February 2013

Frustrations of Managing College Loans

During FAFSA season, remember this: getting the college loans is easier than managing them post-graduation.

Multiple telephone calls to Sallie Mae and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) – and a reporter’s tenacity – were required to get to the bottom of what seemed a simple question: is my niece, a recent college graduate and special education teacher, eligible to have some of her loans forgiven?

Our maddening quest for an answer is one small example, but it raises serious concern about whether freshly minted graduates can navigate the student loan maze and figure out their best strategies for paying back their loans. Yet their success will be critical to ensuring they don’t pay more than they should and that they are able to take advantage of the federal government’s repayment and forgiveness programs.

Squared Away invites graduates and parents to share their experiences, as well as tips for managing loans, in the comments section at the end of this article.

Our saga began last summer, during an interview with a financial adviser who mentioned that the federal government offers a forgiveness program for special education teachers. I immediately thought of my niece, Rachael, who was hired last fall in a suburban Chicago district. Now I needed to confirm it.

The reason I had to make five calls is that the DOE and Sallie Mae —Rachael’s biggest single lender – repeatedly conflated my question with a loan forgiveness program for teachers in low-income school districts. Yes, I agreed each time, there is a program for teachers in low-income schools – but that’s not what I’m calling about. My question is whether special ed teachers qualify for forgiveness regardless of the income level of their school district.

My 26-year-old niece is a straight-A student and has a graduate degree and the determination learned from playing basketball in college. But when it comes to her loans, she admits, “I don’t know what to ask.” Once we entered the college-loan maze, I learned how confusing this process is – even for this veteran reporter who does know what to ask.

Here’s the chronology of calls – the first one led by my niece – between December 26 and January 2: …Learn More