5 Reasons to Pay Attention During Your Student Loan Exit Interview

College seniors everywhere are getting excited for graduation. But if you’re among the majority of students who borrowed money to pay for college — more than 65 percent of graduates, in the latest year cited in a recent Department of Education report — you’ve got one more chance to learn before you don that cap and gown: your student loan exit interview.

All students borrowing federal student loans are required to attend student loan “entrance and exit” counseling when they begin and leave college. The entrance and exit interviews are usually conducted by a college financial aid office and can take place one-on-one, in a group setting or, increasingly, as online interviews.

With finals and plans for post-college life consuming all your brain power, it’s tempting to take a nap during the student loan exit session or to just breeze through it online and hit “I understand and agree.” But there are five things worth staying awake to hear about.

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1. Information on t he National Student Loan Data System: The most important take-away from your exit interview is the National Student Loan Data System, or NSLDS. This is the U.S. Department of Education’s central database for all federal student aid, including federal student loans. You’ll need your Free Application for Federal Student Aid personal identification number to access the NSLDS.

It’s important to know that NSLDS doesn’t contain any information on private or state student loans that don’t come from the federal government. If you took out private loans but didn’t keep your paperwork, order a free copy of your credit report to see a listing of all your student debt.

2. The total amount of money you owe: If you’ve been signing on the dotted line for four years or more without keeping a running tally of your total balance, your student loan exit interview is the perfect time to find out exactly how much you owe and what that looks like in terms of a monthly payment.

Using the NSLDS, you’ll see each federal student loan you’ve borrowed, the total balance of each, the monthly payment amount for each loan and which servicer you’ll need to pay.

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3. Tools to start devising your student loan repayment strategy: You may need to be resuscitated after seeing your total balance for the first time, but don’t panic. The exit interview should also detail the many options available to deal with your debt on a recent graduate’s salary.

Yes, federal student loans come with a lot of responsibility, but they also come with some nifty rights that most other consumer debt doesn’t have, like the ability to make your monthly payment a percentage of income or postpone payment temporarily if you’re in financial distress. Private student loans can be a little trickier, so if you have high debt, it might be a good idea to take advantage of the lower payment options available on your federal loans so you can afford to tackle the private loans.

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4. Financial literacy tips: Many colleges are incorporating general financial literacy into their entrance and exit sessions. All too many students leave college without a good understanding of basic financial knowledge, like budgeting, credit card use and earning and keeping good credit. Take advantage of the exit interview to hone your financial skills and start your post-college life off on the right foot.

5. Up-to-date student loan servicer contact information : For most of the exit interview, you’ll be on the receiving end of the information. But the one piece of data that you’ll be asked to provide — your mailing and email addresses — could actually be the key to keeping your loans on the right track.

Recent graduates move around a lot. At the Student Loan Ranger, we can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard student borrowers say that they missed their first payment because they never received a bill.

It’s your responsibility to make your first payment, even if you don’t receive notification from your loan servicer. So provide your address at the exit interview and get into the habit of notifying your servicer of any change in mailing or email address.

Allesandra Lanza is the director of corporate public relations for American Student Assistance. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the student loan industry, and has answered students’ questions about their federal loans; conducted on-campus loan counseling sessions for students as they enter and exit school; and written about loan repayment, debt management, budgeting and more. Lanza received a B.S. in journalism from Boston University.

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