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3 Things I Wish I Had Known About Student Loans Before I Went to College

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

Student loans are a drag in every sense of the word. I learned that the hard way.Image source: Getty Images.

Pencils resting on student loan application

I applied to a number of colleges during high school, and thankfully, got accepted to almost every one. But when the time came to choose a college, I ultimately opted for the one that was cheapest. I knew that I’d be responsible for footing much of the bill for my education, and I didn’t want to graduate with a mountain of debt.

That said, I knew that no matter where I went to school, I’d have no choice but to take out student loans. And thankfully, I was able to limit myself to federal loans, which typically come with more favorable borrowing terms than private loans. Still, there are a few things about borrowing money for college that I wish I would’ve known before kicking off my studies. Here are a few that stick out in my mind.

1. I'd have to start paying them back six months after graduation

Because I took out federal loans, I was given a six-month grace period from when I graduated to start making payments. In the grand scheme of student loans, six months is pretty generous. For me, however, it lit an unwelcome fire.

Clearly, I didn’t review the terms of my loans carefully enough, because for some reason, I was under the impression that I’d get a year-long grace period before payments came due. Perhaps I’d heard that misinformation somewhere and it got stuck in my head, but it wasn’t until I was coming up on graduation that I actually took the time to get the real scoop on my loan repayment terms.

If you’re going to borrow for college, make sure to carefully review the terms involved. Private loans, for example, often don’t have a grace period, so that’s something to be aware of.

2. I'd feel pressured to work constantly during my studies

Many people hold down a part-time job during college. I held down many. The reason? I knew I’d eventually have to repay my loans, and I wanted money in savings to make that easier once the time came. I also wanted to minimize the extent to which I needed to borrow.

Thankfully, my various jobs didn’t impact my studies; but they did impact my schedule to the point where I often had to pass on social plans to go to a job. Furthermore, I had friends in a similar boat who worked a lot to get ahead of their loans and limit future borrowing, and holding down those jobs hurt some of them academically. One friend, in fact, had to retake a course that she failed partially as a result of not having had enough time to study for her final exam.

There’s nothing wrong with working while in college and using your earnings to chip away at your student debt or avoid additional debt. But be careful, because if you start faltering academically, you won’t be doing yourself any favors.

3. I'd feel the mental weight of having debt

Prior to college, I’d never owed money to anyone in my life. Though I opened a credit card pretty early on, I always managed to pay my bills on time and in full each month. My student loans, on the other hand, were the one type of debt I’d have hanging over my head for an extended period of time, and sometimes, the idea of that just got to me.

If you’re going to borrow for college, be aware that racking up student debt might serve as a legitimate point of stress for you at various stages of life. Now in a way, my stress was fortuitous -- because I hated the idea of being in debt and owing money, I pushed myself to pay off my student loans very quickly after graduation. But had that debt dragged on for years, I’m sure it would’ve gotten me down.

Many of us have no choice but to take out loans for college. If you’re going to finance your studies that way, proceed with caution and know what you’re signing up for. The more research you do before you borrow, the less likely you are to make a mistake you end up regretting.

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