It’s official: things are going back to normal. As exciting as the return of pre-COVID customs may be (Restaurants! Vacations! Pants with zippers!), there are still a few pandemic-era relics many of us wish could stick around. No, we’re not talking about homemade sourdough — we’re talking about student loan suspension.
Like it or not, federal student loan repayment is going back to normal after January 31st. But that doesn’t mean you have to go back to making the same tradeoffs and feeling the same strain.
Whether you’re a recent grad navigating your debt for the first time or you’re years into paydown, here’s what you need to know to manage — and crush — your debt when student loan suspension ends.
Go back to the basics.
First things first: be sure you know the servicer, repayment status, and how much you owe (*gulp*) for each of your student loans.
Understanding these basic facts is key to finding repayment, forgiveness, and refinancing options. If you’re not sure where you stand, contact your servicer or visit the Federal Student Aid website.
Bonus tip: Sync your student loans to your FutureFuel.io account to keep track of all of your debt, watch your progress, and speed up your paydown — all in one place.
Get to know your grace period.
Recent grads, this one’s for you.
Most student loans have grace periods between when you leave school and when you have to start repayment. Both subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans usually have a six-month grace period, but you should always check with your lender to be sure — late fees can really sting.
Make your federal repayment plan work for you.
Whether you’re having trouble making your monthly payments or just want to lower your monthly repayment amount, exploring different student loan repayment plan options is a great place to start.
The government offers four different income-driven repayment plans for federal student loans, all of which cap your monthly payment to a manageable percentage of your discretionary income. And as an added (major) bonus, income-driven plans also forgive outstanding debt after 20-25 years of repayment — just keep in mind that the forgiven amount is taxable.
Eligibility for income-driven repayment plans is largely based on annual salary, but if you make too much to qualify, a graduated repayment plan is worth considering. A graduated repayment plan won’t factor in your income; instead, it will lower your monthly payments now and increase the amount every two years. Graduated repayment usually sets you up to pay off your debt within ten years — so if you expect your income to increase steadily over the next decade, graduated repayment could be a good fit.
Not sure which plan is right for you? Our Reassess tool helps you discover, compare, and enroll in alternative federal repayment plans. Sign up for your free account now — it only takes a few minutes to get started and the average user saves up to $326 per month.
Review student loan refinancing options.
Refinancing involves transferring your current student debt to a new loan through a private lender. While refinancing can be a great way to lower your monthly repayment amount and interest rate, it also carries some potential risks (including becoming ineligible for federal loan forgiveness programs) and limitations (you usually have to have an excellent credit score and high income).
Another drawback to refinancing is that there are tons of lenders and options to navigate, which can add extra complexity to your decision to refinance. Luckily, our Refinance feature curates and compares prequalified rates from dozens of top lenders to lower the average borrower’s interest rate by 1.7% — and it’s totally free.
Check your debt forgiveness eligibility.
President Biden still hasn’t made any decisions about widespread student debt cancellation, but you might already be qualified for loan forgiveness.
If you work in a certain field (looking at you, teachers, nonprofit and public service workers, and healthcare professionals), are on an income-driven repayment plan, went to a school that permanently closed while you were attending or shortly after you left, or have permanent disability, you’re likely eligible for an existing federal forgiveness program.
Know how to get help.
If you’re worried you won’t be able to make your payments after student loan suspension ends because you’re facing a financial crisis, unemployed, serving in the military or Peace Corps, or undergoing cancer treatment, you likely qualify for temporary deferment — a temporary period during which loan repayment is suspended. It’s important to know that while subsidized federal loans won’t accrue interest during the deferment period, unsubsidized loans will (although you won’t have to pay it until after your deferment ends).
Can’t afford your current monthly payment but don’t qualify for deferment? Don’t forget that switching to an income-based repayment plan can significantly reduce what you owe each month — and finding out which repayment options you’re eligible for is easy with Reassess from FutureFuel.io.
Don’t forget to have fun.
We know what you’re thinking: paying off your student loans is about as fun as recovering from your second vaccine shot.
But getting ahead on your debt doesn’t always have to mean pinching pennies and making sacrifices — if you have tools that integrate with your financial lifestyle.
Giveback collects cash back rewards when you shop online with hundreds of brands and applies them to your student loan debt. Did you adopt a pandemic puppy? Rack up rewards at Petco. Are you a weekly observer of Taco Tuesday? Get your guac and cash back with DoorDash. Are you making up for all those missed concerts and sporting events? Score repayment credit from Vivid Seats. You get the idea.
Round Up stockpiles spare change from everyday purchases and sends your monthly total to your loan balance. Instead of feeling guilty about spending $5.42 on that latte, you can feel good about being 58 cents closer to financial freedom.
Ready to get started? Create your free account with FutureFuel.io and start chipping away at your student debt now.