We all know paying student loans on time is important, but sometimes life gets in the way. Perhaps you’ve been laid off or are having trouble finding a job. Maybe you’ve run into an unexpected expense, like car repairs or medical bills. Or maybe you got so busy with work and personal commitments that you just forgot.
If you’re behind on student loans, you’re not alone. As the cost of college and total student loan debt continues to rise, it is naturally becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up. In fact, over 10% of borrowers are more than 90 days behind on their student loans. And recent research suggests that nearly 40% of borrowers may default of borrowers may default on their student debt by 2023.
If you are falling behind on your student loan payments, just about the worst thing you can do is … nothing. Letting your loan payments lapse can have serious consequences for your financial future.
The good news is there are options for getting back on track with your loans and choosing a repayment plan that works for you.
Student loans can feel like a burden, but they don’t have to hold you back. By taking the right steps for you, you can help make your student debt manageable.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Missed Payments
Denial is a normal response when you’re feeling overwhelmed. But avoiding your late payments isn’t going to solve the problem and could potentially make things worse for you down the line.
Once you miss a payment, your loan is technically delinquent. With federal loans, if you make the payment within 90 days, everything will go back to normal. If more time passes, your loan servicer will likely report the delinquency to the major credit reporting agencies, and your credit score will suffer.
If you continue to be behind in payments, usually for 270 days, your loan may go into default. This is serious: Your entire loan amount may become due right away, and you won’t be able to take advantage of deferment, forbearance, or other options for relief until you get out of default.
This could harm your credit score, and the government may eventually be able to garnish your tax refund and more. If you miss a private student loan payment, the lender can usually take action more quickly by adding on late fees, referring your loan to a debt collection agency, or more.
Unlike other types of debt, student loans generally can’t be discharged during bankruptcy except in cases of undue hardship. As you can see, the consequences of ignoring an overdue loan are serious. Luckily, there are things you can do to avoid that.
Making a Budget
It sounds simple, but many of us don’t have a clear idea of how much money we have coming in and going out—or what we’re spending it on. If you’re having trouble keeping up with any of your bills, including student loans, making a budget is a good first step towards seeing your whole financial picture.
The total of your after-tax salary or wages, any income from a side hustle, and any help you might regularly get from family will be the starting point at which you can see how much money is coming in.
Next, tally up your expenses—how much money is going out. This includes fixed expenses, which typically stay about the same every month, such as rent, insurance, utilities, transportation, and groceries. Include your minimum loan payment in this calculation. This tally might also include variable expenses, which may fluctuate month to month, such as money spent on shopping or eating out.
If your spending exceeds your income, that could be a contributing factor if you’re unable to afford your loan payment. To address this, you might consider thinking about ways to increase your income or to reduce your expenses.
Can you ask for a raise or get a supplemental gig? Can you cancel that gym membership and jog outdoors instead? Or propose low-cost activities, like a picnic, instead of going out to bars and restaurants with friends?
Making a workable budget—and sticking to it—can go a long way to ensuring you have money in your account to make payments on time. And setting up auto-billing (sometimes called autopay) with a bank account or loan servicer may also help ensure payments are made automatically.
Looking into Deferment or Forbearance
Sometimes, making a budget isn’t enough. If you’re going back to school or encountering an economic hardship, it might not be feasible to pay your loans for a certain time period.
In cases like this, if you have federal loans, you can apply for a deferment or forbearance with your loan servicer. Both of these options could allow you to temporarily stop payment or reduce the amount you pay.
Borrowers may qualify for federal student loan deferment if they’re in school at least half-time, are on active military duty, or while you’re in certain graduate fellowships. You may also be eligible for up to three years of relief if you’re unemployed, in the Peace Corps, or facing economic hardship.
If granted deferment status, a borrower won’t be responsible for the interest that accrues on certain types of federal student loans, including Direct Subsidized Loans, Federal Perkins Loans, and other subsidized loans; however, borrowers will likely need to pay interest on Direct PLUS loans and other unsubsidized federal loans.
Borrowers could be eligible for federal student loan forbearance if unable to pay their loans because of medical bills, changes in employment (such as reduced hours, reduced pay, or job loss), or other financial difficulties. In these situations, it’s up to the loan servicer to decide whether to grant a borrower forbearance.
In other selective situations, on certain qualifying loans they must grant it. These include if a borrower is completing a medical or dental internship or residency, serving in AmeriCorps, or using 20% or more of their gross income each month for student loan payments.
It’s important to note that with forbearance, borrowers are responsible for interest that accrues regardless of the type of loan they have. And all that unpaid interest will be added back onto the principal of the loan—which could make the total amount you’ll eventually have to repay substantially higher.
Private lenders, on the other hand, aren’t required to offer relief if you’re struggling financially, but some are willing to temporarily reduce your payments if you’re unemployed or have another short-term setback. It could be worth reviewing your contract terms or reaching out to your provider about options.
Considering an Income-Driven Repayment Plan
If your financial situation doesn’t seem like it’ll improve anytime soon, and you can’t make ends meet while paying your student loans, there are federal repayment programs that may be able to help.
With federal loans, you may have the option of switching to a repayment plan that ties your monthly payment to your discretionary income in order to make it more affordable. The plan you may qualify for depends on the types of loans you have, your financial situation, and when you took them out.
All income-driven repayment plans limit monthly payments to between 10% and 20% of discretionary income. If the loan is not fully repaid at the end of the repayment period, the loan balance may be forgiven. However, a number of factors will determine if there will be a balance to be forgiven, such as income increase over the life of the loan and debt-to-income ratio.
The downside to going with an income-driven repayment plan is that you may end up owing more in interest compared to some other plans, since the term is longer.
If the monthly payment is not enough to cover the monthly interest charge, all or a portion of the difference will be paid by the government, depending on the type of income-driven repayment plan you have. There may be some instances in that the unpaid interest is capitalized, meaning added back to the principal balance of the loan.
Either way, making the minimum payment on time every month can be an important factor in having strong credit and avoiding negative consequences.
Refinancing Your Student Loans
Another potential solution to unaffordable payments can be student loan refinancing. Federal or private student loans may be able to be refinanced by taking out a new loan with a private lender, which will pay off your existing student debt.
The new loan may come with a lower interest rate or a lower monthly payment than the existing loans, especially if the borrower has a strong credit and employment history. Refinancing with SoFi means there won’t be any origination fees or prepayment penalties.
It is important to remember that if you refinance your student loans with a private lender you will lose access to federal benefits such as deferment, income-driven repayment plans, and public student loan forgiveness.
Getting Your Loans Back on Track
Missing student loan payments is a sign that you need to take action. Ignoring the problem and letting late notices pile up won’t make the issue go away and could open you up to serious consequences.
But if you face the problem head on, you have options for catching up and getting back on track.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF SEPTEMBER DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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