Do you have multiple student loans? For many borrowers, the biggest student loan headache isn’t coming up with the money but keeping track of the repayment schedules.
Between federal and private loans, undergraduate and graduate loans, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and more loan varieties, you might forget what you owe whom…not to mention the different monthly deadlines.
Too much confusion can have consequences. University debt collectors have seen students fall behind on repayment because they mistakenly thought separate loan payments were combined.
An ounce of prevention can head off repayment snags and give you peace of mind. No matter how many different loans you’ve got on your plate, there’s a way to organize them.
Start with a spreadsheet
Even if you’re not a natural-born organizer, a spreadsheet or working document will be a great help in organizing your student loans. The more loans you have, the more it will help.
For Google users, Google Spreadsheet lets you keep updated lists and edit them from any device. (But be wary of entering sensitive info, such as your Social Security Number or bank account numbers, in a Google document or any document online.) A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet should also do the trick, with no advanced formatting skills required.
Get started with these nine columns.
- Type of student loan. Note whether your loan is federal or private, and subsidized or unsubsidized.
- Name of loan servicer (company managing the loan). If you have separate loans with the same servicer, list them separately.
- Contact information for loan servicer. List their phone number, e-mail, and website so you can easily get in touch when you need to.
- Date the loan was disbursed (given out). This date may determine some loan benefits you’re eligible for, so keep it on hand.
- Loan interest rate. In addition to the rate, note whether the interest rate is fixed (the same over the loan’s life) or variable (subject to change over the loan’s life). Ask your servicer for this information if you don’t know.
- Loan status. Is your loan in repayment, in deferment, in forbearance, or in a grace period?
- Total payoff amount on loan. This number may be intimidating, but it’s an important one to remember – and gratifying to watch reduce over time.
- Monthly payment amount. Fill out this column even for loans not currently in repayment, so you don’t lose track of the loan.
- Next payment date, or date when the grace period ends. This is the column you’ll probably be updating the most often.
Now that you have all the information in one place, you’re better equipped to figure out the ideal repayment plan. Make sure to update the columns regularly as payment plans change.
Most spreadsheets let you reorder columns as you see fit. For example, many student loan holders prioritize paying down the loans with the highest interest rates. You can sort your loans in descending order by interest rate to see which is the highest.
Track your debt online
Fortunately, you can easily locate any loan information you don’t have ready.
Federal loan holders can log in to the National Student Loan Data System. The system keeps track of what you owe and who your servicers are. You’ll need your FSA ID—the username and password you used for your FAFSA—and Social Security number to enter the site.
Private loan holders can check their credit report for free. Your report should list all the student loan agencies which have reported to your credit bureau, which most private loan servicers will do.
Bookmark each student loan website you use so you can find it easily. Keep track of usernames and passwords in a secure document, or use a password manager like LastPass to organize your login information.
Organize your mail (snail and e-mail) and paper documents
Your loan companies probably send you plenty of e-mail. Make separate folders in your inbox for each loan servicer. Set up your e-mail to send you an alert each time you receive a loan servicer’s message or update. Mark monthly billing statements either to-be-paid or paid; most e-mail services let you give messages different priority ratings for organizing purposes. Filing messages keeps you on top of other important deadlines, like when to renew income-based payment plans.
Keep any snail mail you get from loan companies in one place. Mail and letter sorters can help; so can labeled file folders. If the mail gets overwhelming, you can ask companies to send you updates electronically instead. But certain student loan forms—tax forms, for instance—will come through the postal mail. File them as soon as they arrive.
Additionally, take some time to organize all the student loan documents you’ve signed or received, electronically and in hard copy. These can include promissory notes, disclosure documents, and financial aid award letters from when you first took out the loan. Sort these documents by loan servicer and keep them in one place.
Synchronize your payment dates
Two or more payment dates on different days of the month may have your head spinning, on top of all your other bills. To make life easier, find out if any of your loan servicers have the flexibility to change payment dates (for instance, from the 1st to the 15th of the month).
If you have the cash flow to make all your payments at once, set up multiple payments for the same monthly date. The day after payday is a good option. If your cash flow’s more sporadic and it works better for you to spread payments out throughout the month, set up a calendar alert for each date so you don’t miss a day.
Sign up for auto-pay
Let’s say you have a predictable cash flow and know which loans you’re paying when. The next step is to arrange for the payments to be automatically debited from your bank account.
As a bonus, some loan companies offer discounts for automatically debited payments. For federal loans, you can get a 0.25 percent interest rate reduction if you enroll in auto-pay. Private loans may offer an 0.25 percent or 0.50 percent interest rate reduction.
Some borrowers set up separate checking accounts just for student loans. Others arrange for a certain portion of their paycheck to go directly to student loan payments through the bank. There are several different ways to plan ahead for paying off loans – just be sure to adjust your payment amount if your income situation changes.
Think about consolidation or refinancing
Consolidation allows you to combine multiple federal loans into a single loan from a single servicer. It makes payments more convenient, but it’s not the right option for everyone.
Refinancing, used most often for private loans, also combines loans into a single payment. You need good credit for the best rates on refinanced loans. And both options come with more changes than just simplifying your payment, so research before you refinance or consolidate.
Taking the time to organize student loans will save more time in the long run. You’ll probably even save money; organization helps you stick to deadlines, pay down high interest rates, and keep track of borrower benefits. It’s worth it!