How Your Credit Report Can Help You Manage Student Loans

Handling your student loan payments may not be easy, but here's where you can start to take control.

More than 1.8 million students graduate from college in 2017. While it’s a momentous achievement, many graduates will walk away with significant student loan debt. Though keeping up with monthly payments can be difficult, knowing how to budget for them can be an even bigger obstacle.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know how to begin managing your loans, your credit report can be an essential tool. Here’s how your credit report can help you take control of your debt.

What’s in Your Credit Report?

Your credit report is a complete picture of your financial history. It contains information about your bills, loans and what credit cards you have open.

Lenders use your credit report to make decisions on your reliability and financial stability. They look at your report to evaluate whether to offer you a car loan, mortgage or a new credit card. However, your credit report is an invaluable source of information for you too, especially if you have student loans.

2 Ways Your Credit Report Can Help You Manage Your Loans

When you’re in school and take out federal or private student loans, it’s easy to lose track of who your lenders are or how much you borrowed — especially if you don’t have to start repaying them yet.

To make things more difficult, your debt can sometimes transfer to a new loan servicer. If that happens, you’ll have to make payments on a different website and you’ll have a new account. That’s where your credit report comes in handy. You can use it to locate your loans and their current status in the following ways:

  1. Identify your loan servicer: If you aren’t sure who your loan servicer is, use your credit report to identify who manages your loans. Your credit report will list all the institutions behind your debt. Once you have the name of your servicer, you can use that information to sign into your account and begin making payments.
  2. Find out your current balance: Thanks to interest, your loan balance could grow while you’re in school. If you’re unsure what amount you owe, your credit report will list the current balance on your loans.

Where to Get Your Free Credit Report

There are many services that will send your credit report for a fee. However, paying for your credit report is unnecessary. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s a good idea to stagger your credit reports throughout the year. For example, you could review one credit report from each agency every four months. That way, you can continually review your credit report for issues, rather than waiting a full 12 months. Catching problems early can save you money and protect your credit.

You can also check your credit scores for free on Credit.com. They’re updated regularly and can help you spot changes in your credit reports if they go up or down unexpectedly.

What to Do If There’s an Error

An essential part of checking your credit report is reviewing it for errors. Sometimes loans are reported incorrectly or, in cases of identity theft, fraudulent accounts can be put under your name.

If you find an issue, whether it’s a simple mistake or a more serious issue of theft or fraud, it’s important to take action right away. If the accounts in error become delinquent, those late payments can cause your credit report and score to plummet. That will make it more difficult for you to get a loan, a new credit card or get approved for a new apartment. The longer you wait to act, the longer it could take to correct.

To report a problem, write a letter disputing the errors and send it in the mail to the following:

  • Equifax: Equifax Information Services, LLC., P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA, 30348
  • Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion: TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016

You should also notify the bank or financial institution that reported the error. Include copies of any supporting evidence you may have to prove your case.

To ensure you have a record of contacting the organizations, it’s a good idea to send the letter as certified mail as proof.

If you report the error and the credit bureaus and financial institutions do not fix the issue, you can escalate the problem to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Managing Your Credit

Graduating from college is a huge milestone, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed managing your student loans. From figuring out who your loan servicer is to learning how much your loans grew, the process can be complex.

Getting your credit report and credit scores and reviewing them thoroughly can help you keep track of your loans and stay current on your payments.

Image: g-stockstudio

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5 Smart Money Moves to Make After Graduation

There are so many decisions you need to make leading up to that first day. Here's what you need to know.

Starting your first job can be overwhelming. There are so many decisions you need to make leading up to your first day. Then there are all the decisions you need to make during the first week, so much so that you need to know the right questions to ask to avoid making any glaring mistakes.

I remember the weeks leading up to my first day. I was moving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore to work for a huge defense contractor, and I was a mess. It was my first real job, with a real paycheck. I was putting a huge deposit down on my first apartment. I bought a new car. I was overwhelmed by the huge employee manual, and my human resources rep asked if I wanted to contribute to a 401K. A 401—what?

I had no idea what I was doing.

Fortunately, I had a friend who had done this all before and he gave me some great advice. When I look back, I’m thankful for his guidance because he helped me avoid many headaches and build up an above-average net worth. Here’s what he told me.

1. Build Up Your Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is a crucial defense against financial disaster. Whether it’s an accident or something needing repair, an emergency fund helps you manage the problem without you having to go into debt. (Here are a few ways to turbocharge your emergency savings.)

When you don’t have a fund and your car breaks down, how will you fix it? You still need to get to work or you might get fired, which is worse than a broken-down car. If you don’t have the cash, your only choice is to put the costly repair on your credit card with its double-digit interest rate. Now you have a problem made much bigger by debt. (Debt can have a significant impact on your credit as well. You can see how by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Make the choice to start an emergency fund. At a minimum, have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved. Disaster will strike, so start saving today so you are ready.

2. Save for Retirement

When you start making real money, it’s time to start thinking about retirement. Retirement is a long way off, but your decisions today can have a huge impact on when and if you’ll be able to retire when you want.

If your employer offers a retirement plan, learn the details on how you can benefit. Many employers that offer a defined contribution plan, like a 401K, usually offer incentives for you to contribute. My first employer matched 50% of my contributions up to 4% of my salary. When I contributed 4% of my salary, they added an extra 2%.

With investments, time is your best friend and saving early is key.

If your employer doesn’t offer a 401K plan, you can still invest in a taxable brokerage account or turn to an IRA. In those accounts, you can take advantage of index funds, which are some of the cheapest and best ways to invest money.

3. Keep Housing Costs Low

Remember this important money ratio: Keep your housing costs less than 30% of your income. It’s easy to fall in love with an awesome apartment or house in a new area. And it’s easy to commit to a high monthly payment because you tell yourself it’s worth it. But don’t fall into that trap!

By keeping your monthly fixed costs low, the largest of which will likely be your housing, you can save more money or use it to pay down debt like student loans.

4. Get Enough Insurance

Insurance is something you pay for and hope you’ll never need to use. If you end up needing it, however, you’ll be glad you have enough.

How much is enough insurance? That depends on your financial and family situation. If you’ve had time to build up a sizable emergency fund, you can increase your deductibles. If you don’t have a big emergency fund, you can keep your deductibles lower for now. Once you build up those reserves, increase the deductible to something with which you’re comfortable.

5. Build Your Social Network

This may not seem like a financial decision, but it is. Work toward building a network of friends and professional contacts in your field. The vast majority of jobs are not filled by being listed on a job site but through referrals. I got my second job, and a 15% raise, because of someone I knew.

Building up a network doesn’t have to feel slimy. It’s as simple as maintaining existing relationships and finding places to meet new people. It will also help make life a little more interesting.

Image: SolStock

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7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Life After Graduation

Adult life can be tough. Here are some hard truths new graduates should know as they head into the world.

I got my first job out of college pretty quickly. In fact, I started the day after I wrapped up my full-time internship. In hindsight, I probably should have asked for at least one day between, but I was too eager to please my bosses to do so.

Within two weeks of accepting the offer, I managed to find an apartment and a roommate. I left the last day of my internship with a mattress stuffed into my Honda Accord, enough clothes for the work week and little else. I figured I could move the rest of my things on the weekend.

That night, I ate takeout Chinese food on my mattress on the floor, and read my roommate’s copy of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” until it got too dark to see (I hadn’t brought lamp with me). That was how adulthood started for me.

Life after college gets real. Adjusting to being on your own can be a struggle, especially if you’ve been reliant on your parents to pay your taxes and schedule appointments and tell you to wake up before noon.

Here are some other things people might not tell you about life after graduation.

1. You Might Not Get a Job in Your Major

If you majored in basket weaving or worse, journalism, you might not find your ideal job right away. That’s OK. You have little experience. (Here are 50 tips for recent grads looking for work.) There’s no shame in taking an internship or even volunteering to brush up your resume.

You may also end up taking a job completely unrelated to your field of study. This is a good idea if you have student loans coming due. And you might end up loving the job. I have a friend who majored in geology and works as a computer programmer, and another who studied anthropology and works in property development and they’re both doing great. Your path will take you to unexpected places. Changing direction isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

2. You’ll Probably Change Jobs. A Lot

If it isn’t already, the idea of holding the same job for your entire career is fast becoming antiquated. Changing jobs is sometimes the best way to get a raise or a better title.

Because of that, you need to make sure your resume is tip-top, you’re charming in interviews and you don’t burn any bridges. A broad network of colleagues is going to be important throughout your career.

3. Money Isn’t Everything … But It’s a Big Deal

Taxes, saving for retirement, dealing with student loans, rent, dinner and everything else you’ll shell out for as a grown-up will occupy a big part of your brain power. Be sure you’re getting the right information on all these things. There’s plenty of advice on Credit.com and elsewhere online.

Many job-related questions should be directed to your human resources department. Your parents or peers can help you with budget advice. Be sure to ask if you’re confused about anything. Complacency with money can lead to long-lasting and damaging consequences. (That includes damage to your credit. Check on yours with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

Money is complicated and not always in your hands. The economy can tank unexpectedly. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to have setbacks. But if you start laying a solid foundation now, you’ll have a better chance of bouncing back.

4. You Need to Develop Good Habits on Your Own

Adults don’t have gym teachers forcing them to exercise. Adults don’t have people telling them to wake up on time to pack their lunch.

No one’s going to make doctor’s appointments for you or remind you to brush your teeth. A big part of adulthood is doing all that stuff yourself, even though it’s boring, because it’s good for you.

5. You’ll Probably Live With Your Parents Again

Rent is expensive. Starting salaries aren’t great. That combination, plus the inevitable tumult of your 20s, will probably lead you back to your childhood bedroom, perhaps more than once.

This is not the end of the world. Many people aren’t lucky enough to have a fall-back place to crash. If you’re really worried, we threw together a few tips on moving back home.

Living at home might cramp your style, but it can also help you save money. Savor mom’s cooking, washing machine, couch, cable subscription and all the other perks while someone else is paying for them.

6. Your Best Advocate Is You

No one else is going to ask your boss to give you the raise you deserve. No one is going to make a better case for your promotion than you.

You might feel grateful just to get your first job after college, but you should absolutely negotiate your salary and make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Even after you get the job, you need to continue to advocate for yourself for raises, for added responsibilities or for promotions.

You might not feel comfortable with what can seem like bragging, but you can’t depend on your superiors noticing on their own how great you are. You need to advocate for yourself.

7. It’s Not a Race

You probably have Facebook, which means when your cousin or classmate lands their dream job or buys a house before you, you will know about it and feel like a loser.

Don’t compare yourself. Life is not a race. There is no prescribed timeline by which you’re supposed to make your dreams come true.

Someone, somewhere, will always be doing better than you. But if you are reading this on an electronic device under a roof, you are probably doing just fine.

It is unhealthy to base your happiness on how well they are doing. You, like everyone else, will get some helping of triumph, tragedy, boredom and ideally, about a third of the time, sleep. Your mileage may vary, but you need to deal with it on your own terms, not anyone else’s.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: FatCamera

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50 Things Recent Grads Can Do to Score Their First Job

Consider this a crash course on getting a job after graduation.

If you’re a college senior and are nearing the time when you’re going to walk across the stage, you’re probably filled with a lot of excitement. And maybe even some panic, especially if you don’t have your next step lined up.

According to the Accenture Strategy 2016 U.S. College Graduate Employment study, four out of five graduates thought about how many jobs were available in the industry they were considering before choosing their major. But even with that foresight, only 21% of the class of 2016 had accepted a job before graduating.

So if you’re about ready to throw your cap in the air and don’t have your first job lined up yet, here are 50 things you can do to help make that happen.

1. Remember, It’s Your First Job

Yes, you have the education, but now you need real-world experience. The first job you get right out of school probably won’t be your dream job, so adjust your view and think of it as another step in getting you there.

2. Start With an Internship

It may seem like something you stop doing after graduation, but having an internship means you’ll “have something on [your] resume, learn some real-world work skills and possibly have another reference for [your] ongoing job hunt,” Dr. Crystal I. Lee, a licensed psychologist and owner of LA Concierge Psychologist, said. And this role could ultimately land you a full-time, permanent position.

3. Fill in the Gaps

Take a look at your industry and see what skills you may need that you didn’t gain in your formal education. “There are lots of relatively short programs, many of them at universities themselves, to teach these kind of ‘last-mile’ skills,” Andrew Overby of Yonderwork, an international community experience for remote workers, said. “It can only help.”

4. Expand Your Network

“Go out there and get coffee meetings with people you respect and look up to,” said Phi Pham, co-founder of Building Beats, an education startup in New York City. “Find a way to provide value to them and the dividends will pay off in job connections.”

5. Volunteer

“Reach out to a local nonprofit and see how you can put your skills to work [during] your job search,” Pham said. Plus, the people you meet when doing this can build up your network.

6. Start a Side Project

Having something you’re doing while you’re looking for full-time work “shows that you spend your time learning and figuring out how to make something meaningful for the world,” Pham said.

7. Adjust Your View

Try not to limit your applications based on pre-conceived notions about the working world. “You may think you want to work for a large corporation, bu find yourself interning or working for a small business and you feel satisfaction in knowing you are part of a team and making a valuable contribution,” Candace Dennig, director of student services at the Art Institute of Washington, said.

8. Ask for Advice

“Talk to instructors, friends and fellow students and ask for advice — are there any companies that they suggest reaching out to in hopes of securing employment?” Dennig said.

9. Take a Look at Your Credit Reports

It may seem strange, but knowing what’s showing up on your credit reports may be insightful. After all, many employers review a version of these reports as part of the vetting process. You can see a free snapshot of your credit reports on Credit.com.

10. Think About Relocating

“You sometimes do need to be living in the city in which you want to work before getting a job because it makes it easier for you to get in for interviews on short notice and network in the community,” Erin Lowry, millennial finance expert and author, said. Not sure which city may be the place to go? Check out this list of the best (and worst) cities for new graduates seeking work.

11. Visit Your Childhood Bedroom … 

Going home to stay with your parents may not be feasible for everyone, but if it’s an option, it could save you some rent money until you land a job. See if your parents will offer you a discount on rent in exchange for doing work around the house. This will offer you some flexibility in terms of not having to worry about breaking a lease if you get a job out of town, plus you won’t be racking up as many bills while you look for work.

12. … But Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Yes, there are many perks that can come with staying with your parents, but don’t let that put you in a rut. Use this time to your advantage — put money in savings for all the things you’ll need when a job comes your way. This includes things like paying rent, student loans and all your other bills.

13. Set Aside Time to Apply

From finals to social events, your schedule is probably pretty packed. But it’s important to set aside blocks of time to research jobs and apply for the ones that fit your skillset. This will help make sure you aren’t rushing and making mistakes on the applications.

14. Polish Your Resume …

You may not have a robust resume, but padding it won’t help get your foot in the door. Marc Cenedella, the founder and CEO of Ladders, a career site, offers these tips: “Keep to a one-page resume, remove references to high school and focus on highlighting your education, leadership skills and accolades achieved while in college.”

15. … & Then Have a Professional Review It

Once you feel you have your resume in a good place, it’s time to get a second opinion. “Having all your documents updated and formatted professionally is key when you go to networking events or start applying to positions,” said Valerie Streif, senior adviser with The Mentat, a San Francisco-based career service.

16. Customize Your Resume to the Role

Once you have a basic template for your resume, consider fine tuning it to each application. Sure, it may take a little more time but this way you can highlight to each employer what makes you right for that particular role. (And make sure you’re avoiding these big resume mistakes.)

17. Show You Can Do More Than One Thing

If you’re looking to join a startup, they’re likely looking for people who can take on more than one role. Show them they’ll be getting a jack of all trades (or at least someone with multiple skills) when hiring you.

18. Don’t Forget About the Cover Letter

Yes, that resume is important but so is your cover letter. This is the chance you have to say things about yourself your resume doesn’t. Make sure what you write is clear, targeted to the job and proofread for spelling errors and grammar mistakes.

19. Visit Your Career Center

Most colleges and universities offer career services. They may not have all the answers, but they have insights and may even have a listing of jobs, internships, freelance work and other opportunities.

20. Attend Career Fairs

“It can be easy to delete emails with notifications of upcoming job fairs on campus and instead go to the bars or spend time with their college friends — but making the effort to actually go to these events can bring incredible opportunities,” Streif said.

21. Attend Conferences

This is a great way to network with professionals in your given industry. Many of these are free or may offer a discounted rate for students.

22. Join a Professional Association

Do some research and find a professional organization in your industry that you find interesting. Participate in their meetings and other events and build that network.

23. Get Business Cards

You likely won’t always have a resume on hand and you never know who you may meet. Include contact information and a link to your website or portfolio on your cards.

24. Find a Mentor

Find someone you admire and who has a similar career to one you’d like and pick their brain. They can give you insights into what you may need to do and think about as you search for your first post-grad job.

25. Meet With Alumni

Your alumni network may be a good place to start when searching for a mentor. But beyond that, there’s partial truth when people say, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and you already have a tie with this group of people. They may even be able to open some doors for you. Check with your school to see if they have alumni events or a database of alumni you can talk with.

26. Ask Younger Students

It may seem like it’s backwards to ask students younger than you about jobs, but they may know about companies you haven’t even heard of yet. Ask around and see where they’re interning or working for the summer for more ideas of where to apply. And maybe see if they can pass along your resume if you find an opportunity you’re interested in.

27. Refresh Your Online Presence

Recruiters and human resources departments often check your online profiles as part of your application. So, freshen up your social profiles (especially LinkedIn) and do a quick search of your name to see what comes up. You may consider setting up professional accounts in addition to your personal ones.

28. Get a Professional Email

If you don’t already have one, it’s time to get an email address you can use specifically for professional reasons.

29. Create Your Website

A website with your resume and examples of your work can act like a digital portfolio. Plus, if you start it now, you can build on it as you advance in your career. If you already have one, make sure it’s up to date with your graduation date.

30. Branch Out on Application Methods

“Taking many different approaches to the job hunt is the best way to ensure quick success,” Streif said.

31. Contact a Recruiting Firm

These agencies can help get you placed in an entry-level position, some of which don’t have public listings online.

32. See What Others Did

Take a look at people who are a step or two ahead of you in your industry and see what they’ve done to get ideas for where your path could start. Browse their websites or LinkedIn profiles to get started.

33. Pick Up a Book

Odds are, leaders in your industry have written a book about how they got to be where they are today. Reading these books may not land you a job, but they could give you ideas. And, if nothing else, they can give you some talking points for any interviews you go on.

34. Post Your Resume Online

While you’re out there searching for jobs, know that employers are searching for candidates. Many job boards allow you to post your resume for potential employers to review and doing this may be to your advantage.

35. Go Where Others Won’t

Maybe you’re dreaming of working in a big city but so are countless other people. Starting in a smaller market may increase your chances so don’t cut these locales off your list.

36. Take Initiative

Is there a company you really like but no job openings that you qualify for? Take some initiative and call their recruiter and HR department and pitch them on hiring you. The answer may still be no, but the opportunity won’t be there if you don’t at least try. (Also, see point two — perhaps there’s an internship available to help you get your foot in the door.)

37. Remember: Odds Are in Numbers

You probably didn’t apply to one college so why apply to just one job? According to Adecco, an online staffing agency, recent graduates apply to an average of 12 jobs before getting offered their first job.

38. Think About What’s Important to You

Yes, you want a paycheck and benefits. Yes, you want to build up your resume. But there are other things involved in a job, so think about what you want. Perhaps a place you can advance or a job with a flexible schedule is important to you? Whatever it is, make note of these things so you can include them in your search (and ask about them in interviews).

39. Find a Way to Stand Out

Whether that’s bringing a hard copy of your portfolio or showing your design skills on your resume, whatever you can do to make yourself a bit different from the rest of the applicants, do it. (Just don’t go overboard. You don’t want to end up using tactics that get your application noticed for the wrong reasons..)

40. Try Your Hand at Freelancing

“Getting a freelance job could supplement your income and allow you to take a lower wage job to get your feet in the door,” said Linda Murray Bullard, a business strategist at LSMB Business Solutions LLC. Check out these 15 best companies for freelancers this year.

41. Start as a Temp

Temporary agencies may be a good way to break into your chosen industry, offering you some income while you wait for a full-time job. Some of these jobs might have the potential to turn into a permanent role.

42. Consider Teaching Opportunities

Irnande Altema, founder of FirstGenRise, suggests graduates “look into their public school systems and check the requirements to become a substitute teacher in middle or high school. … Also, another option is working for a summer camp where you are teaching a subject like science, math or history.”

43. Research the Company …

Once you get a face-to-face interview, it’s important to know details about the company and what they do. It will help you make a good impression.

44. … & Maybe Even the Interviewer

Whether you read their bio on the company website or read over their LinkedIn profile, finding common interests or details to break the ice can be helpful. Plus, it can give you more insights into what to prepare for.

45. Think About Interview Questions

Going into an interview without preparation can make it harder to think on your feet. After all, your nerves will probably be on overdrive while you’re there. Having someone do a mock interview with you — like people from your career center — ahead of time may really help you be on your “A” game. (Feel like the interview went well? Check out these five signs you may be getting hired.)

46. Follow up After Interviews

You’ll be surprised at what a difference this can make. Write a thank you note to everyone who took part in your interview process, and reiterate your interest in the position. It not only underlines your interest, it shows you have good manners and appreciate the time the interviewer(s) gave you.

47. Have References Ready

Be prepared by asking three or four people if you can list them as references. This way, when you get an interview and they ask for references, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

48. Find Out What You’re Worth

You’re just starting out, so you probably won’t be raking in the top salaries out there, but what’s fair? Take a look at sites like Glassdoor to find out what people in your industry, at your level and in the area you’re living are making. Information is power, after all.

49. Learn How to Negotiate

Once that job offer finally comes in, taking the seemingly big salary without thinking about it may be tempting. Find out what the job will entail and make sure you’re being paid fairly and negotiate accordingly. It’s highly unlikely they’re going to rescind your offer if you ask for more money. Don’t forget to factor in benefits, too. Just a week of vacation offered? If they won’t offer you more money, they may be willing to give you more vacation.

50. Consider Starting Your Own Business

Sure, it may be costly, but if you’ve always wanted to execute an idea you had for a company, now may be the time. Just make sure you crunch the numbers to see if this is feasible — after all, those student loan payments will kick in soon.

Image: sturti

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