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Soon the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance’’ will fade, and thousands of college graduates will really have to start facing the music — their education loans. For them, I have a new tune: Know what you owe.
That should be the mantra for every student loan borrower. An unsettling number of graduates and their parents have only a vague idea of how much has been borrowed. It’s only after the degree has been obtained that they add up the costs.
In 2008, about two-thirds of students graduating from four-year colleges and universities had student loan debt averaging $23,200, according to the Project on Student Debt.
Remember CliffsNotes? For this month’s Color of Money Book Club selection, I am recommending a CliffsNotes book: “Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life,’’ by Reyna Gobel (Wiley, $14.99). This compact guide walks you though the student loan labyrinth.
“In order to work toward paying off your student loan debt, you need to be aware of the existence and the amounts of each loan,’’ writes Gobel, who amassed $63,000 in student loans obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
The book starts with a pop quiz that I know many recent graduates would fail: How many federal student loans do you have? Do you know the servicers and interest rates, or how many are subsidized or unsubsidized?
“It’s not always easy to keep tabs on eight semesters
of loans,’’ Gobel writes.
She is tender where I might be tough. I think you darn well should know every single loan, especially when you’re locking yourself into financial bondage for decades. Maybe if more students kept up with debt, they would borrow less.
But if you don’t know the answers to Gobel’s questions, go to the National Student Loan Data System at www.nslds.ed.gov. Gobel walks you though the process of finding information about your loans.
“Brace yourself, because you are going to see how much interest has accrued since the first day you borrowed your first student loan dollar,’’ Gobel cautions.
Don’t think Gobel’s advice to create a cheat sheet of your loans is trite. I was working with a student who, after finally organizing her data, found a forgotten loan that was in default. She had been getting notices but said to me: “I just couldn’t face the debt.’’ She didn’t open the notices.
Forgetting a loan, Gobel writes, is a fairly common problem. People think they are making payments on all their loans, only to discover a loan was left out. It even happened to the author. “If payments had been organized, this never would have happened,’’ she writes.
You’ll find what you need in this book, from evaluating your debt to repayment and consolidation options.
Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .