Last week, there was more grim news about Minnesota graduates defaulting on their federal student loans. At last count, 8.6 percent stopped making payments in the first two years.
What many people don’t know is that most of those defaults can be avoided, says Tricia Grimes, the student loan expert at Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education.
There are, in fact, ways to lower or postpone monthly payments even after they come due, she said.
Among the options: repayment plans that are based on income, which are tailor-made for people in starter or low-pay jobs, or hardship deferments to delay the start of payments.
The options are no secret, but “many borrowers don’t pay attention,” Grimes said. The bank or loan servicer (“whoever they make payments to”) is required to inform them about their options, she said. Some options result in paying more interest over time, but people can change their repayment plans once a year, as circumstances change.
If they knew about them, more people might take advantage of them, she said.
Unfortunately, people tend to bury their heads in the sand when they can’t make their payments. They ignore the letters and phone calls from the bank or debt collector, hoping they’ll go away.
“It’s a very human tendency,” Grimes said, but one they almost always live to regret. “If they’re experiencing any trouble repaying their loans,” she said, “the most expensive thing they can do is let it default.”
What happens if they default? “The federal government has quite a few tools it can use to try to collect,” she said, including seizing income tax refunds, garnishing wages and turning the debt over to a collection agency, which only piles on the extra fees.
This fall, the federal government (when it reopens) is planning a campaign to remind borrowers of their options. Details can be found in the state’s Paying for College brochure (www.ohe.state.mn.us).