You’re afraid of your student debt. So afraid, in fact, that you don’t even know exactly how much you owe or to whom. How did it end up like this?
You borrowed what you needed for tuition, plus a little extra for books, boarding, and maybe the occasional football game ticket. Every semester, you received a tuition refund check with the excess from your loans, and although you knew it was your responsibility to pay back, you couldn’t help but feel like Scrooge McDuck when you deposited it into your bank account.
Now you’ve graduated, you’re working (or looking for work), and your grace period is quickly waning. Your first payments are due soon, and you can’t bear the thought of actually looking at how much you owe for fear that it’s equal to or several times your annual salary.
I was in this position when I graduated just a couple years ago. Even though I had a general idea of the number, it was too scary to think about because I couldn’t fathom actually being able to repay it. Looking at the actual number would make it too real.
Since then, I’ve been working in the financial industry, serving a myriad of newly-minted college graduates just like myself. During this time, I’ve seen a concerning (but understandable) trend among twenty-something grads; we are ignoring our loan balances, interest rates, and many cost-saving options.
Instead of facing the debt head-on, many millennials are blindly making minimum payments (or NO payments) without fully understanding what they have gotten themselves into. I suggest all Millennials with student debt follow these steps:
1) Ask for a credit consultation at your bank.
This is the most painful part, because it involves actually looking at those scary numbers that you have to pay back somehow. Don’t worry, you’ll get through it.
Just about every bank I have ever heard of offers credit consultations for free to their members. Go to your bank with identification and ask to take a look at your credit report. They’ll pull it up on their computer and will (or at least, should) explain it to you, including your credit score, the many factors that go into calculating it, and what we’re talking about here: your loan balances.
This is a great first step to quell your fear of your debt. It not only helps you see what your loan balances are with both private and federal student loan servicers, but it will show any credit cards (yes, even that Victoria’s Secret card you opened when you were 18) or delinquent bills you have out there. This is all wrapped into the cumulative debt that is your responsibility, so it makes sense to take care of all of it at the same time.
The personal banker you’re sitting with is likely already looking for different options for you (since it’s their job), so they may suggest balance transfers for high balance credit cards or student loan consolidation.
A word of advice here: Don’t jump into anything right away; do your own research and come back to them if you decide to do it.
2) Compile it all in one place.
When you get home from your credit consultation, sit down at your computer right away and go through each of your debts. I like to keep track of things with Excel, so I made a file and listed all my debt balances, interest rates, and login information for each account. Maybe it’s not wise to have all my login info in one document on a computer, but I digress.
When you have everything compiled, you should enter in a summation formula to total all your debt into one box. That way, every time you update the spreadsheet you can see your total go down, which is a great feeling.
Make sure to update this document regularly. I update mine monthly after all auto-payments have been taken out, but it’s perfectly fine to update quarterly.
3) Use your new knowledge to save money.
Thinking back to the personal banker you chatted with before, now it’s time to really consider if some cost-saving measures are for you, like balance transfers or student loan consolidation. Carefully consider the pros and cons of each option.
If it makes the most sense to keep things the way they are (it did for me), then strategically amortize your loans so you’re saving the most money in the long run. If I have some extra money to throw at my loans (on top of the minimum payment), I like to target the highest interest loans first.
Your student loans gave you the opportunity to get an education, with which you may not have your current job or be on your way to your dream career. Sallie Mae doesn’t have to be a dark cloud that hangs over your head for a decade or more. Your loans can possibly even something you can be thankful for. First, though, you have to face them head-on.