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- I’m a financial planner, and I see student loan borrowers making the same mistakes repeatedly in my practice.
- Most students don’t understand their options for borrowing money for college, and they can end up taking out the wrong loans.
- I also see my clients borrow more money than they need and choose private over federal loans, which can be more expensive in the long run.
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Student loans can be stressful. Borrowing money for school might seem straightforward, but repayment plans come with rules and red tape that can be difficult to navigate. The recent news about 99% of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) applications being rejected proves how easy it is to make a mistake.
If you are considering taking out student loans or are already trying to pay them off, here are the top student loan mistakes I see as a financial planner.
1. Borrowing private instead of federal student loans
Selecting the type of loans to pay for your college is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. If you take out private loans, you’re not eligible for loan forgiveness. Plus, federal loans have borrower protections like income-driven repayment options, deferment, and loan forgiveness that you don’t get from private lenders.
I always tell borrowers to max out their federal loan options before turning to private loans. You can always refinance your federal loans into a private loan later if you think that will be a better option. But you can’t refinance a private loan into a federal one.
2. Choosing the wrong repayment plan
If you have federal loans, there are 11 student loan repayment plans to choose from. Which one is best for you depends on your financial goals. If you want to pay less interest, the standard 10-year repayment option is best. Refinancing your federal loan into a private loan can also save you money on interest.
But if you want student loan forgiveness, you must be on a qualifying income-driven repayment plan. If you’re not on the right program, your loans won’t be eligible for forgiveness. Make sure you understand your options before you pick a plan.
3. Not shopping around for the best interest rate
Interest is the price you pay for borrowing money. Usually, the better your credit score, the better your interest rate. And the better your interest rate, the less you’ll pay over the life of the loan.
If you’re borrowing money for school or refinancing existing loans, it’s smart to shop around for the best rate. Each lender will do what’s called a soft credit check. Soft pulls won’t appear on your report, so they won’t hurt your credit score.
4. Borrowing too much money
Borrowing too much money isn’t a problem just for people with student loans. While you shouldn’t take out more loans than you need to pay for tuition and books, you also shouldn’t rack up balances on credit cards or finance a car purchase while you’re in school.
Eventually, you have to pay that money back. The more you borrow, the harder it will be to make the payments after you graduate and get a job. Plus, saving for retirement is something I see clients struggle with all the time. The more you pay toward debt each month, the less money you have available to invest in your retirement plan.
5. Cosigning a loan without understanding the consequences
You might not think twice about cosigning a loan for your son or daughter to attend school. But there are consequences you may not know about when you cosign a loan. Even if your child is responsible, you could be on the hook for repaying the entire balance if they don’t make the payments. It could also affect your ability to buy a house or take out a loan for any reason because it increases your debt-to-income ratio.
If you decide to cosign a student loan, ask about a cosigner release. Some private lenders will remove you as a cosigner if the primary borrower meets specific requirements, such as making 12 consecutive on-time payments and passing a credit review.
6. Not asking for help from a professional
One of the most heartbreaking things for me to see as a financial planner is when people put their lives on hold because of student loan debt. More and more borrowers are putting off buying a home, getting married, or starting a family.
Even if you’re in good financial shape, it’s a good idea to check in with a professional. A financial planner can review your student loans and help you make a plan to pay them off and save for retirement while still being able to live a comfortable life.