Over the course of your loan payoff journey, you will have to call your student loan provider. You could be calling to specify your payment allocation, you might have to renegotiate your payment plan, or maybe you’re calling to update your contact information. For me, the thought of calling strikes the same anxious nerve triggered at the thought of a root canal. But these calls are as obligatory as the happy holidays call to distant relatives.
And, like Grandma St. Page, student loan providers pretend to know nothing about you or why you’re calling. You’ll have to answer the same tedious questions over and over again, too. The screening stage is set to get you help as efficiently as possible, but it also feels like a farce to get you off the phone and out of their hair.
There are endless reasons to have to get comfortable with this kind of phone call. Mine were the $60,000 in debt I didn’t face until after graduation. I reviewed the breakdown of my loans on my providers’ sites, a couple thousand here, a couple thousand there. It added up to a sum I couldn’t believe. One of the loans was $5,000 I didn’t remember ever taking out. It seemed negligible in comparison to the whole picture, but if a phone call could clear it up, why wouldn’t I take the time to call them? Wasn’t that worth at least $5,000? Turns out, I had taken out the loan, but I’d also taken an important first step in my debt management. I’d made the plan to pay off my debt in five years or less, and that phone call was the first time I felt empowered enough to actually do it.
Twice a year, without fail, I had to call my student loan providers to get payment issues corrected. I’d more than doubled my monthly payments and was strategic about how those extra payments were applied. Extra payments went to my loans with the highest balance. This was the smartest way for me to minimize the amount of interest I ended up paying in the long run. Every month, I’d review my bill and payment and a couple times “the system” would change my payment distribution and allocate my payments to my smaller loans. I could’ve let it slide, but that course of action would’ve been at odds with my five-year plan. I wouldn’t say I was ever happy about making these calls, but I did find ways to make them more painless.
1. Add your loan provider’s number to your contacts.
You don’t want to. Trust me, I get it. Here’s why you should. You want to make it hard for yourself to back out of the call. By having the number at the ready, it means you’ve decimated one excuse. Nothing says you have to save the number under your loan provider’s name. You can save it under Ball and Chain or Ramen Noodles. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s as easy as pulling up your Starbucks app.
2. Attach a price tag to the call.
They say money isn’t everything, but it’s an incredible motivator. Whether you’re calling to check on a payment, verify a change, or to work on a new payment plan, you’re going to be able to assign a value to the call. Looking at what you’re saving makes it easier to make the call and to stand your ground.
3. Have a cheat sheet.
Student loans are complicated! During a phone call, it’s easy for you or the representative you’re speaking with to get confused. Before you call, prepare a one-page outline. It might seem excessive, but it’s efficient and will save you a lot of frustration. For every call have your account number available. You will not get anywhere without it. Know the individual loans within your loan balance. Have a cheat sheet of loan vocabulary. I once had to explain the difference between principal and interest to the representative I was speaking with. Some student loan providers have a helpful list accessible on their website. Most importantly, write out the reason you’re calling and a proposed resolution. I include a space to record the name of the person I spoke to and the date and time of the call.
4. Prepare to be on hold.
I don’t have the attention span to spend two hours on something, but I did once spend two hours on the phone with my student loan company. I was on hold for 90 minutes of that time. They’d check in periodically to see if I was still there, they seemed surprised each time I replied with a chipper yes. I had headphones in, so my hands were free and my attention was diverted by the adult coloring book on my lap. Eventually, we were able to deal with my issue and I had a story of a memorable Friday night to share at parties. That instance was an anomaly, but very often you will have to deal with holds especially if you need an answer specific to your individual loan situation. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated. You are calling to save yourself in the long run, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re taking ownership over your debt.
5. Be human.
It’s universally agreed the student loan system needs serious and thoughtful revision. When frustration does get the better of you, remember, the person you’re talking to is a person. Several people have already yelled at them — raising your voice won’t emphasize your point. Being nasty doesn’t endear you to anyone, and forward traction will be minimal. Make sure to always come back to the issue at hand. Have a sentence to return to when the conversation is being derailed. You shouldn’t be aggressive, but you do need to be assertive. “Yes, but,” or “Yes, but back to the solution,” are fantastic rejoinders for these conversations. No matter what happens, remember to thank the representative at the end of the phone call. Ending the experience on a positive note makes you more likely to pick up the phone again.
Jane St. Page is a New York to Boston transplant. 9 to 5 you can find her defining her place in the corporate world. Jane’s free time is spent writing, working out, and learning about any topics that interest her. She prefers to use a pen name.
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