By Amanda Black,Associate Director of Communication and Financial Literacy
How's that New Year's resolution going? Is it still alive and well?
Statistics show that 75 percent of people who make resolutions keep them through the first week, but only 64 percent through the first month.
The good news is that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't make resolutions. So if you have yet to make a resolution, you still can.
For students in online degree programs who are loan borrowers, this is the perfect opportunity to get serious about keeping – or getting – loans on track.
Are you resolving to take control of your debt in 2015?
Below are steps to better manage your loans. Even if your loans are in good standing, it could save you money and benefit your financial well-being to try some of these ideas.
1. Know what you owe – and to whom.
Do you know how much you have borrowed?
To view a full record of the amounts, loans, and who your servicer is, visit the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). NSLDS is the U.S. Department of Education's central database for federal student loans.
To use the NSLDS Student Access website, you will need to provide your social security number, the first two letters of your last name, your date of birth, and your PIN. (The PIN is a 4-digit number that is used to identify you as someone who has the right to access your own personal information on Federal Student Aid Web sites. It is also used when you complete the FAFSA.) To log on, visit www.NSLDS.ed.gov.
2. Consider switching repayment plans.
Are you having difficulty making monthly loan payments? There's a good chance you are eligible for a lower repayment plan. Borrowers now have quite a few plans to choose from – several are based on income and involve payments as low as $0 a month. Call your servicer and ask if you qualify for the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan, or Extended Repayment Plan.
To learn more about the plans available, visit the Federal Student Aid website.
To estimate your federal student loan payments under each repayment plan, use the Repayment Estimator.
3. Consolidate your loans.
Consolidating loans allows you to combine multiple federal loans into one loan. The result is a single monthly payment instead of multiple payments. Consolidating loans will result in a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan. The fixed rate is based on the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.
Be careful to weigh the benefits of consolidating – borrowers may lose out on their grace period for some loans and/or pay a higher interest rate on some loans as a result. Be sure to speak to your loan servicer about the details.
4. Sign up for automatic monthly loan payments.
When you sign up for a direct-debit payment, your monthly loan payment is automatically paid out of your savings or checking account every month. This frees you from the burden of manually writing a check or paying online each month. Doing so also reduces the risk of forgetting to pay and, as a result, your loan becoming delinquent.
Another fantastic perk is that some servicers will reduce your interest rate when you sign up for auto-pay. (In some cases, servicers will reduce the interest rate by .25 percent!)
By setting up your loan payment to be paid automatically, you're not as pressured to keep track of what needs to be paid when or making the payment on time. Once an automatic payment plan is established, your servicer handles the rest.
5. Update your contact information with your servicer.
It's important that your servicer can reach you in the event that there are problems with your loan or payments. Get a new cell phone number or switch email addresses? Did you move? It's vital that you convey your new contact information to your servicer.
Many borrowers with delinquent loans don't even know that their payments are late. This is often due to their loan servicer not being able to communicate with the borrower. Don't let this happen to you!
Managing finances takes continual effort. By following the above steps, you can be sure to start 2015 with greater financial success.
On behalf of the Financial Aid Office, I'd like to wish you a Happy New Year! May the new year bring you greater heights of success and prosperity!
Do you have any other ideas for getting a handle on debt that you would like to share?
A certified educator in personal finance, Amanda Black is passionate about promoting financial literacy and helping student loan borrowers responsibly manage their debt. When she is not at work, Amanda enjoys jogging, sharing a glass of wine with friends, and traveling with her husband. Reach her at 800.240.7658 or Amanda.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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