Image: flickr/Md saad andalib

Youre a new grad, maybein a new city with a new job, apartment and friends. But not all the new things about postgrad life are fun and sparkly; you likely have a new debt to deal with, too.If you graduated in May, your first student loan payment will probably come due next month. And if youre like a lot of recent graduates, youre craving some structure amidall the newness. Follow this three-step plan to help you start chipping away at your student debt.

Step 1: Become an expert on your own loans

Start with the basics. You should be able to answer the following questions about your student loans to best know how to tackle them:

  • Who is your federal loan servicer?

  • How much do you owe total and what are your interest rates?

  • How much do you owe each month and when is your first payment due?

Find this information about your federal loans by logging into your Federal Student Aid account or checking with your loan servicer. If you have private loans, contact your lender.

Step 2: Budget for your monthly payments

A depressing reality of postgrad life is that youll need to make room in your budget for your student loan payments. Plan to pay the minimum amount due every month to keep your credit in good shape. Another tip: Set up autopay. In most cases, youll get a 0.25% interest rate discount for automating your payments.Its also a good time to figure out how your student loan payments will fit into your overall financial picture. Based on the 50/30/20 budgeting strategy, you should spend about 50% of your take-home earnings on needs, including your minimum student loan payments, rent and other necessary bills.

Step 3: Income too low? Adjust your payment plan

If your student loan payments eat up too much of your paycheck, switching to an income-driven repayment plan may be what you need. The plans base your minimum federal loan payment on your earnings and can lower your payments; depending on your income, you may not be required to pay anything. It sounds like a no-brainer, but keep in mind that they also increase the amount of interest youll pay in the long run.If an income-driven plan makes sense for you, its free to sign up through the Department of Education. Apply on the Federal Student Aid website to get started.

Next steps

Once you get into the groove of making your monthly payments, check out ways to save money on your student loans:

  • Refinance your student loans to save money in interest. Youll likely qualify if you have good credit and a high income comparedto your other financial obligations.

  • Get federal loan forgiveness based on your employer or occupation. For instance, youre eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you work for the government or a nonprofit.

This article originally published at NerdWallet here

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