How Does a Recent Grad Handle Student Loan Repayment?

A UMass Amherst graduate breaks down his plan - including tackling private loans first, consolidating federal loans, switching to an income-based repayment plan, and factoring loans into an overall monthly budget.
A recent college graduate sitting on steps outside working on student loan repayment on a laptop and phone

$54,822 of student loan debt for a recent college grad can be unsettling, especially for someone who is in a somewhat unique position of, well… unemployment. We're talking about me here, and I actually do have a job lined up, but probably won't see a paycheck for at least a couple of months. Though I appreciate my six-month grace period, I know my first loan payment will be due before I know it. When I first started thinking about my loan repayment, it felt like a ticking time bomb. But then I took time to explore my options for repayment with my various service providers, and my attitude toward repayment is in a much calmer place.

Like many other college grads, I have a combination of federal and private loans, and the private ones are costing me significantly more in interest—9.875% compared to my federal rates, which are as low as 3.760%. So first and foremost, my plan is to pay off my private loans as quickly as possible while still being able to afford at least the minimum payments required of my federal loans. With that rule in mind, I first needed to find the right repayment plan for my federal loans that would keep my monthly payments relatively low.

Rather than delve into the long list of loans listed on my account, I first made my life a lot easier by applying for a Federal Consolidation Loan. This combined most of my federal loans into one loan with one fixed monthly payment, and I was able to delay processing until the end of my grace period. This may not be the best option for everyone, as you may end up paying more in interest than you would have before, but that was not the case for me. As a side note, I chose not to include my Perkins loans with my consolidation, because they may be eligible for cancellation for public service, and I plan on starting a career in law enforcement. But all in all, consolidation made my loans much easier to manage. Once I consolidated, I explored my federal repayment options and decided to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan. The plan will keep my monthly payments low and allow me to quickly pay off my private loans.

Once I was able to determine the predictable monthly payment required of my federal consolidation loan, I essentially added it to my list of other monthly expenses, including rent, groceries, and transportation costs. Then I weighed my total monthly expenses against the base salary of the job that I have lined up (minus 20%, which will go toward savings), and found my net monthly income. This gave me an idea of the maximum payment that I will be able to make toward my private student loans while still living comfortably. I added that to my budget.

While there are too many variables at this stage in my life to make a reputable long-term goal for repayment, I intend to follow this plan until I have a better grasp on my future financial situation. My hope is that, eventually, I will be able to pay more each month and eliminate my student loan debt as quickly as possible!

Learn more about repayment