The Next Step
First, determine what your plans are for the upcoming year. Specifically, prior to next year’s match, will you continue as a student (by delaying graduation and furthering your education, obtaining a transitional slot, or performing research under the umbrella of your medical school)? If your medical school continues to report you as a fully enrolled student, then your federal student loans will NOT require payment. However, if you plan to graduate this year, you need to take the following actions.
Finding the Details of Your Loans
Organize your loans by identifying the servicer of each loan -- a servicer is the manager of your student loans. Your federal student loan information, including the name of the servicer and their contact information, is listed within your account on studentaid.gov. Payment due dates are determined by the loan servicer; however, Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a 6-month grace period, and Direct PLUS Loans have a 6-month post-enrollment deferment immediately following medical school. During this time, no payments are required but when this period is over, you will either need to postpone repayment, or you will need to select an affordable repayment plan.
To confirm the existence and length of a grace period or post-enrollment deferment, postpone payment, or pursue a repayment plan, you will need to contact your loan servicer(s). Many servicers will provide information on their website to assist you with managing these details.
If you prefer to postpone payments, you can request a deferment or forbearance. However, the loan servicer will determine your eligibility for either option. With a deferment and a forbearance, payments are not required. A deferment may be preferred (if you have subsidized loans from undergraduate study) because during a deferment, subsidized loans will not accrue interest. The types of deferment that you may qualify for include an Economic Hardship Deferment or an Unemployment Deferment – though both have stringent eligibility requirements.
If you don’t qualify for deferment, then forbearance may be an option. A forbearance is granted by the servicer and is at the discretion of the servicer. During forbearance, payments can either be reduced or postponed. If postponed, payments are not required, but interest accrues on both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Contact your servicer(s) to discuss your deferment and forbearance options.
If you want to begin making payments, then you’ll need to select an affordable repayment plan. If you don’t select a plan, your servicer will automatically enroll you in the 10-year Standard repayment plan. Your monthly payments will be based on your loan balance and the repayment term. Depending on the amount you owe, this payment may not be affordable, so you should know that there are also payment plans that base your monthly payment on your household size and income. These plans are called income-driven repayment plans and they include Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR). In some cases, a payment as low as $0/month is possible with these plans. Discuss these options with your servicers (before grace is over) to determine which plan best fits your needs. Some of your federal loans could benefit from consolidation.
The options discussed here are for federal student loans and may or may not be available for private loans. If you have private loans or institutional loans, you will need to contact the lender of those loans to find out what options are available.
You have a lot to focus on in the upcoming year so take care of your loans by staying in touch with your servicer(s). Update your servicer(s) with any address changes and be sure to open and read any mail you receive. Your loans will require more attention than they did in the past, so stay proactive.