How and When to Make Your First Student Loan Payment
At some point after leaving college — or even while you’re still enrolled — you’ll need to make your first student loan payment.
Federal student loans usually require the start of payments no later than six months after graduation, while private student loan payments can start as soon as funds are disbursed.
Regardless of which type of loan you’ve borrowed, it’s never too early to start repaying your student debt — or at least figure out what to do before your first student loan payment is due.
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When is the first student loan payment due?
The due date for your first college loan payment will depend on your lender.
The U.S. Department of Education requires you to start repaying your federal loans when you graduate or leave school, or upon dropping below half-time enrollment. However, many federal loans, like direct loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs), offer a six-month grace period after leaving school before a first payment is necessary.
Private student loans, however, don’t follow the same rules. Instead, lenders determine their own repayment requirements for their borrowers, and due dates for a first student loan payment can vary widely among different lenders. You’ll want to check with the institution lending the money to make sure you don’t send in your first payment late.
Where do I send my first payment?
Although your student loans might come from the government or a particular lender, you could have a completely different party serving as a loan servicer. The Department of Education and some private lenders use servicers to manage payments and act as a resource for borrowers about their loan accounts.
Your student loan servicer or private lender will send you a monthly statement with your loan’s balance and the amount due, including fees and interest.
When you get your first student loan payment bill, it’ll include instructions on how to submit the funds. Generally, most lenders and servicers now take electronic payment through an online account — still, if you prefer traditional mail, check your student loan billing statement for the exact address to send your payment.
5 tips to prepare for student loan repayment
Whether you’re still enrolled in school or have just entered your grace period, staying on top of your debt can help ensure that your first student loan payment goes smoothly. Here are five moves that could help:
- Know your loan details
- Consider different repayment plans
- Make room in your budget
- Put extra money toward your loans
- Mark your calendar
Know your loan details
Before making your first student loan payment — regardless of whether you have federal or private debt — make sure you know your student loan details and repayment terms. You can find a detailed overview of your federal student loans by logging into your online account on StudentAid.gov or through your student loan servicer’s website.
If you have private student loan debt, but don’t recall who your lender is, use your credit report to find out. You can request a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com — though due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was increased to a free report every week until the end of 2023.
Look at your loans’ total balance, interest rates and repayment terms to get an idea of what lies ahead of your first student loan payments.
Consider different repayment plans
Once you understand what you owe, you should also consider what kind of repayment plan you’ll want to participate in. For federal student loans, you have many options, including a standard repayment plan, an extended repayment plan and various income-driven repayment (IDR) programs.
The one you choose will depend on your individual situation. For instance, IDR plans base your monthly loan payment on your income and family size, keeping it affordable for those who struggle to make their bills. These plans also provide forgiveness after a given period, though you may also end up paying more interest on your loans overall.
Make room in your budget
Take a look at your overall budget, particularly your discretionary budget after subtracting “must-have” expenses (such as rent, groceries and clothes) from your monthly income.
Part of those discretionary funds can be tagged for entertainment, dining out and the like, but first make sure that you’ll have enough for your student loan payments.
At the very least, you should budget for your minimum student loan payment before spending on the fun stuff.
Put extra money toward your loans
If you can manage it, plan to add a little extra to those loan payments in order to get out of debt more quickly. Paying a little more than the monthly minimum can knock years off of your interest costs, ultimately lowering the price you pay for higher education.
To get an idea of how much money you might be able to save, you can crunch the numbers using our student loan repayment calculator.
But before paying extra toward your loans, consider other types of debt you might owe — high-interest credit card debt, for example. Concentrating extra payments toward high-interest debt (known as the “debt avalanche method”) might make more sense, depending on your financial situation.
If, however, student loans are your only debt and you have a comfortable emergency fund, making extra payments toward your loans can be a solid debt repayment strategy. Just make sure that your lender or servicer knows to apply the extra to your principal amount rather than toward your future interest.
Mark your calendar
You might have taken multiple loans from different lenders throughout your college career; this could mean potentially many different due dates to track. Take note of each loan account’s due date so you don’t miss your first student loan payment.
Setting up automatic payments toward your student loans after each payday can help. By leveraging autopay features through your servicer or lender’s site, you can avoid late or missed payments — ultimately, saving you on fees and a potential hit to your credit profile.
And remember, just because you might not have to make payments while you’re in school or in deferment, it doesn’t mean you have to wait. If you have a healthy income and feel you can manage the payments right away, get started as soon as possible.
More student loan repayment options
There are options if you’re having financial difficulties and can’t afford loan payments at this time. (Yes, it is ideal to start paying off your student loans as soon as possible, but life happens.)
Instead of simply ignoring your student loan bill, which has a negative effect on your credit score, communicate your hardship with your loan servicer or lender. Temporary deferment or forbearance options might be available, or your situation might qualify you for student loan forgiveness programs.