Modifying your student loan

Gerri answers readers questions about federal student loan programs and student credit cards.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- Question 1. I have a federal student loan that I've had for a while. It's in deferment right now because I'm currently unemployed. Are there any new programs available through the government that can help me? -- JHR

On July 1st, the government introduced a student loan repayment program that pegs your payments to your income. It's called the Income Based Repayment Plan. And it applies to old and new federal loans. Given that you have no income, you could be a good candidate for this program.

Go to the Department of Education's Web site at to calculate if you would benefit from this program. And make sure you talk to your lender. They're the ones who calculate your eligibility.

Question 2. I'm now a sophomore in college. As of now I have no credit. I recently applied for a student credit card. Is that the right way to go? -- Amina

Getting a credit card is the first step to creating your credit history. And getting a student credit card is a good way to go. But it's very important that you abide by good practices.

For example, don't charge more on your card than you can afford; some financial planners will tell you not to use your credit card for anything that will be gone by the time you get the bill -- like, say, for pizza.

Strive to always pay the balance in full and make sure you send your check in on time. Once you graduate, you'll want to transition into a regular credit card since you'll (hopefully) get a better interest rate and a larger credit limit.

Question 3. Gerri, where can I find a genuine government site that provides information on educational related grants? -- Maria

Check out This site has a database of over 1,000 grant programs. It's run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And you can search for grants in a number of areas including education, the environment and business.

You can also check out where you can find out about government grants like the Pell grant or other need-based grants.  To top of page

Got a financial dilemma? Go to to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions.
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