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How to Get A Handle on Student Loans

It's that time of the year again. Fall is in the air and thousands of newly-minted lawyers across the country are walking into their first jobs after having passed the bar exam (we hope!).

While the flush of starting a career is a lot of fun, there's usually a monster hiding in the background that many lawyers would prefer to avoid: staggering student loan debt. 

Luckily, paying off your student loans is a problem that you're well-equipped to handle, assuming you decide to take a proactive approach rather than burying your head in the sand.

Get your arms around your student loans

The first step for any new grad is to simply get your arms around the amount you owe and who you owe. That’s it. Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be.

You can login to the National Student Loan Data System to get an understanding of your federal loans, including which company will be servicing those loans.

I recommend creating a simple spreadsheet with columns such as: (1) loan servicer; (2) loan balance; (3) interest rate; (4) date first payment is due; and (5) account number.

This process shouldn’t take you too long and it’s critical that you understand the lay of the land when it comes to your student loans.

After you’re done adding it all up, congratulations! Take a break. Come back to it in a week. That’s all you need to do for now. By organizing your student loan information, we're avoiding the scenario where you login to Navient only to discover they’ve screwed up all your information.

Ready to tacke more?

Want to make more progress? Start thinking about how you’re going to pay off the debt. Will it be through a forgiveness program like Public Service Loan Forgiveness? If so, you’ll need to be filing the employment certification form each year.

Will you be paying them off with your hard-earned cash? If so, now is a good time to start sketching out how that repayment might go. You might consider opening a separate bank account and naming it something like Student Loan Cannon where you can shovel payments each month to keep yourself on track for paying off your loans quickly.

Keep in mind that your plan doesn’t need to be perfect today. It needs to be good enough and directionally correct.

Too many lawyers bury their head in the sand when it comes to student loans. Don’t let that be you. Good enough is good enough for now. Over time, you will perfect your repayment plan and optimize it as you settle into your career.

Finally, whatever you do, make sure you set up an automatic system. The automation is not so much because you’re a busy lawyer (which is true) but because paying off student loans is a slog. I paid off nearly $200,000 myself, in large part because the system was automated so I didn’t have to think about it each day or each month. It just happened while I was out living life.

Good luck and god speed!

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