It's not uncommon for students to rack up a lot of debt in pursuit of a college degree. Such was the case for a large chunk of Morehouse College's class of 2019. Little did those students know that they'd be in for the surprise of their lives come graduation.
During Morehouse's commencement ceremony, billionaire investor Robert F. Smith announced that he and his family would be paying off the entire graduating class's student debt. Smith has been hailed as a savior for the hundreds of grads who would otherwise be starting adulthood deep in the hole. But, while his actions are certainly generous and noble, let's remember that they're not the norm.
Most college graduates won’t see their student loans wiped out by a sweeping gesture. Rather, they'll be forced to grapple with those payments for years after getting their degrees.
If you're a recent college grad who's coming away with loads of debt, it’s likely on you, and only you, to dig out from under that mountain. Here are a few steps you can take to keep your loan payments manageable and, if needed, get some relief.
1. Understand your loan repayment terms
Federal student loans often come with a grace period during which borrowers aren’t required to make payments on their debt. Some private loans offer a similar provision. If you’re in that grace period, mark the date it stops on your calendar and make sure you understand how much your monthly payments will be.
Skipping even a single student loan payment could damage your credit score. That only compounds an already stressful financial situation.
2. Know your interest rates
If you took out federal loans for college, the interest rate you pay on that debt is capped at a reasonable level. Private lenders, on the other hand, can charge as much interest as they want. If you borrowed privately, see what rate you’re stuck with. If it’s high, look into refinancing. You can swap your existing loan for a new one with a lower rate, making your monthly payments more reasonable.
Another thing you should know: Federal loans come with fixed interest rates, but the interest on private student loans can be variable. This means your rate could climb over the course of your repayment period, making it even more difficult to keep up. Refinancing to a lower fixed rate could be a lifesaver.
3. Get help if you need it
If you’re unable to keep up with your student loan payments, explore your options for relief. Federal borrowers may be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan, which could lower your monthly payments. You might also have the option to defer your loan payments without negatively impacting your credit score.
Private loans don’t offer the same borrower protections as federal loans. But you’re not necessarily out of luck if you have a private loan. If you can’t maintain your current loan payment schedule, reach out to your lender to discuss your options. Your lender might agree to a lower monthly payment or a lower interest rate that achieves a similar goal. Deferring your loan payments isn’t off the table, either. Just be aware that many private lenders charge fees for deferment.
Unfortunately, most student loan borrowers don’t get bailed out by a kind billionaire. But don’t despair -- a few strategic moves on your part could make repaying that debt more doable. You’ll really have something to celebrate once you pay off your own loans.