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When you’ve recently entered the workforce, balancing repaying student loans and a budget can be a challenge. This is especially true if you have a standard entry-level salary. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage high monthly loan payments. You also need to worry about everyday expenses like rent, car payments, utilities, and groceries. At times, it feels like you have to make a choice between repaying student loans and living your life.

No matter what some newspaper columnists might lead you to believe, defaulting on your loans is never a good idea. Instead, tap into that survival instinct you developed in the classroom. Get serious about repaying those student loans – the smart way. Here are five ways to manage your loan payments as a young professional.

Stay in contact with your loan servicers.

There are generally two categories of student loans: federal and private. Regardless of the category, student loan servicers handles billing, payments, customer inquiries, and other administrative services for your loan. Servicers help you navigate loan repayment systems, find the right repayment plan, and answer your student loan questions. If you don’t know who services your federal loans, you can find out at nslds.ed.gov. This site lists all of your federal loans, along with the contact information for your servicer. To obtain contact information for your private loan servicer, review your lender’s website or call their toll-free number.

Know which questions to ask.

The questions you should ask depend on your loan type. For federal loans, ask if you’re on the right payment schedule for your financial situation. There are a variety of repayment options available. Your servicer uses information about your job, income, and federal loan amount borrowed to help you find the repayment plan that’s best for you. Options include payments based on your current income, or payments that increase periodically over the life of your loan. Whichever option you choose, remember to keep a long-term view when making decisions about repayment schedules. Consider the interest implications of any option. Private loans are different. You selected repayment terms at the time of application. Information about your private loan rates, terms, and repayment can be obtained from your private loan servicer. They can also offer information and support throughout the life of your loan.

Consider consolidation.

Depending on what type of loan(s) you have, consolidation may help you save money. If you have one or more federal loans, a federal consolidation loan can combine your loans into a new loan with a blended interest rate. It may also extend your repayment period. When you talk with your servicers, you may want to discuss this option. You can find more information about consolidation and federal loan repayment at the Federal Student Aid website.

Private student loan refinancing allows you to replace your existing private and/or federal student loans with a new private student loan under different terms. If you are repaying multiple student loans, want to lower your monthly payment, or if your interest rates are higher than you would like, you may want to consider private loan refinancing. Private student loans require a credit check, and you can often get a lower interest rate with a cosigner. Most lenders provide loans with no application or origination fees. You may also prepay your loan at any time without penalty. You will have the opportunity to see your rates and terms before finalizing your loan.

Do your research.

If you have student loans with high interest rates, refinancing with a private loan can be a great option. They may allow you to save money over the life of your loans with a lower interest rate. But private loan refinancing isn’t right for everyone. For instance, if you have federal loans that carry special repayment benefits or forgiveness programs, it might be best to explore federal loan consolidation. There are unique benefits to both, so be sure to do your research.

Stay current on your monthly student loan payments.

The consequences of defaulting on education loans are very serious. If you’re not able to make your payments, contact your student loan servicer before becoming delinquent. They have trained representatives who can help you find the best solution for your needs. If you lose your job or experience other difficulties, you may be eligible for deferments or forbearances. These mean you may stop making payments for a period of time.

When it comes to repaying student loans, there are many ways to build a healthy financial future. Staying in touch with your servicer and being aware of the options available to you are some of the best ways to make smart financial decisions.