Manage Your Money

The first step to avoiding financial potholes and dead ends is to take control of your finances. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to take action. Build a budget. Identify your financial goals.

Building a budget

Budgeting begins with developing a spending plan. To do this, track your spending and income for a month or two in a log book, breaking the two items into two columns. At the end of the month, total the columns and compare them. If the calculation results in a negative number, it’s time to re-evaluate spending practices. Start by paying your major bills first (rent, tuition, etc.) and then cut back on unnecessary expenses like daily lattes and eating out. Continue trimming until you no longer have a deficit. Once you have your spending under control, begin to set aside money in a savings account every paycheck — every little bit counts! Many websites are available to help you budget for your future. For more information on this site, click here, or visit or

In addition, click here to find a Student Assistance Foundation campus outreach office near you. Our knowledgeable outreach staff can help you get on track to financial success.

It’s not the end of the world

Leaving college with some debt isn’t the end of the world. In fact, in the current economy, it’s almost expected. The true test, however, will be how you choose to manage it. You can continue to follow the tenets of the spending plan you developed, or you can allow the debt to grow. Remember, how you manage your debt now could have a profound effect on your future financial stability including whether you are able to buy a car, purchase a house, and more.

Managing student loan debt

Now that you are no longer a student, your student loans will soon be entering repayment. Grace periods on federal student loans come to an end six months after graduation, or after you leave school. Part of your responsibility as a student loan borrower is to be aware of the loans you have, and to ensure they are paid in a timely manner. Several tools exist to help you meet these obligations.

National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)

NSLDS is the U.S. Department of Education’s central clearinghouse for federal student aid and is an excellent tool for you to keep track of what loans you have and their status. The system receives information from schools, guarantee agencies and more to allow students to access the majority of their federal student aid information in one location. Please note that information about private loans and some other forms of non-government aid is not reflected on NSLDS. To log on to NSLDS go to: Be sure to have your FAFSA PIN available to access the website.

Tips for managing student loan debt

  • Borrow only what is necessary.
  • Pay the accrued interest on Federal Unsubsidized Loans before the end of the grace period.
  • Make on-time payments every month during repayment.
  • Borrowers should contact their lender or servicer as soon as they know they will have trouble making a payment. Other options such as deferments or forbearances may be available

College loan forgiveness

As you consider how to pay for your college education, investigate whether any of these loan forgiveness programs apply to your career path.

  • Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program — Certain teachers qualify for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness under this program on Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program and Direct loans. For more information regarding qualifications, go to
  • Federal Health Care Worker Loan Forgiveness Programs — The U.S. Department of Public Health and Human Services administers several loan programs for undergraduate students, and in some circumstances, will forgive loans. Visit, or contact your lender for more information.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness — This program discharges any remaining debt after 10 years of full-time employment in public service. The borrower must have made 120 payments as part of the Direct Loan program in order to obtain this benefit. Only payments made on or after Oct. 1, 2007 count toward the required 120 monthly payments. (Borrowers may consolidate their loans into the Direct lending program in order to qualify for this loan forgiveness program.) Contact your lender for more information.
  • Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program (Montana only) — The Montana legislature has authorized a Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program for K-12 educators and licensed professionals. The program provides for the direct repayment of educational loans. The total loan repayment assistance may not exceed $3,000 per year for up to four years. The number of students accepted is limited and contingent upon legislative appropriations. Qualified applicants will be ranked based on a scoring system that takes into account the effected schools and academic areas.
    To qualify for loan assistance, an educator must be:
    • A full-time educator holding a valid educator license, or a licensed professional providing services to students in a school district, an education cooperative, the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, the Montana Youth Challenge Program or a state youth correctional facility.
    • Teaching in an impacted school. These schools tend to be rural and isolated, have a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students, and/or have greater challenges in closing the achievement gap.
    • Teaching in an impacted academic area. These areas are Music, Mathematics, Special Education, Science, Speech/Language Pathologist, World Languages, School Counselor, Library/Media, and Business. Applications and instructions are available online at and must be received at the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program, 2500 Broadway, Helena, MT 59601.
  • Questions regarding the program and application process may be directed to Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program at (800) 537-7508.

Repayment options:

Standard Repayment Plan — This repayment term allows borrowers to make the same payment every month for the entire life of the loan, usually 10 years.

Graduated Repayment Plan — This repayment option allows borrowers to make lower payments at first, with payment amounts increasing over time (usually every two years).

Income Based Repayment Plan — This schedule allows you to repay your loans based on a specific payment amount calculated annually using your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and family size. After 25 years of these payments any balance remaining may be eligible for loan forgiveness (certain other requirements must also be met).

Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan — This repayment option can lower payments based on the borrower’s income, but will never drop below monthly interest accrual.

Income Contingent Repayment Plan — This schedule allows you to repay your loans based on adjusted gross income, family size and the total amount of your Direct Loans. Under this plan, you will pay the lesser of the amount you would pay if you repaid your loan in 12 years multiplied by an income percentage factor that varies with your annual income, or 20 percent of your monthly discretionary income. After 25 years of payments, any balance remaining may be eligible for forgiveness. Available for Direct Loans only.

Extended Repayment Plan — Extended repayment requires a principal balance totaling at least $30,000. With this option, a borrower’s repayment period can be extended up to 25 years and may be set up as either standard or graduated repayment.

Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan — This repayment plan often has the lowest monthly payment amount of the repayment plans based on your income. To qualify, you must have a partial financial hardship. FFEL loans may not be repaid under this program and you must be a new borrower as of Oct. 1, 2007, and must have received a disbursement of a Direct Loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011. Payment amounts may increase or decrease each year based on income and family size. Once you have qualified for this repayment plan, you may continue to make payments under the plan even if you no longer have a partial financial hardship.