Ask Jean Thursday: Student Loan Stress - Jean Chatzky - Making money make sense
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Ask Jean Thursday: Student Loan Stress

istock_000005040646xsmallI read your student loan article in the Daily News and am very grateful for the information you provided. I have recently graduated with my doctorate in clinical psychology. In addition I have earned over $150,000 in loans. I don’t know where to begin. I believe I have private and federal loans but I’m not even sure to be honest with you. Is there anywhere I can get assistance with this? I seem to get bounced back and forth between the National Student Loan Data System and my school. The income based repayment plan sounds like a good option for me but I’m wondering if I should consolidate my loans first?

-Marissa, San Francisco, CA

You’re not alone. With everything that a goes along with college–the classes, the exams, the post-college job hunt–many students fail to pay attention to their loans until their caps have been thrown and the diploma is in their hands.

To get a handle on how much you borrowed and from where you borrowed, you’ll want to visit the National Student Loan Data System, which you mentioned in your question. NSLDS is the definitive resource for finding out about your federal loans. “The only caveat is if the school is a Direct Loan school they might not have finished reconciling their records with NSLDS,” warns FindAid.org’s Mark Kantrowitz. This could be the explanation for the complications you’re experiencing now. Private loans are another matter. You’ll need to get a list of the private lenders you borrowed from and call each to determine the loan amounts.

Once you’ve determined what portion of your loans are private and which are federal, it’s time to start looking at your options for repayment. If you’re doing any postdoctoral internships or residencies, income-based repayment may not be your best choice. “With that much debt and some private, she might need more repayment relief during the residency and internship than income-based repayment can provide,” advises Kantrowitz. Other options may include an economic hardship deferment or forbearance. FinAid’s Economic Hardship Deferment Calculator can help you determine if you’re eligible for deferment. To find out if you’re eligible for forbearance, you’ll need to check with your lender.

If you do decide to go the income-based repayment route, it may be best for you to consolidate your loans before you move forward. “With consolidation she’ll have one federal and one private loan instead of multiple opportunities to miss a payment,” says Kantrowitz. It’s important to note that your federal and private loans cannot be consolidated together, and only federal loans are eligible for income-based repayment.

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