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Feeling stressed out about paying off your student loans? Maybe it’s time to change how you’re repaying them.

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Remember how exciting it was to find out you were qualified for a student loan? Hooray! You could afford tuition, books, housing, etc. But now that you’re out of school and faced with the reality of paying that loan back, you might be feeling another emotion: anxiety. If that describes you, we have some ideas that can help.

Four steps to smarter student loan repayment

Step 1: Talk to a Summit loan officer

We’ll get into some more specific things to think about, but the smartest—and easiest—place to start is to contact a Summit loan officer. They can help you review your current loan and payment situation and navigate the options discussed below.

Step 2: Look at the requirements of each loan

Lots of people take out more than one loan to pay for college. Did you?

For federal loans, the standard repayment schedule is 10 years. You might be able to extend this if you do things like go into the military or work for a national service program like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps or VISTA. There are also some loan forgiveness programs for people who go into teaching, law or medicine and commit to serving low-income populations or work in a non-profit position. Here’s a great place to get an overview of deferment/forbearance options for federal loans.

Already working but struggling to make payments because your income is low? Click through to learn more about the government’s income-driven repayment plan.

If you have private student loans, you’ll likely have fewer options to play with. But don’t assume your current payment plan is written in stone. You might be able to work with your lender to change your payment schedule—and that’s certainly worth investigating—or it could make sense to refinance or consolidate (see below).

Step 3: Decide if you should investigate student loan refinancing or consolidation.

Refinancing a loan gives you a shot at getting a lower interest rate and better repayment terms on your loans.

Consolidation means bundling all your outstanding student loans into one new loan. If you’re consolidating federal education loans, the interest rate you pay will be a weighted average of interest rates on all your federal student loans. If you’re consolidating private loans you’ll get a new interest rate—so a private consolidation is actually more like refinancing.

Consolidating federal loans doesn’t usually save you any money on interest, but it can be more convenient—one loan payment instead of a payment per loan—and sometimes the payment period is extended, which means a lower monthly payment but more money paid in interest over the term of your loan.

Check out a summary of the pros and cons of consolidation at debt.org. And here’s information about a Direct Consolidation Loan for your federal education loans. Plus, Summit has great options for consolidating, too!

Step 4: Have enough money to pay more than the minimum? What’s your smartest strategy?

Say you’re one of those lucky people who can actually afford to make more than your minimum payment. What’s the smartest way to do that?  There are two common approaches: the debt snowball and the debt avalanche.

With the debt snowball you first make the minimum monthly payment on all your debt and then work on paying off the loan with the smallest balance. The idea is that it’s rewarding to pay off a loan and you’ll be motivated to continue.

With debt avalanche you focus on paying off the loan with the highest interest rate to cut your interest payments. Which approach is right? Here’s an interesting article from Forbes that considers both the financial benefits and the emotional ones.

Feeling overwhelmed by your student loan debt? Don’t be! You can own these loans and Summit is here to help!