Paying back student loans may seem like a big challenge, but if you break it down into smaller steps, it doesn’t have to be. Gathering all of the important information you need in one place will help you set up a system that works for you to manage your payments.
Follow these steps to get started paying back student loans:
- Figure out who services your loan
- Setup your online account
- Know your balance and monthly payment
- Link your accounts
- Make your first payment
1. Figure out who services your loan
Whether you have Federal student loans, private student loans, or a combination of the two, the first step in paying back student loans is figuring out who to pay.
Even if you signed up for your loans through your bank or online lender, your loans may have been sold or transferred to another company while you were in school. The loans may also be serviced by a third party, which means you send your check to another company that tracks the loan and handles the payments.
If you don’t have any emails or physical letters from your lender or servicer, you can try one of these places, depending on the type of loans you have:
- Federal loans: You can access the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) to find your loan details. Use the same login information you used for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Private loans: You can check your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com or sign up for a service like Credit Karma. There, you can see a list of every debt, including student loans, reported to the major credit agencies.
2. Setup your online account
No matter where you got your loans or who you have to pay, you should be able to access all of your loan details online. Going completely paperless is a good idea for most people, as it removes a potential source of identity theft — paper mail is a common tool of identity thieves — while also helping the environment. That’s a win-win.
Create an account or log in at the appropriate website to find your loan details and specific information on paying back student loans through your lender. You should be able to make payments online via the website, but it isn’t your only option to pay back your loan. You might also have the option to pay through your bank’s bill pay, check, or over the phone.
3. Know your balance and monthly payment
When you log in, navigate to view your loan details. If you have more than one loan, particularly with more than one lender, consider making a list of each loan’s current balance, monthly payment, and interest rate. Keep this handy so you don’t miss a due date and can keep a focus on the ultimate goal of paying off your loans.
If you have more than one student loan and can afford to pay extra any month to pay off your loans faster, the best financial strategy is to focus on the loan with the highest interest rate first regardless of the total balance and monthly payment amount.
Depending on your credit and other factors, you may be able to save money by refinancing your student loans. It just takes a short application to find out if you qualify for a lower interest rate.
4. Link your accounts
If you want to pay for your loan through your lender’s website, you’ll need to add your checking account information so the lender knows where you’re paying from. Sometimes you can add your account instantly by entering your bank login information to digitally verify your accounts.
Other lenders might require you to add your account and routing number. You can find these at the bottom of a paper check or from your bank. It might take a few days to verify your account after connecting, so give yourself a week before your first payment is due to iron out any issues if something doesn’t work right on the first try.
5. Make your first payment
You might want to pay your loans through your bank’s bill pay. If you already pay any credit cards, utilities, or other bills through your bank, adding your student loans can help you keep track of all monthly payments in one place. Most bill pay systems allow you to add your student loans by searching for your lender name and typing in your loan account number. If you don’t have your loan account number, go back to the lender website to find it.
Once everything is set, you can click the payment button. Always pay at least the minimum every month and always pay by the due date to avoid late fees and a ding on your credit report. Paying on schedule is also required to qualify for federal student loan forgiveness programs.
Bonus: Set up automatic payments
If you’re going to be paying your loans for years, automatic payments can save you a lot of time while helping make sure you always pay on time. You can turn on autopay with your bank or lender’s website in almost all cases. Set it for the minimum or add a little extra to pay off your loans sooner if you are able.
Some lenders give you an interest rate discount if you use automatic payments. That can be worth a lot depending on your balance, so you should take advantage of autopay‚ especially if your lender offers a discount for it.
Successfully paying back student loans
If you don’t like autopay, that’s okay. Just make sure you use some type of system to keep yourself on track. It doesn’t matter if it uses your phone, laptop, or a sticky note on your bathroom mirror. As long as it keeps you on track, it’s a good system.
But first things first: Focus on getting your first payment taken care of. Once you get over that hurdle, future payments are a piece of cake.