I Have Student Debt. What Are My Options?

I Have Student Debt. What Are My Options?

Though it may seem like it during school, federal student loans are not free. Like any other type of loan, they must be paid back with interest. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing to repay your loans. Every case is unique, just as unique as those who hold the debt responsibility. This is a tool of guidance to get you asking the important questions. Your Catholic Advisor will be able to guide you further.

Know Your Loans and Loan Servicers

After your federal student loans are fully disbursed, the U.S. Department of Education, your lender, assigns your loan to a loan servicer. Your loan servicer then handles your loan, including billing, repayment and answering any questions you may have. If you have multiple federal loans, you may have multiple loan servicers. To get a full look at all of your federal student loans and servicers, visit the National Student Loan Data System at www.nslds.ed.gov.

Know Your Repayment Options

The flexibility with repayment is one of the biggest benefits of borrowing federal loans. At graduation or withdrawal from school, there are several repayment options available to you, determined by the type of loan and its servicer. This includes the following common options:

• Standard repayment plan – Many loan services place repaying borrowers on this plan by default, unless you request a different plan. This option typically saves you money over time because you pay off your loan in the shortest amount of time, eliminating the long-term toll of interest. Monthly payments are made for up to 10 years at a fixed rate of at least $50 each month. The monthly payments tend to be higher than other repayment options, which shortens the length of time it takes to repay the loan.

• Graduated repayment plan – Monthly payments start out lower than most other plans and increase every two years, for up to 10 years. Because early payments are lower and leave a higher balance that accrues more interest, you typically spend more money in repayment with this option than the standard repayment plan. These plans are usually best for those in lower income, entry-level jobs who anticipate a steady increase in income over time.

• Extended repayment plan – As its name implies, an extended plan allows you to make lower payments for up to 25 years. You may choose an extended repayment plan at a fixed or graduated amount. Though the monthly payments are lower than other plans, you spend more money overall as interest continuously accumulates over the length of repayment.

• Income-based repayment plan (IBR) – In most cases, you are eligible for IBR if the monthly payment amount of a 10-year standard repayment plan is higher than what an IBR plan would cost. With an IBR plan, the monthly repayment amounts are determined according to your adjusted gross income and family size. The annual amounts in these plans may fluctuate annually as income and family size changes. In some cases, monthly payments may be so low that they do not cover the full amount of interest that accrues each month, and the remaining interest is paid by the government for up to three years from the date repayment begins. Because these plans usually take longer to pay off (15-25 years) and hold a higher balance, you generally pay more interest on IBRs than other plans. However, if you meet certain requirements, remaining debt after 25 years of payments may be forgiven.

• Income-contingent repayment plan(ICR) – Like IBRs, ICRs calculate monthly repayment amounts in accordance with your adjusted gross income and family size, but there are small differences in the way they are calculated. Though ICRs closely resemble IBRs in general, they do have their differences. For instance, ICRs are only available under the Federal Direct Loan Program, whereas IBRs are available to anyone with federal student loans. Also, ICRs do not offer the same remaining interest forgiveness benefits that IBRs do. If you are considering IBRs or ICRs, it may be wise to further research how each type of plan may be better for your specific situation.

Consider Consolidation

If you are or will be making multiple payments for your federal loans, consider a direct consolidation loan to combine them. Consolidation loans may lower your monthly payment by extending your repayment period to 30 years. In addition, you may be offered alternative repayment options and the ability to change from a variable interest rate to a fixed interest rate.

Before consolidation, consider the downfalls. First, a lengthened repayment period also means paying more total interest and more total payments. Second, you may lose benefits that you received from the original loan, such as reduced interest and debt cancellation. Third, loan consolidation is irreversible, so the decision is final.

Decide Which Option is Best for You

If you can afford a standard repayment plan, it may be the best option, as you will pay off the loan quicker and pay less interest. If you project yourself struggling with the higher monthly payments that come with standard repayment plans, but are confident that your income will increase significantly in the future, consider a graduated repayment plan. If you aren’t certain about your future income level, it may be best to look into extended repayment plans, IBRs or ICRs.

In most cases, you will be placed on the standard repayment plan unless you contact your loan servicer to set up a different plan. It can be very beneficial to do so, as they will be able to help you sort through the pros and cons that may apply to your particular situation.

Take the first step toward achieving your goals.

Learn More: Debt: The Types and How to Manage Debt

Read tips to help you better understand the different debts and how you can manage them best.

Debt: The Types and How to Manage Debt

Debt: The Types and How to Manage Debt

Debt Management Plan - handwritten text in a notebook on a desk - 3d render illustration.

For many people, debt is a necessary evil, or even something to avoid at all costs. But debt is actually not a black and white issue. Not all debt is bad, but not all debt is good either. In order to avoid financial ruin and maximize your money’s potential, it’s important to know the difference between good and bad debt, how much debt you should have and how to make debt work to your advantage.

Bad Debt

Paying interest on an item that depreciates in value over time is the definition of bad debt. Most credit card debt, especially when used to purchase clothing, electronics or other everyday items, is bad debt. Using this definition, a car loan is also an example of bad debt. Your car loses value as soon as you drive it off the lot, yet you’ll be paying interest on the loan you took out for years. Going into debt for vacations, food or other consumables is a bad use of your money because you’ll be paying interest long after the purchase has been consumed.

Good Debt

Student loans, business loans and mortgages are generally considered to be good debt. That’s not to say you are in bad shape if you don’t have these debts, but rather, it’s not a bad financial move to take out a loan for educational expenses or a home if you can’t afford to pay cash. 

What makes these purchases different? 

They all have the ability to increase your wealth over time. You’re taking on debt to invest in something and potentially make more money in the long run.

Student and business loans

A student loan is an investment in yourself; the idea is that you’ll have better job prospects with a college degree, which will allow you to not only repay your loans and interest, but also continue earning more throughout your life. Similarly, a business loan allows you to create a new way of earning money – assuming your business is successful, you’ll be able to pay off your loans and still continue to build wealth. It takes money to earn money, so a loan may be the only way you can afford to start a business. 

Home mortgages

A home mortgage gives you a place to live and the opportunity to build equity when you most likely couldn’t afford it on your own. Real estate generally increases in value over time, so mortgages are also seen as good investments for the future.

Leverage

Leveraging your debt – borrowing at a low interest rate and investing at a higher rate of return – is also good debt. The most common occurrence is investing in a home through the use of a mortgage. But there are other ways to make your money work harder using debt.

Loan interest

When you take on a loan, you owe a certain percentage of interest on that loan. Similarly, when you invest in the stock market, you get a percentage of interest added to your investment, depending on how well the market does. If the percentage of interest you earn is greater than the percentage you pay, you’re successfully leveraging your debt. When done correctly, leveraging can be extremely effective at building wealth. 

This type of investing can have much higher returns than regular investing, but it also carries higher risk – if your investment doesn’t pan out, you not only lost the amount you invested, but you also owe interest on your loan. 

When leveraging doesn’t work

Leveraging also doesn’t work if your interest rate is too high or your rate of return is too low. Investing when you have credit card debt is a bad idea, because no investment can guarantee a return higher than your credit card interest rate. It’s also a bad idea to borrow money just to have it sit in a low-interest savings account – the interest you’re paying must be lower than what you’re earning on the investment, or you’re not successfully leveraging your debt.

Using Credit Cards Wisely

If you’ve used a credit card before, you probably realize that credit is not “free money.” You do eventually have to pay it back, and you’ll pay interest on top of that if you don’t pay it on time. Paying only the minimum balance each month may leave you paying more than double in the long run. Since credit card debt is bad debt, you might be tempted to avoid credit cards altogether. 

However, there are some benefits to using a credit card:

• Rewards points: Many credit cards offer rewards programs that provide cash back and other incentives based on how much you spend. It’s not a smart idea to spend more in order to get rewards, but if you’ll be spending money anyway, it can be beneficial to put those charges on your card – only if you pay off the balance in full every month.

• Build credit: Having a history of responsible credit use on your credit report will help you when applying for loans in the future. If you can regularly use your credit card and pay it off you’ll build credit while avoiding fees and interest.

• Security:A credit card is generally considered to be more secure than a debit card or cash – you can dispute fraudulent charges more easily or cancel the card if it’s stolen. If you’ll be using a card anyway, such as shopping online or at the gas pump, it’s safer to use credit than debit.

How Much Debt Should You Have?

If you have too much debt, lenders may be less willing to extend further credit to you, and you risk not being able to pay it all back. If you don’t have enough debt, your money might not be working as hard as it could be. There’s no scientific way to quantify exactly how much debt each individual should have. 

Many experts agree that your monthly debt payments should not exceed 36 percent of your monthly gross income. This ratio will change depending on your living expenses, lifestyle and personal feelings about debt. 

There are three factors to consider when deciding how much debt you can comfortably take on:

  • Your assets: savings, investments and your overall liquidity

  • Your job security and potential for income growth
  •  
  • Your discretionary income – what’s left over after you pay all necessary monthly expenses

Computing debt ratios

You can use several ratios when determining how much debt is appropriate. You can compare your monthly debt payments to your monthly income, your combined debts to your assets, your housing expenses to your monthly income or your monthly consumer credit payment to your monthly income, among other ratios. 

Advisers will recommend various ratios as ideal – your housing expenses shouldn’t exceed 28 percent of your income, and your monthly credit card payments shouldn’t exceed 20 percent – but it’s important to take your own unique situation into account.

Understanding debt

It’s important to understand that debt is not all good or all bad. If you acquire the right kind of debt, in the right amount, and use your credit cards wisely, you can become more financially successful than you would have without the use of debt.

Take the first step toward achieving your goals.

Learn More: I Have Student Debt. What Are My Options?

Read about how you can manage your student loan debt, the types of repayment plans that may be available to you, and explore options to stay in control of your student loans.

Building Your Nest Egg: An Emergency Fund

Building Your Nest Egg: An Emergency Fund

Finance 101: 

Paying your bills, sticking to a budget and saving for retirement are all important tenets of personal finance. But what about those unplanned emergencies that require money when you’re least expecting it? What would you do if, for instance, you lost your job unexpectedly? Or maybe your car needs repairs or your refrigerator stops working. To protect against emergencies like these, you can develop an emergency fund. An emergency fund is exactly what it sounds like, an easily accessible savings account to tap into in an emergency. 

Building your nest egg may be your first priority, even before debt repayment and retirement savings, or you might want to set your other financial goals in motion before focusing on an emergency fund. Some people attack both debt repayment and emergency savings at once.

How to Succeed

Getting started on building your emergency fund is as easy as opening a savings account. Decide how much you can contribute to it from each paycheck and stick to your goal. Consider these tips for building your fund:

• It may be easier to automate your finances so you don’t actively have to transfer money each week.

• Another strategy is to think of your emergency fund as a monthly bill that you must pay to yourself.

• A painless way to start your account is with a tax refund, work bonus or other financial windfall.

• If you pay off a credit card debt or car loan, reroute the money you were using to make those payments into your emergency fund. Similarly, if you get a pay raise, avoid lifestyle inflation and put the additional income in your savings.

• Carefully define “emergency” to make sure you’re not withdrawing from the account unnecessarily.

• If you do experience a financial emergency, do anything you can to pay for it without tapping into your fund so you won’t have to rebuild it.

How Much to Save

There are many rules of thumb to use when deciding how much to keep in your emergency fund. If you don’t save enough, you could face financial hardship in an emergency and be forced to rely on credit. If you save too much, you’re not maximizing your money’s potential for growth by investing it. Most experts agree that you should save between three and six months of expenses in case you were to lose your job. Loss of income is one of the most common reasons to use an emergency fund, so this rule of thumb makes sense if you assume you’ll be looking for work for three to six months. When determining how much to save, consider your individual circumstances:

• How many streams of income do you rely on? If you have multiple jobs or have a working spouse, you don’t have to save as much money because the likelihood of losing more than one income stream at once is low. 

• What kind of income do you rely on? If you and/or your spouse relies solely on commission or freelance pay, your situation is more precarious and you should consider building a larger emergency fund. 

• Can you predict any big expenses in the near future?If you have an older car or appliances that may need to be replaced soon, it’s probably a good idea to start saving now. The same goes for major home repairs or starting a family. 

Where to Keep Your Savings

A savings account at your local bank is a good place to start. You may also consider an online bank for added security, increased interest rates and less accessibility. You want your emergency account to be accessible in an emergency, but not so accessible that you are constantly tempted to use it. If you know you don’t have very strong willpower, you might not want to have a debit card or checkbook tied to your emergency fund account. Another option is a money market account or CDs, but make sure your funds are liquid enough in case you need to use them.

Many people decide to forgo building an emergency account in favor of saving for retirement. You can technically borrow money from a tax-sheltered account such as a 401(k) or IRA, but you could be faced with steep fines or have to repay it right away. Withdrawing early from a retirement account is not advised because of how much you’ll lose in taxes and fees. You could also rely on credit cards or a home equity line of credit, but this can put you deep in debt if you face a particularly expensive emergency.

Why It’s Important

Think of your emergency fund as self-insurance. You probably have insurance on your car, home and health, among other things. There are certain occurrences that you can’t insure against, such as losing your job. That’s where the emergency account comes in. Rather than relying on consumer debt with high interest rates, which can be especially bad for those who are struggling to become debt free, you can pay for emergency expenses from your savings. Additionally, you won’t have to halt debt repayment during a crisis because you won’t be taking funds from your monthly budget to pay for your emergency. You can’t predict what kinds of emergencies you’re going to face, and you can’t predict when they’ll happen. You can predict that there will most likely be an emergency at some point, and you can prepare in advance by building an adequate emergency fund.

Take the first step toward achieving your goals.

Learn More: Building Your Nest Egg: 401(k) Explained

Do you have a 401(k) savings plan? Do you know how it fits in to your retirement plan? Read on to learn how to use it for your future.