Editorial Note: We earn a commission on partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.
Many students depend on student loans to pay for their education. But for the most part, they won’t make their first payment on that debt until after they graduate. If you’re having trouble remembering the details of that first-year loan, learn the steps to take before you make your first student loan payment.
When is your first student loan payment due?
The majority of student loan repayments aren’t due until after you’ve graduated, allowing you to focus on your studies rather than paying off your loan. This is different from traditional loans like mortgages, auto loans, or personal loans, which all require the first payment a few weeks after disbursement.
If you are a student with federal loans, your first payment will be due six months after you leave school, which is the standard grace period. If you are a parent PLUS loan borrower, however, your debt will go into repayment as soon as the money is disbursed, although you can choose to defer payments if you wish.
If you have private student loans, your grace period is determined by your lender. Many allow borrowers to choose their preferred repayment schedule. For example, borrowers can often choose between starting payments immediately after receiving the money, making small interest-only payments while in school, or completely deferring payments until six or even nine months after they get their diploma.
5 steps to making your first student loan payment
If you recently graduated or dropped below halftime, your first student loan repayment is likely approaching. Follow these steps to make sure you start off on the right foot.
1. Find your loan manager
You may have already received letters or emails from your student loan officer reminding you of your first payment. But if you haven’t received a letter or don’t know who your loan manager is, now is the time to find out.
For federal student loan borrowers, log on to the Federal Student Aid website to view your aid details, including federal student loans. It should list all the information about your loan, such as your balance, interest rate, manager, and first due date.
If you have private student loans, you can get a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Your report will outline your credit and loan accounts, and you can find relevant lenders there. Create an account on the lender’s website or contact them directly to find out when your first payment is due. If you have multiple loans from multiple lenders, you will need to contact each one individually.
2. Check your interest rate and loan term
If you have several different student loans, you may have different interest rates for each one. The interest rate on federal student loans changes every year, so the loan you took out as a freshman and the loan you took out as a senior will likely have different rates.
Also note the terms of your loan, which indicate how long it will take you to pay off your debt. Most federal loans start with a 10-year repayment plan, while private loans usually let you choose your term when you take out the loan. Longer loan terms generally result in lower monthly payments, but you’ll pay more interest than you would with a shorter repayment period.
3. Compare available payment plans
If you have private student loans, you probably chose your repayment plan when the money was first disbursed. Review your plan rules and note the payment amount and due date. If you think you’ll have trouble making your payments, contact your lender and see if they have any alternatives that can help.
If you have federal student loans, however, you can select your plan when you start repaying (and change it later if you want). If you do nothing, you will automatically be enrolled in the standard repayment plan, which offers fixed monthly payments over 10 years.
However, alternatives are available if your monthly payments are too high under a standard repayment. For example, you may be eligible for an income-based reimbursement (IDR) plan. These plans base your payments on your income and household size. Also, the rest of your debt will be canceled after 20 or 25 years, depending on the IDR plan you choose.
You can also explore other federal reimbursement options, including:
- Graduated repayment plan. Payments start lower and gradually increase, usually every two years. You will pay off most loans in 10 years.
- Extended repayment plan. You will have fixed or progressive payments, and your loans will be repaid in 25 years. Borrowers must owe more than $30,000 to qualify.
Not all borrowers are eligible for all federal repayment plans, so review the guidelines carefully before choosing. If you plan to seek forgiveness options such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), you must meet additional repayment requirements. It pays to read the fine print before making your first payment.
4. Consider automatic payment
After reviewing your repayment options, consider signing up for autopay. This service automatically deducts your monthly payment from your bank account, ensuring you won’t miss a payment. Additionally, many lenders offer an interest rate discount (usually 0.25%) to borrowers who sign up for autopay.
However, autopay can cause problems if you have inconsistent income or live paycheck to paycheck. You run the risk of having an overdraft in your bank account if you don’t have enough to cover your loan repayment, which would likely result in additional charges from your bank and loan officer.
If you don’t want to set up automatic payment now, create a calendar reminder to remind you to make your loan payments manually each month.
5. Make your first payment
Now that you’ve gathered all the details, it’s time to make your first payment. Sign up on your loan officer’s website and keep the login information handy, whether on a notepad near your desk or in a password manager.
Each loan manager has their own way of handling payments. Bookmark the payment site so you can easily navigate there when you need to make a payment. If you set up automatic payment, keep an eye on your inbox. You should get details that your payment is to be deducted from your account on a given day or you will receive a notification when the payment is made.
Plan for the long term
Student loan repayment is a marathon, not a sprint. And like any long-term commitment, you may run into some hiccups or hiccups along the way.
If you are having difficulty making your payments, contact your loan officer immediately. Explain your situation and ask about alternative payment plans. Most lenders offer deferment or forbearance options, which temporarily suspend your student loan payments without penalty. If you’re on a federal income-tested plan and you lose your job or face a pay cut, you could even reduce your payments to $0.
If you find yourself with money to spare, you might consider making extra payments on your student loans. This can help you pay off your debt sooner and potentially save you thousands of dollars in interest.
Even if you’ve set your loans to autopay, be sure to check in occasionally to see the progress you’re making. You can periodically re-evaluate your earning strategy and make sure it still makes sense for your current financial situation.