Know what you owe and start paying off your student loan debt

While you’re in school, you may not be keeping a close eye on your student loans (though you should). But when you’re in your senior year, graduating, or in your grace/separation period, it’s more important than ever to know what you owe. Your loans’ principal and interest payments are going to be due before you know it. Here are tips for organizing your loan information so it’ll be easier to keep track of when payments are due and how much they’ll be.

1. Track down your student loans

Many students have a combination of federal student loans (provided by the government) and private student loans (provided by banks like Sallie Mae and other financial organizations). You’ll need to know how many loans you have, who’s servicing them, and how you make payments. But first, you need to know what loans you’ve taken out:

  • For federal student loans: Visit studentaid.gov. It’s the U.S. Department of Education’s official website for federal student loans.
  • For private student loans: Visit annualcreditreport.com for a copy of your credit report, since most loan originators report loan info to the consumer reporting agencies.

2. Organize your student loans

Once you know who your loan servicers are, create a spreadsheet with this info:

  • Type of loan (federal or private)
  • Servicer: the company that manages your loan (not necessarily the original lender); you’ll also need their phone numbers and websites
  • Your loan account number, amount, interest rate (you can also get this from your original disclosure documents), and whether there’s a fixed or variable interest rate
  • The end date of your grace or separation period (usually six months after you leave school or graduate)
  • Date(s) when your payment is due
  • The monthly payment amount for each loan (you may not be able to get an exact number until after you graduate)
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Once you know who your servicers are, log in to your account (or create one if you haven’t already done that). You’ll find a lot of the information you’re looking for.

It’s even easier to track all this down when you download your servicer’s mobile app. The Sallie Mae mobile app lets Sallie Mae customers see their loan details, make payments, and get due date reminders, all in one place.

3. Keep in touch with your loan servicers

  • Make sure your contact info is up to date so you get their communications—and read those emails and letters for updates on when your payments begin and how much they’ll be.
  • Reach out to them with any questions you have about paying back your student loans.

4. Get clear on how you’ll make loan payments

  • Decide how you’ll make your loan payments (mobile app, auto debit, bank transfer).
  • Check whether you can get any discounts (like a lower interest rate for making payments through auto debit).
  • If you can pay a little extra every month (even in grace/separation period), you might be able to reduce your total loan cost or pay off your loans faster.

5. Start a budget

  • Use an online budgeting app or start with a basic budget worksheet.
  • If you need help with monthly payments, check with your servicer to see if there’s a program that can help, like Sallie Mae’s Graduated Repayment Period.
  • If you’ve been wondering about how to manage your post-college finances, this is a great time to do it. You can start with a short “Financial Well-Being Questionnaire” from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
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A little up-front organizing can help you understand—and stay on top of—your student loan payments. When you know what you owe, you’ll have the information you need to make the best financial decisions for you.