Whether this is the first year you're considering borrowing student loans or you've been borrowing them for several years, there are several questions you need to ask yourself.
How much debt do you have and are willing to have?
You really need to know your limits. For instance, you may want to set a limit below $40,000 if you are starting school at 18 and unsure of your major, but may go higher if you're older, have worked a few years and are extremely sure of your career choice and major. Where this number gets tricky is if you're close to graduation. Waiting a year to graduation so you don't have student loans doesn't always make sense.
What is your payment going to be after college?
You can easily approximate what your federal student loan payment will be after graduation by using the loan repayment calculator. However, it may not accurate if you have FFEL, older federal student loans that were issued by banks. When you log in at studentloans.gov, it will show you if your loans are FFEL loans. The reason why your options may not be accurate is FFEL loans can be consolidated or reconsolidated to Direct Loans. Then additional loan and payments options may be available to you. For instance, Pay as You Earn income-related payments aren't available to FFEL borrowers, but they are if you consolidated to direct loans. Public Service Loan Forgiveness, where the remaining balance of your loans is forgiven after 10 years of payments with a qualifying employer in public service is also not available to you unless you consolidated to direct loans. When in doubt about what your payments could be with your current amount borrowed and the amount you expect to borrow, talk your financial aid office or your loan servicer. Both are there to help you.
Do you have other ways to pay for college?
There are two sides to this question. Can work, grants or scholarships reduce your student loan borrowing? Do you need to borrow student loans in case work doesn't pan out? For instance, I advise those working new jobs who don't have a month or two of savings to borrow a little more in case the job doesn't last. However, receiving additional money via scholarships or grants should always reduce the amount you borrow.
Could you reduce your budget?
Reducing your spending can lead to reduced borrowing. Review your budget for painless ways to cut. Don't overly cut back on expenses that can help you find your next job. For instance, don't cut back on your budget for career-related activities such as networking at marketing association events if you want a career in marketing. Also, avoid cutting back on healthy foods. I told my parents when I was a first-year college student that I could live an $18 weekly grocery budget. I ate low-fat ramen noodles, pasta, and tuna fish. I gained 10 pounds and didn't stick to the budget. I lasted on that budget for two weeks and then started eating out. If I had budgeting realistically for a healthy diet, I wouldn't have eaten out so much. If you need help figuring out grocery and other budgets, talk to friends, family, or money management offices on campus.
Originally posted on iGrad.com. Used with permission.