It can get worse as the days and years go by. Last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, using 2012 data from the credit bureau Equifax, determined that 35 percent of people under 30 who were supposed to be making student loan payments each month were actually 90 or more days delinquent.
Whatever the numbers, they add up to a normalization of tardiness that can damage the credit scores of young adults. And one big reason it's happening is the fact that many among the indebted simply aren't sure how many loans they have, how and when to pay them back correctly and how to find and use programs for people who can't afford the full payments.
Let us pause for a moment to state the plain fact that the entire college financing system is a national disgrace. College costs are high, universities don't counsel undergraduates well enough, families get in over their heads, there are too many types of loans, the repayment options are dizzying, and lenders and the companies that collect the payments are sometimes bad actors.
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But this column exists for the far-from-ideal world we have to live in today, one where if the trend lines that the New York Fed has outlined continue, half of all 25-year-olds who have credit reports will have student loan debt in a couple of years. This week, we're introducing a new student loan calculator. It can tell you what the average student loan debt is at schools you're considering, what sort of salary might make the debt affordable and how different repayment options could significantly affect what you ultimately spend.
What follows is a basic guide for rookie student-loan debtors that can keep people out of some of the most common types of trouble.
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WHAT YOU OWE The idea that any grown-up might not know how many student loans they have probably seems outlandish. But many students have a few different types of loans and get new ones each year during the rush to get the bursar's approval to register for classes.
Universities don't always make loans easily comprehensible either. Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, remembers getting a financial aid letter in graduate school with an acronym that was so confusing that she couldn't tell whether it referred to a loan or a grant.
So repayment needs to begin with an accounting of every individual loan. Start with whatever is in your files. Then check to see whether you're aware of all of your federal student loans. Borrowers can use the National Student Loan Data System website to get the details.
More from The New York Times:
Interactive Student Loan Calculator
How Student Debt May Be Stunting the Economy
In B-School, Is That a Syllabus, or an Itinerary?
One critical piece of information you need: Who is the so-called servicer that will collect your payments each month on behalf of the federal government? You may have more than one, and you'll want to know how to contact them to ask any questions you may have about your payments.