If you’re a recent graduate, the last thing you want to think about is the past, right? It’s all about the future.
However, if you took out student loans, the time to look back is now (actually, it probably should have been sooner, but let’s not quibble over semantics).
If you’re like most grads, you took out multiple student loans over your four(ish)-year career as a college student — consumers with educational debt had an average of 3.7 student loans, according to a 2017 Experian report.
Unfortunately, 11.4% of aggregate student debt was 90 or more days delinquent or in default in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve. That means there are a lot of people not paying their student loans on time — or perhaps at all.
But you won’t be one of them, right?
You just need a little help figuring out who you owe… and how much… and when it’s due.
Oh, and how long before these loans are paid off and out of your life (spoiler alert: you might get a temporary reprieve on payments if your loan has a grace period).
Fortunately, you have The Penny Hoarder to help you organize your student loan debt in way to pay it off in a timely, cost-effective way so you can get back to that future thinking.
How Much Do I Owe in Student Loans?
It would be nice if you could put a simple, smallish figure down on paper and be done.
But student loans can get complicated, and you should have all the essential information before you formulate a plan of attack for paying them off.
We’ve come up with the list of questions you should be able to answer about both your federal and private student loans to truly know how much you owe. That could mean a few trips to the interwebs, a close reading of your loan agreement and/or a call to your lender. Let’s get started.
1. Who Is My Student Loan Servicer?
There’s no sense in knowing how much you owe if you don’t know who you owe it to, right?
Federal Student Loans
Dig out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) login and password to sign onto studentloans.gov. Here you will find a list with your federal student loans.
Each entry will also indicate the company hired by the federal government to service the loan — look for names like Navient, Great Lakes or FedLoan, three commonly used loan servicers. Any further interaction in regards to your loan should go through your loan servicer.
If you need more info about your loans — such as when your loan was disbursed — log into the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS.ed.gov).
“Use that same federal student aid login and password to login,” said Heather Jarvis, a North Carolina attorney who specializes in student loans. “That site is much less formatted and is less easy to read than studentloans.gov, but it does have more information.”
Private Student Loans
Private student loans are more difficult to track — especially if you accepted them without much thought as a 17-year-old … and you lost any paperwork four moves ago … and your loan’s been sold.
If you’re at a total loss for who to contact, start with your alma mater.
“The college admissions office is going to know who paid the tuition,” said Melinda Opperman, executive vice president of credit.org. She recommended asking for a duplicate copy of the loan agreement, which the college should have in its records.
“If they can’t provide that, at least [ask for] the phone numbers of who to get in touch with,” Opperman said.
No luck with your college? There’s one more source that will have your private loan info: your credit report, which you can order online for free from annualcreditreport.com.
“Look for all the education loans listed on your credit report, and then compare the loans on your credit report to the loans that you’ve identified as federal,” Jarvis said. “If there are any loans on your credit report that are not on studentloans.gov, it’s because they’re private student loans.
“And your credit report will list the name of the lender.”
2. What Is the Principal Amount?
Regardless of the type of loan, it’s important to know two things about the principal:
What is the amount you initially borrowed?
What is the current amount of principal you owe?
If you’ve made any payments toward your loan, you should be aware of whether the payments were going toward interest or principal. These totals should reflect that. Knowing both the initial loan amount and current principal will be important for calculating interest.
Federal Student Loans
The fed’s information about your loan balance could be up 120 days old, so you should contact the lender directly for the updated amount.
Private Student Loans
For private loans, it’s best to contact the lender directly for the current principal, although your most recent statement should also have this information.
3. What Is the Interest Rate?
Knowing the interest rates can help you prioritize which loans to tackle first. Paying off in order of the highest to lowest interest using the debt avalanche method will save you money in interest over the long term.
Federal Student Loans
The feds don’t consider your college career collectively — each academic year you start anew. The same goes for your interest rates.
“The interest rates set for federal student loans are set annually for the upcoming academic year, and they’re not always the same from one year to the next,” Jarvis said. “So people might have a variety of interest rates.”
The good news about federal loans? Unless the loans were issued before 2006, your interest rate will be fixed. So that rate will remain the same over the life of the loan.
Private Student Loans
Private student loans are less likely to have fixed interest rates, so you’ll have a little more homework to do with them.
“Often, private loans are at variable interest rates, so they can change over time,” Jarvis said. “Everyone who has a private loan at a variable rate should know a couple of things: They should know how often the rate changes and they should know whether there’s any cap on how high the rate can go.”
Making an extra payment—using a tax refund, perhaps—lowers the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan. Specify to your lender that the extra money should be applied to your loan balance.
If your interest rate seems really high, that’s probably because it was based on your credit score — and lack of credit worthiness as a college student. Once you have a career with a steady income, you may consider refinancing your loans since you could qualify for lower interest rates.
4. What Are My Payment Plan Options?
Now that you know the amount you owe and the interest rate, you should find out how to start paying it off.
Ask your lenders what the estimated payoff dates are to help set your goals and prioritize payments.
Federal Student Loans
If you let the government decide, it will automatically base your payments on the standard 10-year loan repayment plan. But that isn’t your only option.
“Folks tend to have the misunderstanding that they have a monthly payment that’s the required payment on a student loan,” Jarvis said. “And with federal student loans, that’s not the case.”
If you’re unable to make the proposed amount, you have four main options for lower payments that take your income and expenses into account:
Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
Pay as You Earn (PAYE)
Revised Pay as You Earn (RPAYE)
You can learn more details about income-driven repayment plans in this article, but Opperman warns that these plans come with conditions that you should discuss with your lending service provider before you sign.
“When the student starts making smaller payments, it’s going to take significantly longer for them to pay,” she said. “And the balance may be growing — much like what happened for some people with the to [...]
If you live in a major city, you’ve likely heard of BoltBus and Megabus, as well as their rock-bottom $1 bus tickets.
Both companies make money by charging more for premium schedules, meaning you can score a deal on seats they are trying to fill during off-peak times.
How to Get $1 Bus Tickets
But how do you get your hands on one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-them bargain fares? Follow these tips to grab the lowest-priced tickets.
1. Pick Your Route
Before you start saving, make sure these carriers take you where you want to go.
Megabus offers stops in 34 U.S. states. It also offers a route between Toronto and Montreal in Canada.
BoltBus has routes along the East Coast and West Coast. On the East Coast, it stops in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Its West Coast routes include stops in Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia.
2. Book Your Ticket as Early as Possible
To get the best chance at the cheapest fares, book your seats as far in advance as possible. If you can book months in advance, you’ll have a better shot at snagging a $1 ticket than if you wait until a few days before your trip.
Each scheduled trip will offer at least one $1 fare, according to the BoltBus FAQ. This unicorn of a deal is “generally within the first handful of seats sold. The earlier you book your ticket, the greater your odds are of grabbing a seat for a buck.”
If you're not sure exactly when you'd like to travel, sometimes it makes sense to get a deeply discounted ticket just in case — and if you don’t wind up traveling, you’re only out a buck.
Be at the front of the line for Megabus, too. The company only gives $1 fares to “the first or initial customers that purchase a ticket for that trip,” according to its terms and conditions
As seats fill up, prices increase. Even if you don’t get a $1 fare, booking early can help you snag a $5 seat, which is still a steal.
3. Time Your Trip Right
Since routes offer only a few $1 fares, you’re more likely to score a cheap ticket if you can be flexible with your travel dates. Skip Friday and Sunday travel, as well as holidays and busy weekend times, to get the best deal.
The popularity of the route also goes into the pricing equation, as Megabus notes in its terms. While these routes still might only have a single $1 fare, less-popular trips may well have other low-priced tickets.
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4. Look for Special Offers
From time to time, both companies run special offers and promotions. Following them on social media is a great way to stay on top of these deals and jump on newly announced trips.
You can also search for promo codes online on sites like RetailMeNot and WanderU, a bus and train travel site.
5. Sign Up for Bolt Rewards
BoltBus offers a frequent rider program called Bolt Rewards.
The deal is very simple: Travel eight times on BoltBus trips that you pay more than $1 for and your ninth one-way fare is free. It doesn’t matter how long the routes are — just travel eight times and your ninth ride is on them.
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017. [...]