EVANSVILLE – Preparation is key when it comes to student loans, according to Bill Wozniak.
College graduation season is wonderful, Wozniak said, but after the celebrations the reality of student loan debt sinks in.
Wozniak, INvestEd marketing vice president, said the nonprofit not only works to help students before and during college, but also after graduation. INvestEd is a Carmel-based nonprofit that provides financial-aid literacy to Hoosier students and
families. They also offer tuition loans and loan refinancing.
How much do students owe?
Student debt is more than $1.5 trillion nationwide, and Wozniak said it continues to rise in “big amounts every year.”
As for Indiana, he said the average college graduate has more than $29,000 in student loans. That can grow to $37,000 in “student-related debt,” which would include expenses like book fees on a credit card.
“Indiana is in line with the national figure,” Wozniak said. “We’re the middle of the pack as far as how much student loan debt graduates have.”
Wozniak stressed the importance of preparing for college by applying for as much “free money” as possible - file the FAFSA, apply for scholarships and other financial aid to make potential student loan debt as little as possible.
But sometimes debt is inevitable, he said, so he offered tips for managing debt post-graduation.
“What happens is sometimes students listen and sometimes they don’t,” Wozniak said. “And sometimes even when they do the best they can, there’s still debt.”
Know what you owe: Understand if your loans are federal or private, what the interest rates are, and what the repayment terms include, Wozniak said.
Some people may have multiple loans and could be eligible for federal student loan consolidation. Others may qualify for federal programs like income-based repayment.
“The beginning of it all is sorting out what is there,” Wozniak said. “And it can be in a few different places.”
Set a repayment goal: Many want to pay back the lowest cost, Wozniak said, and in the shortest time.
That can be difficult because it makes the monthly payment higher, and at a cost many recent college graduates can’t afford.
INvestED officials work to help families refinance loans which could include a lower monthly payment, lower interest rate, or lower overall cost.
“We work with them to have a manageable monthly payment even though it may extend the loan and they pay a little more interest in the long run,” he said. “The goal is the lowest overall loan cost, but sometimes it has to be the lowest monthly payment for practicality purposes. It’s a case-by-case basis.”
Take action: Don’t waste time, Wozniak advised. Be proactive and take care of loans now so you don’t overpay or miss opportunities from the start because you were in the wrong payment plan.
“Ignoring the debt doesn’t make it go away,” he said.
These tips aren’t exclusive to young people, he stressed, but to anyone who may have student loans.