Recent Graduate Student Loan Survival Kit

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Congratulations! You made it. You graduated from college. Your first student loan payment will be due soon.

This guide is designed to help you estimate your future monthly payment, understand your repayment options and stay current on your loans.

How much will I have to pay each month?

If you have no idea how much your monthly payment will be, you are not alone. Surveys show that nearly 80% of college students have never predicted their future monthly payment. Here’s a chart to help you estimate your future monthly payment depending on how much you borrowed.

Federal Student Loan Monthly Payment Estimator

Student Loan Payment Estimator

BalanceMonthly Payment

All estimates are based on Federal Student Loan debt at 6.8% interest, on the Standard repayment plan. Payments to be made over a 10 year repayment schedule.

Calculate your future monthly payment using this student loan calculator.

Determine how much you can afford to pay toward your Student Loans

As a general rule, you can afford to pay about 10% of your monthly take-home pay toward your student loans. If you bring home $3,000 per month, for example, you should be able to allocate around $300 to your student loans.

Work your budget

If you cannot make allocate 10% of your take-home pay to your student loans, you may need to look at your over-all budget and find items you can cut. The largest item in most people’s budget is housing. Can you find cheaper rent? Can you take in a roommate? Can you continue to live with your parents (at least for your first 6 months after graduation). If you anticipate having high student loan bills, be cautious about buying an expensive vehicle after graduation. Can you get by with a used vehicle, at least for awhile, while you establish yourself.

» Learn More: How to Manage Your First Paycheck

What to do if you cannot afford your monthly student loan payment

It’s common, especially for recent graduates, to face difficulty making your monthly student loan payments, especially if you have not been able to find a well-paying job. If you find yourself in this situation, understand that there are many avenues available to you to help you avoid default. The worst thing you can do is nothing.  Here are five ways to avoid default:

1. Consider deferring your loans.

During a deferment, you are not responsible for making payments. If you have subsidized loans, the government will continue to make interest payments on your loan during the deferment period (so, your loans won’t grow any greater than they are when you enter deferment). If you have unsubsidized loans, you will be responsible for the interest that accrues during the deferment period, but you won’t have to make payments on it until the period ends. To qualify for deferment on your Federal student loans, you need to provide economic hardship, which can include unemployment.

2. Consider student loan forbearance

Under forbearance, your payment can be reduced or suspended for up to a year. To qualify for forbearance, you have to show financial hardship. Understand that interest will continue to accrue on loans in forbearance.

3. Get a lower monthly payment through consolidation

After graduation, you should consolidate your student loans. There are many benefits to consolidating, which include:

  • bundling all of your individuals loans into one loan
  • securing a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan
  • choosing a repayment plan that works for you and your budget (note: you can change repayment plans once per year)

When you consolidate your loans, you can choose from several repayment plans. If you need to significantly reduce your monthly payment based on having a low (or no) income, consider one of these repayment plans:

  • Income-based repayment: Under this repayment plan, your monthly payment is based on how much you make (and your household size), not how much your borrowed. Under this plan, you could possibly reduce your monthly payment to $0.00. Also, if you work in the public sector, you could see your loan balance waived after 10 years of service, while making low to $0 monthly payments. Visit our page on public service loan forgiveness for more information about this repayment plan.
  • Pay as You Earn: Under Pay as You Earn, your payment is may be significantly reduced because of several reasons. First of all, your payment is based on how much you make, not how much you borrowed. Additionally, your payment is stretched over 20 years, instead of 10 years on the Standard plan. For more information on this repayment plan.

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.