Here's how you can tackle student loan debt, find ways to save as payments resume: experts

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Tuesday, October 3, 2023
How to tackle student loans as payments resume: experts
When do student loan payments start? After the Supreme Court rejected a student loan forgiveness program, payments are resuming in October.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The pandemic pause on student loan payments is over, and that has about 2 million Illinois college and university graduates bracing for repayments on that debt.

And, the bills are due this month. Those bills have already started coming. What isn't coming? Loan forgiveness.

The United State Supreme Court rejected that proposal. Now, after a more than three-year pause on student loan payments, some borrowers, like one ABC7 spoke with, have to re-adjust their finances. Still, there are things they can do right now to save.

"It's a very daunting number and to think of, as with people all across the country, who have that debt," said Amir Nijem, who has a spouse and three kids. He owes more than $72,000 in federal student loans, after recently finishing his master's degree at the University of Chicago.

For the first time in more than three years, 45 million student loan borrowers, like Nijem, will have to resume paying back their student loans.

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"It's a scary number to think of, you know, thinking about my future and thinking about plans I want to do with myself. It's sort of this lingering thought but in the back of my mind, and you know, I have these dreams of buying a home and advancing my career and all that, and it's just this lingering notion of having the $72,000 saddled over my head."

And, he won't be getting a break on his payments like he thought. When President Joe Biden announced his loan forgiveness program, $20,000 of Nijem's loans would have been forgiven. But, that program was struck down last summer.

So, how will Nijem handle these bills coming?

"It's gonna take a little bit of managing on my monthly expenses," he said. "The cost of living is substantially increased, and you know, my salary and other things aren't matching that rise."

Mark Henry, founder and CEO of Alloy Wealth Management, reminded borrowers that while repayment begins in October, interest on those loans started accruing last month. He said to face it head-on.

"We need to list all of our debt, prioritize it and then attack it. And when you do it like this, it becomes digestible, it becomes like, 'OK, I can do this,'" Henry said.

If you have student debt, experts said, you also need to look into your loan's provisions and terms, and find out exactly what you owe. Then, Henry said, take the smallest balance first, and start making more than the minimum payment on that one while making minimum payments on the other loans. Get one paid off, and take all the money you're paying on that one, and go to the next smallest balance."

And, If your credit score is high enough, consider debt consolidation loan, but be cautious.

"Keep in mind the loan terms though, you have to read the fine print we don't want to do anything that could put us in a worse situation as in higher interest rates or our loan is just not as good as what we think, so let's be very careful and read the fine print on anything we do," Henry warned.

There are ways save. A new federal student loan repayment plan, Saving on a Valuable Education, could lower monthly payments for millions of borrowers. SAVE calculates your monthly payment amount based on your income and family size and provides the lowest monthly payments of any income driven plan available.

READ MORE | As student loan repayment begins, some find monthly payments dramatically increased

That program could help Nijem and his family. He may also qualify for a forgiveness based on his occupation in public service.

"I enrolled in a public forgiveness loan, which is after 10 years or 120 consecutive payments, your loan gets forgiven, but that's with the hope that I stay in public sector for 10 years and, you know, anything could happen in that time," added Nijem.

Lawyers and people in other professions may qualify for partial forgiveness of a loan, in similar programs, so do your research and see if you can save.

You may also be able to lower your interest on student loans if you enroll in automatic payments. Also check with your employer. Some will increase the match your 401k if you show them you are making a student loan payment.

Click here for more information on lowering your payments or getting forgiveness, and click here for information on your federal student loans.