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Student Loans 101

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You might approach your student loan the same way you approach those term papers: If you don’t think about them, they can’t really stress you out. Unfortunately, just like those papers you’ll eventually have to write, your student loan debt isn’t going anywhere.

If you’ve borrowed the funds from a private lender, like [credit union], you likely need to start making payments toward your loan before you graduate from school. Federal loans don’t have this requirement, but it’s still a good idea to start making headway on your loan.

Here’s all you need to know about managing your student loan debt:

1. Set it and forget it

The best way to make sure you never miss a payment is to set up an automatic payment plan. Your lender might even offer a discount on the interest rate for going autopilot on your monthly payments. Just make sure your account can handle the withdrawals so you don’t end up with an overdrawn account.

2. Look for a scholarship

Don’t make the mistake of thinking scholarships are only for incoming freshmen. Search through scholarship sites, like Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com, to check out grants you may be eligible to receive.

3. Keep your credit in excellent shape for a possible refinance

It’s crucial that you make all your monthly payments on time. This includes your student loan payments as well as any credit card bills, car payments or other outstanding loans you may be carrying. This way, you might qualify for a refinance on your student loan a few years down the line. It can be challenging to keep that credit up, but the payback is enormous: A refinance can hack thousands of dollars off your student loan debt.

4. Watch out for student debt scams

There are loads of scammers who want nothing more than to swindle you out of your money. Don’t believe every email you get or every ad you see that promises to forgive your loan or settle it for you, courtesy of the US government. More often than not, these are scams. If you want to contact the federal government to see if you can settle your debt, do it on your own at studentloans.gov.

5. Remember: There is life after debt

Forking over hundreds of dollars each month to pay down your student loan when you’re living off ramen noodles and budgeting like crazy to pay for toiletries can really sting. Remember, though, that it isn’t money in the garbage. Your student loan payments are going toward your degree, which will increase your earning potential by leaps and bounds. Hopefully, it will pay for itself within a few years.

There are also lots of upsides to paying off a loan that may seem irrelevant. You’re essentially being forced to learn how to live with a budget and to spend below your means, a lesson that will stand you well throughout life. You’re also building a strong credit history which will give you a leg up on any other large loans you’ll want to take out in the future.