Five Key Steps for Managing Student Loan Debt

As college costs in the U.S. continue to skyrocket, more and more recent grads and other former college students are struggling with managing their student loan debt. Though it may be years before you get them paid off completely, there are a few things you can do right now to make financial freedom feel a little closer.

Learn About Your Loans

Knowledge is definitely power when it comes to managing your student loans, so make a point to educate yourself on a few things. For instance, it's crucial to understand the difference between government and private loans, and know which kind you have. Government and private loans can have very different repayment requirements, interest rates, late payment penalties, etc. Private loans often have much stricter terms and higher rates. If you have multiple loans, it's usually best to try to pay off those loans first.

Get Organized

Compile all your student loan information into one place, whether that's an old-fashioned folder in a file cabinet or a computer spreadsheet. Keep track of account numbers, lender names, repayment terms, etc. Think back to when you first took out your loans: Do you remember your Federal Student Aid PIN number? If not, visit to create a new one — and use that number to log into the National Student Loan Data System to look up specifics of your loans.

Build a Budget

You can't know how much you can afford to spend each month on student loan payments if you don't know how much you're spending on everything else. Make a real effort to monitor and manage all your spending. Basic budgeting doesn't have to be complicated. Start by focusing on your major monthly expenses, such as rent, car payments, utilities, etc. — and, of course, your minimum monthly student loan payments. Cut back on unnecessary expenses wherever possible (hint: eating out and entertainment can be sneaky budget busters).

Make a Plan — and Stick to It

If you're having trouble making your monthly payments, don't hesitate to contact your lender. There's a good chance they'll work with you to come up with a payment plan that's more affordable. After all, they'd rather you keep paying something every month rather than missing your payments altogether.

If possible, consider paying more than the minimum payment each month. The faster you pay off your loans, the closer you'll be to enjoy the financial freedom you've always dreamed of. Just don't make the mistake of racking up credit card debt in order to make larger student loan payments. If you already have a bunch of high-interest credit card debt, pay that off before putting extra toward your student loans.

To make it easier to shell out that money every month, consider setting up an automatic monthly payment with your bank. Because it's easier to not spend money that you never see.

Ask for Help

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. A good place to start is by contacting a counselor from an agency such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Milwaukee.