For recent college graduates who have federal student loans, the six-month grace period before repayment begins ends this month.
Tracie Patrick, director of financial student planning at Juniata College, said her department advises students before they graduate to plan ahead for when they need to start repaying student loans.
“Before a student graduates, all schools are required to give an exit interview,” said Patrick. “That’s when all the schools give information as to what servicer will have their loans. An important thing we tell students is to stay in contact with the servicer of the loan.”
Though students are borrowing money from the federal government, servicers are agencies that work for the federal government where students send their loan payments.
“We tell students to stay in contact with them because if they lose their job, or even change their address, we make sure they contact their servicer so someone can always find them,” said Patrick. “Sometimes, students will say they never got anything because they didn’t tell the servicer they were changing address, and that’s not a good excuse.”
If borrowers are unable to gain employment, lose their job or do not make enough money to repay student loans, there are options.
According to a press release from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), options are available to see if someone qualifies for a reduced payment plan or if they’re eligible for an economic hardship or deferment or forbearance.
“The worst thing they can do is just let it go,” said Patrick. “The servicer can work out things if they’re still not working or their income isn’t high. There are definite repayment options. Don’t avoid it, because you don’t want to ruin your credit right out of college.”
The exception to that would be with Subsidized Direct Stafford Loans and Subsidized Consolidation Loans on which the federal government pays the interest during periods of deferment, according to a press release from PHEAA.
Unlike any other loan, Patrick agreed the federal government makes it as easy as possible for borrowers to make payments.
“I think they’ve done a good job in giving the opportunity to make student debt bearable with deferments and forbearances,” she said.
However, some students opt for private loans in addition to federal student loans, and Patrick reminds students before they graduate to contact the bank where they have the loan to make sure they know their options.
“We tell them to contact their lender or banks, and a lot of them have options (for repayment),” she said. “We always advise students to not let it go or avoid it, because you will ruin your credit.”