Learning to ask the right questions
Many times handling our debt properly all comes down to understanding how to ask the right questions.  In order to do this we have to learn some basic analytic skills of knowing how to ask questions until the answer that seems to make the most sense is given.  This can be a tricky thing to do and not everyone is automatically equipped to do this.  However, there are ways to grow your analytic skills with a little practice.

For an example, if you have student loans with Sallie Mae but other than knowing they are student loans and that they are with Sallie Mae there are a series of questions you would want to ask.  Below I will simulate a conversation between you and Sallie with regards to your student loan debt after the point of answering all of the verification questions to prove you are you:

“I know that I have loans with you but I would like to ask you some questions about my debt so I can better understand what I have and what my options are” You say to the Sallie Mae rep who is currently working in an office overseas.

“Yes I understand, how can I help you” says a woman by the name of Frank.

“Can you start by telling me my total principle balance?”

“Your current balance with Sallie Mae is $34,445.”

“Ok and do you know if these are all Federal loans?”

“A balance of $9,590 is Private while the remaining balance of $24,855 is Federal” says Frank.

“Ok, can you give me the interest rates of the Private loans and the rates of the Federal,” you ask.

“Your Private loan has a variable rate of 10.25% while your Federal loan has a fixed rate of 6.8%” the Sallie rep informs you.

“Got it, now can you tell me when my payments are due and how much my payments are separately and combined?”

Frank pulls up this information and lets you know that you have different payments dates for your Federal and Private loans but have payments totaling $654.

“I can’t afford that type of payment.  What kind of options do you have for me to reduce that payment?”

Now here is where it gets tricky.  Never assume that the rep knows all of the options that are available.  They may know one or two or may not be sure of all the options.  They also may not know which option is financially advantageous for you so use the internet as your best resource to review additional options that are available to reduce your payments.  You can go directly to the Sallie Mae website at www.salliemae.com or go to the Federal government’s site at http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans to get details on how to manage your debt. Of course you can also get in contact with Degrees of Success for more personalized assistance. And there are additional online tools available by simply Googling student loan payment options or something similar.

“That doesn’t seem right to me, can I be transferred to a supervisor.”

It is okay to ask for a supervisor if you do not feel as though the information you are being given is accurate.  If the rep never mentioned a graduated payment option, the IBR repayment plan, the ICR-A plan or pay-as-you-earn plan then they may not know enough about these plans to provide that information to you but it’s important for you to be made aware of these options.

It’s important to continue to ask questions and continue to seek the proper information with regards to managing your student loan debt to avoid becoming delinquent or defaulting on your loans.  This can drastically affect your credit and your future buying power.