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Federal student loans don’t require you to make payments while you are still enrolled at least half-time in school. In fact, there is an additional grace period after leaving school before you have to start making payments on your federal loans. This is unlike private student loans, which generally require immediate repayment, even if you are currently in school.
Understanding when your first student loan payments are due can help you plan ahead for repayment.
Here’s what you need to know about your first student loan payment:
- When is my first student loan payment due?
- Steps to make your first student loan payment
- Consider refinancing
When is my first student loan payment due?
For most federal student loans, you won’t have to make your first payment until the end of your grace period. The federal student loan grace period is the set amount of time, from a starting point up to a given point, in which there isn’t a penalty for delayed payment.
In most cases, this eligible grace period lasts for six months and begins once you have committed any of the following:
- Graduated from school
- Withdrawn from or left school
- Dropped below half-time enrollment
Check Out: Grants to Pay Off Student Loans for 2022
Steps to make your first student loan payment
To make sure you are prepared for your first loan payment, follow these steps:
1. Find your loan servicer
Your student loan servicer will contact you via letter or email to remind you about when your first payment is due and the process for repayment. But if you have not received a letter from your loan servicer, you can find that information on the studentaid.gov website when you log in to your account dashboard.
Alternatively, if you’re not sure how to log into your account, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 800-433-3243 to find out your loan servicer and get help with your account.
Read More: What Is a Student Aid Report?
2. Make on-time payments
The easiest way to consistently make on-time payments is to sign up for autopay. If you’re not able to use the automatic payment option because of irregular income, then set up a recurring calendar alert to remind you of your monthly payment several days before it is due.
3. Determine your interest rate and loan term
The balance, interest rate, and loan term on your student loan determines both your monthly payment and the full cost of your loan over its entire life.
For federal student loans, interest rates are fixed, and the amount you pay depends on the type of loan you take and first disbursement date of your loan. For example, a student who borrows an undergraduate federal Direct Loan that is disbursed after July 1, 2022 and before July 1, 2023 will pay a fixed interest rate of 4.99% on their loan.
The loan term is the number of years you’ll be making payments before paying off the loan. Federal student loans have a standard repayment term of 10 years, but some repayment plans allow you to make payments for 20 or 25 years.
Understanding your interest rate and loan term can help you plan ahead of repayment.
Keep Reading: 8 Best Alternatives to Discontinued USAA Student Loans
4. Compare available payment plans
The U.S. Department of Education offers multiple repayment plans for borrowers. These include:
- Standard repayment: This repayment plan ensures you’ll have your entire loan paid off within 10 years, paying a fixed monthly amount of at least $50. However, if you have a Direct Consolidation Loan, your repayment period could reach 30 years, depending on your total loan debt.
- Graduated repayment: Under this 10-year plan, your monthly payments will start out lower and increase at regular intervals (usually every two years). The payments will be enough to ensure you have paid off your loan within 10 years. However, you’ll end up paying more with this plan than you would with a standard repayment plan due to the accrued interest.
- Extended repayment: Borrowers with more than $30,000 in federal student loan debt may qualify for this plan. Under extended repayment, you’ll have either fixed or graduated monthly payments to ensure you’ll pay off your loan within 25 years.
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): This repayment plan sets your monthly payments as 10% of your discretionary income. Monthly payments are recalculated each year and are based on your income and family size. If you have not paid off your loan within 20 years (for an undergraduate loan) or 25 years (for a graduate loan), the remaining balance will be forgiven.
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE): Like the REPAYE plan, this repayment plan sets your monthly payment as 10% of your discretionary income, which is recalculated each year based on your income and family size. But there are differences between PAYE and REPAYE. With PAYE, you are guaranteed to never have a monthly payment greater than what you would have paid per month under the 10-year standard repayment plan. Your remaining balance is also forgiven after 20 years.
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Your monthly payment under the IBR plan is either 10% or 15% of your discretionary income (depending on when your loans were first disbursed). However, your monthly payment will never exceed the amount you would have paid under the standard 10-year repayment plan. Your monthly payment is recalculated each year based on your income and family size. If you have not paid off your loan after 20 or 25 years (depending on when you received the loan), the remaining balance will be forgiven.
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): This plan sets your monthly payment amount at either 20% of your discretionary income or the amount you would pay with a fixed monthly payment on a 12-year repayment plan. Whichever figure is lesser will be the monthly payment.
Payment amounts are recalculated every year, based on your income, family size, and amount owed. Any balance remaining after 25 years on the ICR plan is forgiven.
Take your time to review each repayment plan or use a student loan repayment calculator to be sure of your strategy.
5. Make your first payment
You will need to follow these steps to make your first payment (including if you decide to prepay before the grace period ends):
- Register with your loan servicer’s online portal.
- Save your login information in a place where you can find it again. This could be a password book or an online password manager.
- Bookmark the payment site for easy retrieval..
- Double check that you have enough money in your bank account to cover the payment before making it.
- Set up your payment style — either as a one-time payment that you’ll have to manually repeat each month or as an automatic payment.
6. Plan for the long term
Most borrowers will be paying off their student loans for at least 10 years or longer, so it’s important to plan your repayment as a long-term strategy. Choose a repayment plan that allows you to comfortably afford your monthly payments without increasing your loan’s lifetime expenses.
To that point, it’s important to be open and transparent with your loan servicer if you are struggling to make payments. By proactively contacting your servicer if you hit a financial snag, you’ll be able to stay current on your payments while taking advantage of any forbearance, deferment, or repayment plan change options available to you.
Finally, if you can afford to send additional money on top of your monthly payments, it’s a good idea to take the long view of how that will benefit your loan payoff journey. Rather than feeling like you only have to pay the minimum amount, planning for the long term can help you make the decisions that will make your future finances better.
Refinancing your student loans could be an option for you if you’re looking for a lower monthly payment or lower interest rates. Typically, you’ll need a minimum score of 660 to apply for most lenders, but if you have bad credit, you can always apply with a cosigner.
To get started on refinancing your student loans, visit Credible and compare prequalified rates from multiple lenders.
The student loan consolidation companies in the table below are Credible’s approved partner lenders. Because they compete for your business through Credible, you can request rates from all of them by filling out a single form. Then, you can compare your available options side-by-side. Requesting rates is free, doesn’t affect your credit score, and your personal information is not shared with our partner lenders unless you see an option you like.
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All APRs reflect autopay and loyalty discounts where available | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2College Ave Disclosures | 5EDvestinU Disclosures | 3 ELFI Disclosures | 4INvestEd Disclosures | 7ISL Education Lending Disclosures