Here’s something I’ve just learned that I’ll be sure to pass on to my daughter, a 2015 graduate: If you’re a member of the class of 2015, did you realize that your school’s financial aid administrator could still be a resource for you, even though you’ve aleady graduated? According to the president of the ational Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Justin Draeger, “There is no penalty for making federal student loan payments before the grace period ends. It’s never too early to get a jump-start on debt reduction — but if that isn’t yet a financial possibility, students should still use the summer months to educate themselves about their total indebtedness and repayment options. College financial aid professionals stand ready to help, even for borrowers who have already graduated.” (emphasis mine)
NASFAA, a nonprofit that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 institutions of higher learning across the country, recommends that this year’s graduates use their six-month grace period to education themselves about the details of repayment so they can save time and money later.
Sixty percent of bachelor’s degree recipients at four-year public and private nonprofit institutions graduated with debt in 2013, according to the College Board’s Trends in Student Aid 2014. The average amount borrowed was $27,300 — up $3,200 from the average amount borrowed by 2008 graduates.
NASFAA says that 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Education show that 13.7% of borrowers go into default within three years, a slight drop from the previous year. Default doesn’t have to be in your future. The NASFAA urges borrowers to direct any questions about repayment to their alma mater’s financial aid office and use the free tools at their disposal — like the ED’s Financial Awareness Counseling Tool (FACT) and the National Student Loan Data System for Students (NSLDS).
NASFAA members can offer advice on how to review and select repayment plans, where to find the total amount owed, how to avoid default, and what can be done if students are having trouble making payments.
It’s probably safe to say that most graduates aren’t in a position to begin paying back their loans before their six-month grace period is up—I know my daughter isn’t. But if you are that rare graduate, go ahead and start paying down your loans now; as Draeger says, there is no pre-payment penalty and no reason not to begin payments during the grace period if you can.
For more information about NASFAA, go to www.nasfaa.org.