It seems like just yesterday that May college graduates were celebrating, but now student loan grace periods are ending, and it's time to start paying back all that money -- nationally, an average of $26,500, according to the College Board.
Get organized: Determine which loans are with which lenders, says PK Parekh of Discover Student Loans in Chicago. Know how much you owe and the interest rates on each.
Review repayment options: Depending on your profession, you might be eligible for loan forgiveness, says Chanel Greene, manager of financial aid at Philadelphia's Peirce College. For federal loans, go to StudentLoans.gov for options. See which option is most affordable.
Pay smart: Consider paying biweekly; this adds up to one extra payment at the end of the year, says Ken Lin, CEO of CreditKarma.com. "Sign up for automatic payments so you're never late," adds David Bendix, a financial planner with The Bendix Financial Group in Garden City; it may also qualify you for a reduced interest rate. Pay off the highest-rate loan first and pay more than the minimum if you can.
Don't ignore them: "How you pay your student loans can affect your credit rating and impact your ability to get a credit card, car loan or rent an apartment," says Patricia Nash Christel, spokesperson for Sallie Mae, a financial services company specializing in education.
Communicate: If you've moved or changed email, tell your lender. If you can't make payments, ask your lender about hardship programs.