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How to choose the right student loan repayment plan
Nailing down your priorities is key to finding the plan that best meets your needs.
What's in this guide?
Step 1: Go over your income and expenses.
Before you do anything, calculate how much you can afford to put toward your student loan repayments. Add up your typical monthly expenses and subtract it from your take-home salary.
Don’t know what your salary is going to be when repayments start? Use an estimate based on jobs you’re looking into.
This number is the absolute maximum you can spend on your student loan repayments. But you’ll likely want to spend less than this to leave room for miscellaneous or emergency expenses.
Step 2: Decide if you want to apply for forgiveness.
Look into your student loan forgiveness options and decide if it’s something you want to pursue. Some programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) require you to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan. Others might have other repayment plan requirements.
If you don’t see any requirements listed on the program’s website, reach out to a representative and ask if you need to be on a specific plan. We recommend double-checking the answer to be sure it’s correct.
Step 3: Determine your priorities.
Ask yourself if you’d rather have lower monthly repayments or get out of debt as soon as possible. Paying your loans off faster can help you move on with your life and meet other financial milestones, like buying a home or car.
But that might not be the best option if you’re at a low-paying job, have a lot of debt or don’t want your student loan repayments to have such an impact on your day-to-day life.
Step 4: Review your repayment plan options.
Which repayment plans are available to you depends on whether you have private or federal student loans.
How to choose a federal repayment plan
The Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has two tools you can use to help you decide on a repayment plan:
Federal loan repayment tool
After answering questions about your student loans and your priorities, the FSA repayment tool will recommend a repayment plan and give you instructions on how to apply. You don’t need to have any information on hand to complete this questionnaire.
Federal loan repayment estimator
The FSA repayment estimator allows you to look at all of your options side by side. After logging in with your FSA ID, you’ll be asked to enter information about your income, tax filing status and state of residence. The tool will then give you an estimate of how much you’d pay per month and in total on different repayment plans you qualify for.
If you’re interested in PSLF, the estimator will also tell you how much you’d save through the program.
Should I consolidate my student loans first?
If your federal loans aren’t eligible for many repayment plans, you might want to consider taking out a Direct Consolidation Loan. This widens your repayment options, especially if you have Parent PLUS Loans. You also might have to do this to make some loans eligible for PSLF.
How to choose a private student loan repayment plan
If you have private student loans, your repayment options are limited to choosing between different loan terms. Depending on your lender, you might have the choice between paying off your loans in 5, 7, 10, 15 or 20 years. You can use a student loan repayment calculator to compare your monthly and total cost based on different terms.
How to change your repayment plan
Selecting the right repayment plan can set you up for success, but you aren’t locked into it if your first choice doesn’t work out. If you have federal loans, contact your servicer to learn what the process is for changing plans.
Often you have to fill out a form on either the servicer’s website or directly on StudentLoans.gov. You typically also have the option to fill out a paper form and send it in by mail.
How to change your repayment plan on private loans
Switching repayment plans on private student loans isn’t as easy. If you’d like to change your term, contact your servicer to discuss your options. You might need to submit documents showing you can afford repayments on a shorter term. Or if you want to extend your loan term, you might need to provide proof you can’t afford your current repayments. If your servicer won’t budge, consider refinancing with another lender.
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Nailing down your priorities and comparing all of the options available can help you choose a repayment plan that’s right for you. And if your goals change, you can usually change your plan or adjust your loan term to fit your needs.
You can learn more about how it all works by reading our guide to student loan repayment plans.
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