When you’re jet-setting from country to country, it’s easy to forget about responsibilities back at home. But ignoring your student loans would be a mistake that could haunt you for years to come.
That’s not to say you should let student loans hold you back from traveling the world. On the contrary, going abroad, especially somewhere with a low cost of living, could be a great strategy for getting out of debt fast.
Just make sure you’re not making any of these student loan mistakes along the way.
1. Not knowing how much you owe or who you owe it to
How much do you owe in student loans? How many loans do you have, and what are your interest rates? What are your repayment terms, and how much are your monthly payments? Who lent you the money, and who are the loan servicers billing you for payment?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, take some time to track down all your loans. You can head to NSLDS.ed.gov to find your federal student loans, if you have any.
In terms of private student loans, you’re more on your own to find your lender and loan servicer, but make some calls if you’re not sure exactly who you’re paying back.
Once you’ve tracked down your various accounts, note your monthly payments, interest rates, and payment plan. And make sure you know what day you’re getting billed each month.
By understanding the details of your loans, you can ensure you don’t accidentally forget about one and end up in default.
2. Not updating your contact information with your loan servicers
If your loan servicers still have your old address and college email, you’ll miss important communication about repayment.
I had a student loan from grad school, for instance, that switched servicers. I missed the email about it and ended up three months delinquent on my payments because the company turned off auto-pay. As unfair as this was, I couldn’t really do anything about it except resume repayment (and curse them silently).
If your loan servicers don’t have your contact information, you could end up in a similar situation. So make sure they have your current email and mailing address.
Along similar lines, write down any user names and passwords you have for your online accounts. You don’t want to be stuck in another country with no way to get into your accounts.
3. Missing payments
One of the worst mistakes you could make when leaving the country would be to miss payments on your student loans.
Soon after you skip a payment, your account becomes delinquent and could even go into default. Defaulting on student loans could destroy your credit and even lead to garnishment of your wages, tax returns, or Social Security benefits (eek!).
If you’re planning to live and work out of the country long-term, you might think these consequences won’t affect you. But you never know if your plans will change, and you don’t want to head back to the U.S. only to find you can’t rent an apartment because your credit score is too low.
What’s more, debt collectors could start calling your friends and family when they can’t get ahold of you. Stressful.
To avoid missing payments, consider setting up auto-pay on your accounts (though only if you can afford it). With autopay, your loan servicer will automatically withdraw your payment from your bank account every month. You can “set it and forget it” and won’t ever have to worry about missing a payment.
What’s more, setting up autopay typically comes with a small incentive — an additional 0.25% reduction on your interest rate. It’s not huge, but hey, any little bit helps when it comes to interest.
(By the way, if you’re working for a foreign employer, one way to get out of paying federal student loans is to put them on an income-driven repayment plan. Since your U.S.-based income is zero, your student loan payment will also be zero. Essentially, you won’t pay anything from month to month, but you won’t go into default! Check out this guide to learn more.)
4. Ignoring your various repayment options
Most federal student loans automatically go on the standard 10-year plan with fixed monthly payments. But you do have other options, especially if your monthly bill is too high.
If you’re struggling to keep up with payments, you could apply for income-driven repayment or extended repayment. Both plans adjust your bills and extend your loan terms.
If you have private student loans, you can speak to your loan servicer about the possibility of lowering payments or postponing them if you’re experiencing financial hardship.
Another useful strategy is refinancing your student loans, which lets you adjust your monthly payment, choose new terms, and even snag a lower interest rate.
Check out this guide for more on how refinancing could help you save money and even get out of debt faster.
5. Forgetting to check your accounts every once in a while
Once you’ve tracked down the details of your loans and put them on auto-pay, you don’t have to think about them much after that. But that doesn’t mean you should never check in with your accounts.
If you start making extra money, for instance, you could make extra payments on your student loans to pay them off faster.
And if you do make an extra payment, check to make sure your loan servicer applied the payment correctly (e.g., to the principal amount rather than to the interest).
Plus, you might switch up your approach as your circumstances change. Maybe income-driven repayment was the right plan at first, but now you’re making a higher income and want to switch back to the standard plan.
While you definitely don’t have to obsess over your loans, checking in every once in a while could keep you on track toward your debt payoff goals.
Get proactive about paying off your debt so it doesn’t follow you around the world
As a digital nomad, you’ve found a way to integrate your personal life and work life so you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
But don’t forget to find balance with your personal finances, too, so money stress doesn’t detract from your awesome adventures.
By getting proactive about paying off your student loans, you could be much closer to a debt-free life.
Just as you wouldn’t want to show up to the airport with excess luggage, make it a priority to cast off the weight of student loans so you can enjoy traveling light.