Reality of loan repayment frustrates most students

Stephanie Chen

Northwestern senior Jie Yu started saving up money to pay back her college loans last month.

Like many soon-to-be graduates on financial aid, Yu already has begun thinking about the loan repayment process.

“This summer I calculated my loans over the past four years,” she said. “I saw the total, and it kind of hit me by surprise.”

Students with federal loans — including Stafford and Perkins loans — have the option of consolidating them, which could save them thousands of dollars, said Paola Di Domenico, director of NU’s Office of Student Loans.

Only 35 percent of recent four-year graduate students have considered consolidating their loans, according to a survey released last week by College Funding Services, an education financial advice company.

The same study found that 41 percent of recent graduate students are unaware of the Federal Consolidation Loan Program.

This year’s graduating seniors should take advantage of the program because of the low interest rates, Di Domenico said. The program can help combine students’ interest rates and lower fixed rates.

Loan consolidation is a good option for students who want manageable payments, but consolidating means they could lose certain cancellation privileges, Di Domenico added.

Di Domenico said graduating seniors on financial aid will have an exit interview with the Office of Student Loans in May, when advisers will give students information on loan repayment. Students planning to become teachers, medical technicians or employees in law enforcement fields are exempt from certain payments if they work in the profession.

“Everybody can do whatever they want after they graduate, but they need to really consider going with cancellation or consolidation,” said Di Domenico, who added that most NU students do not know about debt consolidation because they are too busy with schoolwork.

“They come out a little overwhelmed sometimes because you’re looking at how much you borrow over a long period of time,” she said. “It’s a shock to some students.”

Yu said she has never heard anything about debt consolidation.

“But I’ll definitely look into it if it means paying less,” Yu said.

Weinberg junior Aliya Faust already has started paying back some of her loans this year. She wants to attend graduate school after she leaves NU. More schooling means more federal loans she will need to pay on her own.

“I’m just going to work and slowly start paying back,” she said.

Faust said she had not heard of loan consolidation, but it sounded appealing. She said she wants to learn more about loan repayment.

“If you actively seek information, then you’ll find the help you need,” Faust said. “If you start early now, then you won’t freak out when you graduate.”

Reach Stephanie Chen at [email protected]

Results from 2004 Collegiate Funding Services survey:

* 51 percent of those who have not paid off their loans have $20,000 or more in student loan debt; 37 percent pay $200 or more in monthly student loan payments.

* 33 percent were surprised at the amount they were required to pay when their first monthly student loan bill arrived.

* 36 percent of graduates who have received a student loan bill say they were unprepared to make the monthly payments.

* 59 percent of recent four-year college graduates with student loan debt are hindered or prevented from fulfilling other financial objectives such as purchasing a vehicle.