CFPB also maintains a publicly accessible database about complaints regarding loan servicers and other financial companies — a database that can be used to determine which servicers ED hires in the future.

The U.S. House recently voted for HR 10. This bill that would end the CFPB’s independence and shut down public access to its complaint database. Also, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed taking servicer misconduct out of the criteria used to award future federal loan servicing contracts.

Nobody’s sure if the U.S. Senate will agree with HB 10 or the DeVos recommendation. So if you have federal student loans call, email or write letters to your Senators now. Tell them what you want them to do regarding these proposals.

And if you ever are mistreated by a federal student loan servicer, be aggressive in standing up for yourself and seeking relief. It’s your right, not just as a borrower, but as a citizen!

This is College Affordability Solutions’ last regularly scheduled blog for the 2016-17 academic year. But we’ll start up again in early August with more strategies to be used before, during, and after college for helping to optimize higher education affordability. Have a great summer. We’ll be back soon!