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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

2014 April

Navigating Student Loan Repayment

Tom BenzaStudent Financial Aid Expert Contributor – Tom Benza, Associate Director

Student loans are an important factor to consider when creating and managing a budget. Knowledge is power. Find out how much you owe (and the monthly payment), when you need to start repaying the loans, and what options you have for repayment (e.g. IBR – Income Based Repayment).

Here are 5 steps to take when entering student loan repayment:

Step 1: Student Award History Report. Stop by the Student Financial Aid office located in Room 4 of Reynolda Hall and request a copy of your Student Award History Report from the front desk counselor. This report details each grant, scholarship, work-study, and loan awarded to you while at Wake Forest. The report also includes contact information for Federal Stafford and Perkins loans, WFU administered student loans like the Denmark, Wallace, and Hutchins loans, and the Need-Based Private loan. If you have any questions about your award history, you can schedule an appointment with a financial aid counselor.

Step 2: Log into NSLDS*.  The National Student Loan Data System, is the Department of Education’s central database for student aid.  NSLDS receives data from schools, guarantee agencies, the Direct Loan program, and the Department of ED programs. NSLDS Student Access provides a centralized, integrated view of Title IV loans and grants so that recipients of Title IV federal aid can access and inquire about their Title IV loans and/or grant data. This site will provide information on your federal loan balance, loan interest rates, and loan grace periods (grace periods vary from 1, 6, or 9 months after graduation depending on the loan).  

Step 3: Know your loan servicer. All federal Stafford loans are awarded through the Department of Education’s Direct Loan program, but when the loan enters repayment, Direct Loans uses loan servicers to administer repayment. Examples of loan servicers are Sallie Mae, Great Lakes, Fed Loan Services, etc. For more information on federal loan servicers, check out this site. For information on WFU administered loans such as Perkins, Denmark, Wallace, Hutchins, review your Student Award History report or contact Student Financial Aid: finaid@nullwfu.edu

Step 4: Understand Repayment Options: There are a myriad of repayment options available to federal student loan borrowers. This Federal Student Aid site on repayment gives a comprehensive breakdown of federal repayment plans as well as a good estimator to help calculate what your monthly repayments would be under different plans. If you’re interested in loan consolidation to take advantage of certain income based repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, visit the Federal Direct Loan Consolidation site. 

Step 5: Communicate with your loan servicer. If you have a problem making your payments, do not ignore the problem. One of the biggest mistakes a student can make is not addressing repayment head on.  Federal student loans are flexible and there may be financial hardship programs that can help a student get through a rough patch. Ignoring mail or emails from your loan servicer is a recipe for disaster. The Student Financial Aid office can assist students with repayment questions after the student graduates. If you’re more comfortable speaking with a financial aid counselor you worked with while at Wake, reach out to the counselor with your questions. 

Twitter Q&A on Tuesday, April 29 @ 12pm 

Tweet student loan questions using #WFDebtFree and get real-time answers from Tom Benza, Associate Director, Student Financial Aid.  Follow @WFU_OPCD for details.


*The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) central database for student aid. NSLDS receives data from schools, guaranty agencies, the Direct Loan program, and other Department of ED programs. NSLDS Student Access provides a centralized, integrated view of Title IV loans and grants so that recipients of Title IV Aid can access and inquire about their Title IV loans and/or grant data.

Budgeting Your Expenses

Once you track your spending habits, you’ll be prepared to create a budget. Also, it provides clarity on your needs versus your wants. It is important to distinguish the two categories. Needs are rent, meals, and electricity (e.g. utilities). Wants are luxuries such as lunch at Chipotle. Are you spending too much on the wants or got-to-haves?

Whether living at home or on your own, a budget will help you stay on track. First, you need to know your monthly net income (amount received after taxes and deductions), scholarship or stipend amount. Second, think about your expected monthly expenses. For example, rent…This is a fixed expense; it doesn’t vary from month to month. Some expenses fluctuate, like groceries. These are called variable expenses. Third, research areas where you can spend less such as having a roommate to share the cost of rent, and taking your lunch to work as opposed to eating out. Buying lunch everyday can quickly add up, so can a Starbucks latte in the morning.

Here are 4 budgeting resources to help you stay on track:

1. CashCourse—A free online financial resource for Wake Forest students. Learn to manage money and financial literacy through a variety of fun interactive tools such as videos, calculators, and worksheets. Manage your budget using the budget wizard by tracking your expenses. The information will help you make informed financial decisions throughout your college years and into your professional life. Available when you want to manage your money!

2. Mint—See all your balances and transactions together, on the web or your phone. Mint automatically pulls all your financial information into one place, so you can finally get the entire picture. Mint automatically updates and categorizes your information, and suggests ways to help you save. Mint sends automatic alerts—like bill reminders—to your mobile phone or email. Set a budget and create a plan to reach your personal financial goals. You can track your progress online or stay up-to-date with monthly emails.

3. Bank RateA comprehensive, objective financial literacy site providing information on financial news, money management and calculators for budgeting.

Personal Finance—Budgeting Calculator

Student Loans—Student Loan Calculator

4. Hands on BankingAccess free online financial courses that are self-paced with information and tools, such as calculators, glossary, worksheets, money management tips, and helpful links. The program provides the essentials of financial education, real-world skills, and knowledge through interactive lessons based on age appropriate groups.

*Many financial institutions provide their own mobile apps for banking-on-the-go for either checking your account or watching your monthly budget/spending plan.

Not sure how to plan or budget for student loan repayment after graduation?

Visit next week for expert advice from Tom Benza, Associate Director of Student Financial Aid.


Tracking Your Spending Habits

Tracking your spending habits may seem like a daunting task. However, it is the first step in knowing where and how much you are spending daily, weekly and monthly. I challenge you to experiment for a week. You will be surprised on what and how much you spend your money. It is important to track every purchase even the small ones such as a pack of gum.

Here are 3 simple steps to follow:

1.  Save it. Keep your receipts. They will help you remember what you purchased from day to day. They will be useful references when tracking your purchases. Place the receipts into a folder, envelope or shoebox.

2.  Track it. Write down your purchases in a journal or log. Do not include your fixed expenses such as rent. If you prefer, input your expenses into a spreadsheet or online worksheet. Try Wells Fargo’s My Money Journal as a guide. Create your own using Excel.

3.  Calculate it. You want to review what you have spent each day. It is important to calculate your expenses. Total your expenditures at the end of  each day and week for a 7-day total.

What next? Come back next week for budgeting tips.

Celebrating National Financial Literacy Month

Are you fiscally fit? Do you know how much money you spend each week or month? Are you aware of your budget? Do you have a budget? How are you going to repay student loans?

It is wise to start thinking about tracking spending, creating a budget, and preparing for student loan repayment now. You may be surprised by how you easily could save or pay off debt with the money you’re spending.

Be frugal. It doesn’t mean you have to be tight with your money. Be intentional with your spending. Do you really need that Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte (my favorite) from Starbucks? Probably not.

Be creative. Can you recreate your favorite coffees or teas at home for a fraction of the cost? You will save approximately 80% of your money. Instead of spending >$5.00 for a beverage, save $4 and spend only $1. Small purchases add up to a lot saved.

Experiment for a week. Track everything you purchase. Yes, even write down the pack of gum bought at the convenience store. You will find that you may be spending money freely without giving it much thought. Once you start tracking, you’ll notice a shift in how you make decisions on purchases. You will start asking yourself, “Do I really need that pack of gum?”

Don’t know where to start? Luckily, WFU offers CashCourse, a free and unbiased reallife money guide. Get started now, register for a free account. When you sign up, you will be registered to win a $50 VISA gift card.

Here’s what you get with CashCourse:

  • A Budget Wizard to build your own monthly budget with your real income and expenses
  • Videos offering quick lessons on financial basics 
  • Calculators to help you demystify your debt or set a savings goal
  • Worksheets to help you organize your life, build a budget, and master your student aid
  • Articles on real issues you’re dealing with now, as well as topics to prepare for your future
  • A Financial Experts Wall, where you can submit questions to CashCourse experts
  • Quizzes and courses to test what you know and show you where to go for more information

Want more? Follow the blog for tips on how to become more fiscally fit and build your financial muscle.

Finding Community

Allison McWilliamsOPCD Expert Contributor – Allison McWilliams, Ph.D., Director of Mentoring Resource Center & Alumni Personal and Professional Development

The Importance of Finding “Community”

You’ve gotten the job or the acceptance into graduate school. You’ve made the move to a new city. You’ve met your new colleagues (most of whom are much older than you) and received an orientation to your new role. You’re confident in your abilities to be successful or at least that you’ll be able to figure it out as you go. This is what you’ve been waiting for and working for, right? But for some reason, it doesn’t feel exactly like what you thought it would be. What’s missing? During all of these years of work and preparation to build a career, no one’s told you how, exactly, to build a life.

This is one of the most frequent topics I encounter when I talk to young alums, no matter where they have moved after graduation. How, they wonder, does one make friends? How do I fill my time? Often these concerns are more troubling than those more directly career-related, and they are certainly no less important. Indeed, it is critical that you find a way to build a community where you live, no matter where that is or how long you plan to be there. Your community is your support network, your go-to people in good times and bad. Your community is made up of people who fulfill you, challenge you, and align with your values. In fact, one of the great things about being a “grown up” is that, for the first time, you actually get to pick who these people are! But how do you do that? How do you make friends in the “real world”?

Here are some tips on a few steps you can take, starting right now.

1. Live where you are. Even if you are only moving somewhere for a short time, say a one-year fellowship or graduate school, don’t act like you are just visiting the place. Hang pictures on the walls. Put down roots. First, you never know what will happen. I moved to Athens, Georgia for graduate school after college, and stayed for 15 years. Life and plans change, often unexpectedly. Second, acting like you live in a place will change your attitude towards that place tremendously. Take advantage of what this new town has to offer you, while you are there.

2. Join a group. I will always remember, when I was in my first professional position following graduate school, my mother telling me that I needed to “join a group.” I dismissed this notion at the time, thinking that I’m not a joiner, and that it sounded hard. Well, you know what? It can be hard, especially for those of us who are more introverted. And, it’s important. In your first year in a new place, join anything and everything. Join civic organizations, social organizations, alumni groups, faith-based groups, anything and everything that is an organized gathering of people. You don’t have to stick with it all, and in fact I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that you do. But take the time to check these groups out and figure out what works for you.

3. Say yes to everything. Again, just for the first year or so, do not turn down any invitation that comes your way. Someone invites you to coffee, say yes. Someone asks you to build a habitat house on the weekend, say yes. This is not the time to be picky. Not only will these activities fill your time with meaningful and enjoyable pursuits, they will have the added benefit of allowing you to get to know other people in a casual way. Just like with number 2, above, just because you say yes to a lot of people at first doesn’t mean you have to become best friends with these people and spend every waking moment with them. But you never know whom you might meet along the way.

4. Look for online groups. In the past few years quite a few resources have been developed for the expressed purpose of pulling people together. Why? Because a lot of other young people are in the exact same situation that you are. For example, Meetup.com is a forum for people with shared interests to connect around everything from business interests to outdoor pursuits to volunteering. And, if you don’t see something that interests you, you can create a group of your own. Chances are there is someone else out there who is interested in the same thing.

5. Think about what matters to you. For the first time, perhaps, there is nothing that you necessarily have to do. This is a great opportunity to assess what you value and how you want to spend your free time. You’re not going to be able to do everything, so what are those few things that you want to invest in? Time, in the adult world, is a precious commodity, as you will soon find out. Be thoughtful about how you give yours away.

6. Continue your education. For those of you in graduate school, you will have a slight advantage over those who are working, as graduate school provides a built-in group of like-minded people going through a similar experience together. But if you’re not in school, there are tons of great opportunities to further your education in formal and informal ways. Look for continuing education courses at the local community college. Finally learn that second language, how to knit, or how to write the great American novel. Seek out interesting speakers and cultural events hosted by book stores, libraries, and art centers. Not only will you continue to feed your intellectual side, you will have the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people.

7. Above all, have patience. It’s important to recognize that you have been in this place before, even if it didn’t look exactly the same, and all of the tools that you need are within you. When you came to Wake Forest you also had to figure out how to make friends and how you wanted to spend your time. It’s just that it’s been so long since freshman year that you’ve forgotten those first few awkward months when you had to grab someone you didn’t know and go to the Pit together. This is the same situation, with a slightly different look to it. And, it won’t be the last time, either. So be intentional and be reflective as you go through this important transition. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. And remember that life is long and this is all part of the adventure.