7 Federal Programs That Help Borrowers Pay Off Student Loans

Approximately 61% of college graduates have student loan debt, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and most of that money owed (more than 90%) is in the form of federal student loans. In other words, if you have student debt, you are not alone.

Federal student loan programs are funded by the federal government, and while virtually no one likes being in debt, there’s an upside here. These programs can not only help you pay for college but also repay what you owe in different ways, to suit your particular situation.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the types of federal student loans available and the tactics federal student loan borrowers can use to eliminate their debt. There’s likely to be a plan that helps you balance your budget and enjoy life while paying off what you owe.

Types of Federal Student Loans

The types of federal student loans include the following. The federal student loan program includes the Direct Loan program, and the Direct Subsidized, Unsubsidized, PLUS, and Consolidated loans exist under that umbrella.

•   Direct Subsidized loans: Direct Subsidized loans help undergraduate students (who are eligible and demonstrate financial need) cover the education costs. In terms of when the interest accrues, that doesn’t happen while you are in school at least half-time or during deferment.

•   Direct Unsubsidized loans: Direct Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, help undergraduate, graduate, and professional students cover the costs of education. These loans are not need-based, but the government does not cover the interest while you’re in school.

•   Direct PLUS loans: Graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students can get Direct PLUS loans. You do not have to demonstrate financial need to get a Direct PLUS loan, but you must undergo a credit check.

•   Direct Consolidation loans: Direct Consolidation loans let you combine your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer. This helps reduce the complexity of paying on multiple loans.

How do you get a federal student loan? You file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and as long as you’re eligible for federal student aid, the financial aid will appear on your financial aid package at the school you apply for.


💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? You could save thousands.

Federal Programs for Student Loan Borrowers

Among the federal programs for student loan borrowers are government grants and tax deductions, as well as federal student loan programs that can help with repayment. Among these are income-driven repayment plans, deferment and forbearance, and forgiveness. Here’s a closer look at some of your potential options as you pay off student loans (yes, you will make it happen).

1. Government Grants

Federal grants can also help cover college costs for students attending college or career school. You don’t have to pay back grant money unless you fail to meet the qualifications for the grant. (In this way, they aren’t repayment plans but coverage of educational costs upfront.)

For example, you may be able to take advantage of a Pell Grant or a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant.

•   Pell Grant: The Pell Grant is a need-based grant awarded by the US Department of Education to undergraduate students with high financial need. The Federal Pell Grant maximum is $7,395 for the 2023-2024 award year between July 1, 2023 and June 30, 2024.

•   TEACH Grant: The TEACH Grant offers funds to students who plan to teach full-time for at least four years in a high-need field. They must meet the service obligation after graduation. For example, they must work in a low-income elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency.

2. Income-Driven Repayment Plans

When it comes time to pay off federal student loans, the Department of Education has the following income-driven repayment plans, which aim to keep student loan payments at a comfortable level:

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan: The SAVE plan, which replaces the REPAYE plan, calculates your monthly payment amount based on your family size and income. It offers the possibility of forgiveness in as little as 10 years for some borrowers, and the payment cap is 10% of discretionary income and that may drop to 5% for some from the summer of 2024 onward.

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment plan: The PAYE plan means your monthly payments equal to 10% of your discretionary income, divided by 12. It will never amount to more in payments than the 10-year Standard Repayment plan amount. Expect a 20-year term.

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan: The IBR plan means your monthly payments are equal to 10% (15% if you’re an older borrower whose loans date to before July 1, 2014) of your discretionary income. Repayment terms are 20 years for new borrowers; 25 years for older borrowers.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan: The ICR plan means you’ll make monthly payments — the lesser of what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed monthly payment over 12 years or 20% of your discretionary income, divided by 12. The term is typically 25 years.


💡 Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

3. Tax Deductions

Looking for good things about filing your taxes? Here’s one: When you claim the student loan tax deduction, you claim the interest you paid on your student loans, whether they are federal or private. You can deduct student loan interest up to $2,500; you don’t need to itemize to get the deduction.

To be eligible to deduct student loan interest, you must pay interest on a qualified federal or private student loan for you, your spouse, or a dependent child during the tax year. You must meet modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) requirements, which is your annual gross income minus certain deductions. You must not have a filing status of married filing separately, and someone else may not claim you as a dependent.

4. Military Service

You may remember the original G.I. Bill from history class, which allowed military service members to attend school after World War II. You can still get help paying for school if you currently serve in the military.

The branches of the United States Military offer loan payment programs that can help you pay off your federal student loans, such as the Air Force JAG program, Army College Loan, Army Reserve Loan, National Guard Loan, and Navy Student Loan repayment options.

Research how military loan repayment programs work for your respective military branch to potentially pay off a significant portion (or even all) of your student loan debt.

5. AmeriCorps

You can also consider using AmeriCorps as a vehicle for paying off your student loans. AmericCorps is an organization through which individuals can dedicate themselves to service and volunteering in the United States.

AmeriCorps volunteers can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), meaning they can get their federal Direct student loans forgiven (“forgiveness” means you don’t have to pay back the loan and can stop repayment) after making 10 years (120 months) of qualifying payments. AmeriCorps service is considered the “employer” for PSLF.

6. Deferment and Forbearance

Deferment and forbearance are similar in that they allow federal loan borrowers to temporarily lower or stop making payments on their federal student loans for a certain period. The steps to achieve deferment and forbearance are also usually the same: Contact your loan servicer, submit a request, and provide the requested documentation.

However, the main difference is that interest does not accrue on some Direct Loans during a deferment. When your loan is in forbearance, you must pay the interest that accrues on your loans.

7. Forgiveness

Another option if you’re looking to pay off federal student loans could be forgiveness. As noted above, this term means that you don’t have to pay back some or all of your federal student loans.

As with serving in AmeriCorps, you may be able to get your federal student loans forgiven via the PSLF program if you work for a government or nonprofit organization. The PSLF program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct loans after you make 120 qualifying monthly payments under an accepted repayment plan and as long as you work full-time for an eligible employer.

You may also receive forgiveness of up to $17,500 on Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) program. You may receive forgiveness if you teach full-time or complete five years in a low-income school or educational service agency and meet other qualifications. You may also receive forgiveness for consolidation loans, which occurs when you combine all your loans into one payment.

Note: Private student loan forgiveness is not available as it is with federal student loans. Still, there are avenues you can pursue if you are struggling to repay what you owe, such as discussing hardships with your private loan lender or seeking credit counseling.

The Takeaway

The majority of college graduates have student loan debt, and paying it off can be a stressful process. But there is help. If you have federal student loans and are looking for ways to pay them off as affordably as possible, you likely have plenty of options. Tapping into income-based repayment plans, considering military service or AmeriCorps, deferment, forbearance, or forgiveness can help you as you work to manage and eliminate those student loan payments.

For some people, refinancing their federal loans with a private loan may make sense and be a way to lower their payments or speed up their repayment schedule. However, it’s important to note the following:

•   If you refinance federal loans with a private loan, you forfeit access to federal protections and benefits, such as the deferment, forbearance, and forgiveness programs mentioned above.

•   If you refinance for an extended term, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan, so think carefully if this suits your overall financial picture.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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46 Tips for Joining the Real World

30 Tips for Joining the Real World

Woo-hoo! You have your degree, perhaps a job offer, a place to live with a chill roommate, and you’ve found your favorite cafe where the cold brew is just right. Life is great, right?

Yes, it is. Even if you don’t have all of the items above checked off. Starting your independent, post-school life is an exciting time, and it’s a moment to learn all sorts of adulting skills.

To help you with that, here are 30 things to consider, learn, or do to help you as you discover everything from how to speak up in meetings to how to find an in-network doctor. Just as you were probably on the receiving end of a lot of tips for college or freshman advice, now it’s time to level up on post-grad life.

30 Tips for Recent College Grads

Whether you’re just out of college or several years out, you’re hardly alone if you feel you have lots of questions about post-grad life and how to live it. Read on for tips for joining the real world and finessing your finances, career, and personal life.

1. Tackle Your Overall Financial Situation

Your finances can include a ton of stuff, especially as you get older and your investments and income become more complex. But at its most basic, understanding your financial situation means knowing your credit score, taking stock of your outstanding debts, figuring out ways to pay off student loans (if you haven’t already), and understanding what your monthly bills are.


💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? You could save thousands.

2. Embrace a Budget

Here’s another bit of advice for college grads: Once you know how much money you have, owe, and make, it’s time to figure out your budget. Even if you have one already, post-graduation is a perfect time to reconsider your budget and make updates as needed. Never made one before? The popular 50/30/20 budget can be a smart start.

3. Learn About Job Perks

No matter if your job is still shiny and new or an old hat at this point, it’s good to take time to review your employee handbook for perks you may have overlooked. Check out your company’s retirement plan types and health insurance plans. You’ll also want to review potential bonuses and perks, such as free gym memberships, commuting stipends, and the like.

4. Start Saving for Retirement

Seriously? Yes! This may not be the most fun thing to review (and likely wasn’t part of your college advice), but your future self will thank you. Take time to learn about a 401(k) plan that may be available at work and hopefully enroll. You want to at least contribute enough to get any company match, which is like free money.

No job yet or retirement plan you qualify for? Spend a bit of time learning about the different kinds of IRAs.

5. Evaluate Your Housing Costs

Location, local, location, right? Depending on said location, it can be hard to find affordable housing or even a job if your industry isn’t hot in your market. Before signing on the dotted line, consider how much home you can afford to rent. It can be expensive to live alone; having roommates can be a great way to save money.

6. Check Your Social Media

Even if you’ve already got a job, you may want to take stock of your social media. A professional online presence may help prevent current or future employers from second-guessing about hiring you. Those wild nights out with friends definitely don’t need to be broadcast via an account that’s public.

7. Network

Networking is crucial to helping you achieve your career goals. Whether through industry conferences or social media sites like LinkedIn, it’s smart to stay connected with professionals in your industry to get career advice and learn about job openings you may be the perfect fit for.

8. Schedule Some “You” Time

Even if you’ve already got a job, you may want to take stock of your social media. A professional online presence may help prevent current or future employers from second-guessing hiring you.

9. Start an Emergency Fund

Life is full of the unexpected, and that’s why it’s smart to have an emergency fund. Once you have a steady income, it’s wise to start an emergency fund, perhaps by a recurring automatic transfer into savings. Start slow and steady, and aim to build up to at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in the bank. This will help protect you if you have an unexpected major car repair bill or job loss.

10. Find Your Medical Team

This tip is especially important if you’ve moved to a different state or city. Out-of-network bills can be costly, so having a doctor and knowing which hospitals are in-network can help you save money and stress in the long run. Ask coworkers, do online research, and don’t forget to explore where the nearest and best urgent care centers are.

11. Snag a First-Aid Kit and Emergency Bag

This may sound like your parents or grandparents talking, but no one sees an accident or disaster coming. You could get burned cooking brunch one Saturday, or a major storm could sweep through and leave you without power.

Store-bought first aid kits may be good starting points, but extra bandages, allergy relief pills, antacids, and other over-the-counter medicines will take your kit to the next level.

If you’re inclined to ready an emergency go-bag, consider packing at least three days’ worth of clothes, a mini first aid kit, cash, a flashlight, and other provisions you think you (and your pets or loved ones) may need if you need to leave your home in a rush.

12. Consider Life Insurance

Yes, you are young. But if your employer offers life insurance as a benefit, you may be wondering what it is — and whether you need it or should even pay more to increase the amount. So, how about a little research? Understanding life insurance policies can help you make the right decision for you. Even if you decide you don’t need it right now, you’ll be better prepared to sign up when the time is right.


💡 Quick Tip: If you have student loans with variable rates, you may want to consider refinancing to secure a fixed rate in case rates rise. But if you’re willing to take a risk to potentially save on interest — and will be able to pay off your student loans quickly — you might consider a variable rate.

13.Dive into Hobbies

Not everything you do has to relate to your career. In fact, it’s likely healthier if you have interests outside of your career. You can learn to play instruments, sing, run, join a local soccer team, play games online, or enjoy any other hobby that helps you unwind and relax. Or maybe you’ll want to give back and spend some time planting at a local park or prepping meals at a soup kitchen. Find some passions, and pursue them.

14. Tackle Your Taxes

Welcome to the world of taxes, which likely wasn’t part of your college advice. But now, if you’re employed (full-time, part-time, seasonally, side hustle, or whatever), it’s time to learn how to prepare for tax season, which can help you avoid filing them late. Whenever you get an important piece of paperwork that’ll affect your taxes (such as W2s, charitable contribution receipts, or even home office receipts), you can put these in a safe place so you’re ready to go come tax time.

Then, determine if you’ll do your taxes yourself (say, with tax software) or work with a income tax preparer to get your return in on time.

15. Find Your Work-Life Balance

Each person has their own idea for work-life balance. If you’re not sure what yours is, consider taking the first few months on the job to figure that out. Being a good employee, for instance, doesn’t have to mean being the first person at the office in the morning and the last one out at night. If you feel tired or overwhelmed, it may be time to dig into and renegotiate those work-life boundaries.

16. Master Basic Home Repairs

Home repair costs can add up (especially as the years unfurl). You could save a lot by doing them yourself, especially if or when you own your own place and don’t have a landlord to pay for those costs. Such problems as a clogged sink, broken light switch, and dripping shower head may be easier than you think to fix.

If you do have a landlord, you might even get a discount on your rent by making simple repairs yourself. Just be sure to get a signed agreement from your landlord outlining how that will work.

17. Be Smart About Subscriptions

Monthly subscriptions can be so appealing, whether that means Japanese snack of the month club, exercise gear, or language lessons via a fun app. But these add up over time, and it’s easy to forget how many you have going at a given moment. Consider looking at what you’re actually subscribed to. Do you really need Max, Hulu, Peacock, and Netflix, or could you save on streaming services by dropping one (or two)? And do you really need so many gym passes and coffee clubs? Take a closer look, and spend less.

18. Learn to Cook

Takeout is great, but you could save money on food and healthy up your meals if you cook at home. It’s also helpful to plan your groceries ahead of time to avoid overspending and food waste. Plus, it’s a fun pursuit with loads of free recipes and cooking videos available online. Invite a friend over and make it a social occasion.

19. Speaking up in Meetings

If you think you don’t have much to add to the conversation, agreeing with what someone has said — and tacking on an extra thought — can be a way to participate and not feel like a wallflower.

20. Tweak Your Sleep Hygiene

Getting enough high-quality sleep can be a key contributor to your wellness. Going to sleep around the same time every night can help to ensure you get enough zzz’s so you can make good decisions and keep healthy habits. And here’s a reminder that taking your mobile device to bed with you is likely to lead to an hour or more of rabbit holes that rob you of your rest.

21. Invest Some Money

The idea of investing may sound intimidating, but you don’t have to be a Wall Street wolf to invest. Many rookies start small. Learn more about investing in your 20s and perhaps open an account.

22. Find a Mentor

If there’s someone higher up the ladder at your workplace with whom you click and who offers great guidance, ask them out for coffee to learn more about how their career progressed and see what advice they might share. You might wind up under their wing. You can also look for guidance via a professional group; you might find a mentor at a summit or similar event.

Mentors can often help you navigate your workplace, offer advice, and keep you motivated and sane when things get stressful. They also have contacts that may be helpful for you to know.

23. Change Your Mind

You’ve probably heard that tons of people end up with jobs outside of what they studied, even after getting a master’s or MBA. It could be that there aren’t a lot of jobs in that field –or maybe they realized that what’s interesting in theory is not in practice. If this turns out to be the case for you, just remember that fulfillment can be found outside of work. And people can change their minds.

24. Get Help

Unemployment, Medicaid, and other social nets exist for a reason. There are going to be choppy waters, and these services are meant to help. Using them because you got laid off or furloughed isn’t shameful. And if you can’t find employment, that’s another reason to get support vs. staying silent and toughing it out.

25. Put Home Maintenance on Your Calendar

When was the last time you cleaned your dryer vents? Do you know how to change the filter in your HVAC? Avoiding these kinds of things for too long can result in big maintenance bills — and potentially be a safety hazard. Not sure what to clean? Check out a house maintenance list and put reminders in your mobile device’s calendar.

26. Travel

Hopping on a plane and traveling to far-flung places can get a lot harder to do the more “adult” you become. It can be harder to take time off work, and perhaps you’ll have a family, meaning you will need a bigger travel budget. Now, when you’re young and probably okay with “roughing it,” it’s possible to travel cheap!

27. Learn to Say No

When you were younger, you probably didn’t have a lot of say in things; you did what your parents or professors said you had to. How times have changed! Don’t want to go out for drinks? Can’t finish that report by Monday? Your best bet may be to just be honest. Taking on too much may only backfire, so learning to say no without feeling guilty can be important for your mental health and work-life balance.

28. Avoid Lifestyle Creep

As time passes, you may well get raises and bonuses. And lifestyle creep can become a problem. What’s that? It’s the situation in which the more your income increases, the more you spend. While a pay raise may mean you can splurge a bit, if you wind up renting a bigger house, leasing a luxury car, and treating yourself to a week in Tulum, you could wind up in the hole. Instead, treat yourself within reason, and plow more money into savings, such as for a down payment on a future home.

Recommended: 9 Tips for Finding the Best Deals Online

29. Outfit Your Home Office

Are you going to be working from home for some or all of your week? Having ergonomic, comfortable, and functional furniture can help keep your back and neck from hurting and your mind from getting distracted. Don’t just perch on the couch or in bed with your laptop. Scan home office ideas if you’re in need of some inspiration.

30. Give Back

You’re joining the ranks of adults, so do the right thing and find a way to contribute and help others. Maybe you can spend some time on the weekend at a Habitat for Humanity site or make a charitable donation to a favorite cause.

The Takeaway

Your post-college years can be exciting and fun but also a bit confusing and challenging at times. Start with a few items on this list, and work your way through to build your life skills, launch your career, and manage your money confidently.

And if your student loan payments are getting in the way of you living your best post-college life, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

Photo credit: iStock/Rattankun Thongbun


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Applying for Economic Hardship Deferment

Managing student loan payments can feel like a part-time job. It can be even more overwhelming if you’re experiencing financial trouble, whether that’s due to a job layoff, caring for a family member, or for another reason.

The good news is there are options available to those going through a rough financial patch, including the Economic Hardship Deferment program. But even then, it can be difficult to navigate all of the information on which deferment program you may be eligible to apply for based on the reason for your hardship and the type of student loans you have. So that’s what we’re going to discuss today.

Economic Hardship Deferment, also known as student loan financial hardship, is a program offered in certain cases on federal student loans for borrowers who are eligible and having an exceedingly difficult time making their student loan payments for financial reasons.

Below, we’ll discuss the Economic Hardship Deferment program and what it means for you and your loans, who qualifies to make a hardship claim for student loans, how to apply for the program, and whether it’s the right path for you. We’ll also cover alternatives to Economic Hardship Deferment.

What Is Economic Hardship Deferment?

Student loan deferment allows you to reduce or pause your student loan payments for a designated period of time. An Economic Hardship Deferment is awarded to those who are facing serious financial trouble, as determined by factors such as monthly income and family size.

Those approved for the program can take up to 36 consecutive months of deferment so long as they still meet the qualifications. All participants (except those in the Peace Corps) need to reapply each year.

An important distinction to understand is whether your loans will qualify for a deferment period where interest will accrue, or one where interest does not accrue. Generally, loans that are subsidized will not accrue interest during deferment, whereas an unsubsidized loan will.

In the event your loan qualifies for deferment but will continue to accrue interest, you’ll usually have two options: Make interest-only payments on the loan, or allow interest charges to rack up.

When you allow interest charges to accumulate on an unsubsidized loan, that interest will be tallied up and added to the balance of the loan at the end of the period. This is a process called “capitalization.”

Not only will you have a new, larger balance to pay off, but any future interest payments will be calculated on top of the new, higher balance, meaning you’re paying interest on top of interest. All else equal, the result is that your monthly payments will likely be even higher than they are now.

Which Loans Qualify for Economic Hardship Deferment?

This is a federal loan program, and not all federal loans qualify. Here are a few examples of loans that may qualify (and check the link below for a full, updated list of eligible loans):

•  National Direct Student Loans (NDSL Loans)

•  Federal Family Education Loans (FEEL Loans)

•  Federal Stafford Loans

•  Federal Perkins Loans

•  Federal Supplemental Loans for Students (SLS Loans)

•  Federal PLUS Loans

•  Federal Consolidation Loans

•  National Defense Student Loans

The Economic Hardship Deferment program is typically available for loans borrowed on or after July 1, 1993.

The Economic Hardship Deferment program is only available for federal student loans, so private loans borrowed through independent financial institutions won’t qualify. However, some private lenders offer their own hardship programs. If your lender offers such a program, they will have their own unique qualifications and application process.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask if you are in a difficult financial situation. Remember, lenders don’t want you to default on your loans, and are often willing to work with borrowers to find some sort of solution. With both federal and private loans, never hesitate to call the lender, discuss your situation, and explore options.

Who Qualifies for Economic Hardship Deferment?

To make a hardship claim for student loans, you will have to fill out paperwork and provide documentation proving that you are experiencing financial hardship. Some of the eligibility criteria for an Economic Hardship Deferment will depend on your income, family size, and the poverty income guidelines for your family size in the state where you live (150% of the state poverty level or less). It will also depend on what percentage your student loan payment is of your monthly adjusted gross income.

To qualify for Economic Hardship Deferment, you will need to provide personal information such as your name, Social Security number, and address. You’ll also need to know what type of loan you are requesting economic hardship deferment for.

Here are some examples of what you may need to prove to the loan servicer evaluating your eligibility for deferment:

  1. You’ve already been granted Economic Hardship Deferment on loans made under another federal student loan program.

  2. You’re receiving payments under a federal or state public assistance program during the time in which you request your loan deferment. Examples of such programs include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Food Stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or other forms of state assistance.

  3. You are serving as a Peace Corp volunteer.

  4. You work full-time (30 hours per week) and your monthly income does not exceed 150% of the poverty guideline for your family size and state.

Here’s how to tell if you meet this last guideline: First, determine your family size. This includes you, your spouse, any children who receive more than half of their support from you, any unborn children who are to be born during the deferment period, and anyone else living with you for whom you provide at least half of their support.

Next, find your family size on the following table, and compare it to your annual income (divide by 12 to get your average monthly income).

Family Size   Alaska     Hawaii     All Other States  
1 $18,210 $16,770 $14,580
2 $24,640 $22,680 $19,720
3 $31,070 $28,590 $24,860
4 $37,500 $34,500 $30,000
5 $43,930 $40,410 $35,140
6 $50,360 $46,320 $40,280
7 $56,790 $52,230 $45,420
8 $63,220 $58,140 $50,560
Each additional person, add $6,430 $5,910 $5,140

These figures are from 2023 and are subject to change annually.

You are likely to qualify for the student loan financial hardship program as long as you meet one of these prerequisites. If that is the case, and you would like to pursue the option, contact your lender or student loan servicer. Tell them you would like to apply for Economic Hardship Deferment. At this point, they typically ask you a series of questions and have you fill out an Economic Hardship Deferment Request form.

Pros and Cons of Economic Hardship Deferment

Pros

For someone who is in desperate need of reprieve from their student loan payments, the program can be a godsend. You may want to consider taking advantage of this program if the alternative is defaulting on student loans, which can have a long-lasting, detrimental effect on your credit score and history.

If your loans are subsidized, there is no cost to taking an Economic Hardship Deferment.

Periods of deferment are provided to borrowers who need time to find a job, increase their income, or recover from the many myriad of life events that could leave someone in a place of need. There is no shame in this, whatsoever, but it’s a great idea to use the deferment period to work on rebuilding.

Cons

With unsubsidized loans, taking a period of deferment will make the loans in question cost more over time. Even if you make interest payments during your deferment, you aren’t chipping away at the principal, and so all of those payments are essentially a wash. If you don’t make interest payments, the total value of those unpaid interest payments will be slapped on top of the loan balance, increasing your loan balance and the amount you’ll owe in interest, over time.

When the period of deferment ends, your monthly payment will likely be higher than it is now, which may be difficult for someone who is already experiencing financial hardship. Use the program if you need it, but know it can come with some costs in the long term.

It is also extremely difficult to qualify for Economic Hardship Deferment. The program utilizes stringent criteria to determine eligibility with income review using poverty level guidelines as noted above. (For example, a single person working full-time and earning $20,000 per year and living in California who is not already on food stamps or other forms of government assistance would probably not qualify for Economic Hardship Deferment.) This makes the program unavailable to many people who are legitimately having difficulty making their loan payments.

Alternatives to Economic Hardship Deferment

Forbearance

If you do not qualify for Economic Hardship Deferment, an option is to request forbearance. Forbearance is similar to deferment, though interest accrues in all cases, and periods of forbearance generally do not exceed 12 months (and could be shorter). You’ll need to check with your loan servicer to see if you qualify.

Income Driven Repayment Plans

There are four income-driven repayment plans, including the latest SAVE plan, that help make student loan payments more affordable by reducing them to a percentage of your discretionary income. SAVE, for example, caps your payments at 5% to 10% of your income, depending on the types of loans you have. Under other plans, your payments may be capped at anywhere from 10% to 20% of your income.

IDR plans also stretch your repayment timeline out up to 25 years. If you have any debt left over after than, it’s forgiven (though it may be subject to income taxes).

Though your monthly payments will be lower, which provides some immediate relief, you will pay significantly more in interest over time. It is possible to switch to an alternative repayment plan and back again if your financial situation improves.

Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

With 10 years of on-time payments at a qualifying job (like a government worker, a teacher, a doctor, or nurse at a qualifying facility), it is possible to have student loans forgiven with the PSLF program. If you go this route, you’ll usually want to switch to an income-driven repayment plan.

Student Loan Refinancing

Another option to consider for both your federal and private student loans is student loan refinancing. Refinancing is the process of switching out your loan or multiple loans with one new loan at an (ideally) lower rate of interest.

The lower rate of interest could save you money on interest payments over the life of the loan. Use a student loan refinancing calculator to see how lower interest rates affect your monthly payments.

It’s important to know that if you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you will lose access to federal student loan programs such as Economic Hardship Deferment or PSLF.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Changing Student Loan Repayment Plans: Understanding Your Options

Like many Americans, you likely are carrying some student loan debt. While in an ideal world, you’d pay that debt off quickly, we all know that the real world often brings unpleasant financial surprises, unemployment, and drops in disposable income.

If you’ve suffered financial setbacks and are struggling to pay your student loans, you might be exploring options to change your repayment plan, especially now that the suspension of payments that was offered during the pandemic is over.

Will interest rates go up on student loans in 2024? It’s anyone’s guess. But if they do, that could impact how much you pay for your student loan if you refinance or change the repayment plan.

Before you take action, let’s dive deeper into your student loan repayment plan options.

Student Loan Repayment Plan Options

The U.S. Department of Education has several repayment plans for student loan debt that are based on income and family size. If your financial situation has changed since you started paying your loan years ago, you might benefit from changing the repayment plan if you qualify for another type.This could help you have a smaller monthly bill for your student loan debt or pay less in interest over the life of the loan.

Types of student loan repayment plans include:

Standard Repayment Plan

The Standard Repayment Plan is the default plan you were given when you completed your studies and started paying on your loan. The student loan interest rates you’re paying may be fixed or variable, but the plan is set up so that you’ll pay your loans off within 10 years.

The amount you pay each month isn’t based on income or any other factors. If your income hasn’t dipped since you first started paying your loan, this might be your best repayment plan option.

Income-Based (IBR) Repayment Plan

If you have seen a drop in your income, you might be eligible for an income-based repayment plan. To qualify, you’ll need to meet income requirements based on your income and the number of people in your household.

If you qualify, your monthly payment will be 10% of your discretionary income if you’re a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, and you’ll pay the loan over 20 years.

Income-Contingent (ICR) Repayment Plan

Though the income-contingent plan is similar to the IBR plan, there are differences. With the ICR plan, you will pay the lesser of either 20% of your discretionary income each month, or what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over 12 years, adjusted to your income. The ICR plan lasts 25 years, and you must also meet criteria in your income and family size to qualify.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

With the Pay As You Earn plan, you will typically pay 10% of your discretionary income and never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment plan amount. This plan lasts 20 years.

Again, there are requirements about how much you can make to qualify.

Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Repayment Plan

The Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) repayment plan has been replaced by the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. You’ll need to prove eligibility of your income and family size.

With this plan, you’d pay 10% of your discretionary income toward your student loan debt each month over 20 years if all the loans were for undergraduate study and 25 years if any of them were for graduate or professional study.

Recommended: What Student Loan Repayment Plan Should You Choose? Take the Quiz

Can You Change Your Student Loan Repayment Plan?

With rising student loan interest rates and a higher cost of living, you may find it difficult to continue paying your monthly student loan. If your income has dropped, you may be able to change your student loan repayment plan to one of the plans discussed above.


💡 Quick Tip: When rates are low, refinancing student loans could make a lot of sense. How much could you save? Find out using our student loan refi calculator.

How Often Can You Change Your Student Loan Repayment Plan?

There’s no cap on how many times you can change your student loan repayment plan. Be aware, though, that every time you do, the interest rate and amount you pay may change. This could be to your advantage if interest rates are low, but if they aren’t, you could end up paying more for your student loan if you change your repayment plan again and again.

Also, reducing your monthly payment may extend the number of years you pay on your loan, which means you’ll pay more in interest the longer you take to repay it. With a 10-year repayment plan, for example, you’d pay less in interest overall than you would with a 25-year plan.

How to Change Your Student Loan Repayment Plan

To change your student loan repayment plan, start by reviewing the income requirements for the repayment plans discussed above. You can also use the Department of Education’s Loan Simulator Tool to find the best repayment strategy.

Once you’ve determined which repayment plan you think is best, log into your student loan provider’s website. There should be information there to help you apply for the student loan repayment plan of your choice.
You may be required to provide proof of income, and you may need to recertify each year to continue with the plan once you’ve been approved.

Your application to change your repayment plan may take some time, so be prepared to continue to pay the previous monthly amount until it is approved. And remember: even if you have an income-based student loan repayment plan, you can always pay extra to pay off your debt faster.

Other Options for Lowering Your Student Loan Payment

There are a few drawbacks to trying to change your student loan repayment plan. The first is if you have private student loans, they won’t qualify for repayment plans offered by the U.S. Department of Education. Repayment plans are reserved for federal student loans only.

The second is if you make too much money, you may not be able to qualify for an income-based repayment plan based on your income and family size. You may still struggle to make those payments, and that could put your credit at risk if you miss a payment or two.

And finally, if you have more than one student loan, juggling multiple payments and paying several different interest rates can be stressful, and you may feel like you’ll never pay them all off.

If you identify with one of these scenarios, one option is to refinance your student loans. Whether you have private or public loans, refinancing them with one new loan helps you drop down to just one monthly payment and one interest rate. Ideally, you’ll pay less in interest overall and be able to pay off your student debt faster.

Keep in mind, though, that if you refinance federal student loans, you lose access to federal benefits, including income-based repayment plans and student loan forgiveness. Make sure you aren’t currently using or planning on using federal benefits before refinancing.


💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.

More Student Loan Refinancing Tips

Take control of your finances by choosing the best strategy to pay off your student loans faster. SoFi’s got refinancing options that can help you fast-track to paying off that debt in a flash.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

FAQ

Can I change my repayment plan for student loans?

Yes, you can change your repayment plan for student loans by consolidating your loans, refinancing them, or choosing an income-based repayment plan if you qualify. Keep in mind that income-based repayment plans are reserved for federal student loans only.

Can you change your loan repayment plan at any time?

Yes, there’s no limit to how many times or when you can change your student loan repayment plan.

Can I switch IDR plans?

As long as you qualify for a different income-based student loan repayment plan, you are able to switch plans at any time.


Photo credit: iStock/AlexSecret

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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How Soon Can You Refinance Student Loans?

Typically, student loan borrowers cannot refinance their debt until they graduate or withdraw from school. At that point, federal student loans and the majority of private student loans have a grace period, so it can make sense to refinance right before the grace period ends.

Depending on your financial situation, the goal of refinancing may be to snag a lower interest rate and/or have lower monthly payments. Doing so can alleviate some of the stress you may feel when repaying your debt. In this guide, you’ll learn when you can refinance and what options are available, plus the potential benefits and downsides of each.

What Do Your Current Loans Look Like?

Before deciding whether or not to refinance your student loans, you need to know where your loans currently stand. Look at the loan servicers, loan amounts, interest rates, and terms for all loans before making a decision.

Contact Info for Most Federal Student Loans

The government assigns your loan to a loan servicer after it is paid out. To find your loan servicer, visit your account dashboard on studentaid.gov, find the “My Aid” section, and choose “View loan servicer details.” You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243.

Loans Not Owned by the Department of Education

Here’s how to get in touch:

•   If you have Federal Family Education Loan Program loans that are not held by the government, contact your servicer for details. Look for the most recent communication from the entity sending you bills.

•   If you have a Federal Perkins Loan that is not owned by the Education Department, contact the school where you received the loan for details. Your school may be the servicer for your loan.

•   If you have Health Education Assistance Loan Program loans and need to find your loan servicer, look for the most recent communication from the entity sending you bills.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are not given by the government, but rather banks, credit unions, and online lenders. You’ll need to find your specific lender or servicer in order to find out your loan information.

Can You Refinance Student Loans While Still in School?

You may be able to refinance your student loans while still in school with certain lenders, but doing so may not make the most sense for your situation.

If you’re worried about interest accruing on your unsubsidized federal loans and/or private student loans while in school, you can most certainly make interest-only payments on them in order to keep the interest from capitalizing.

One important note: With federal student loans, any payments you make while still in school or during the grace period will not count as a qualifying payment toward loan forgiveness, if you plan on using that.


💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.

Which Loans Can Be Refinanced While Enrolled?

You can refinance any type of student loan while enrolled in school, assuming that the lender allows it. If you’re still in school and want to refinance, a lender will want to make sure you have a job or job offer on the table, are possibly in your last year of school, and have a solid credit profile. You could also consider refinancing your student loans with a cosigner if you do not meet the lender’s requirements on your own.

A couple of important points if you are considering refinancing federal student loans with a private lender:

•   Doing so means you will forfeit federal benefits and protections, such as forbearance and forgiveness, among others.

•   If you refinance for an extended term, you may have a lower monthly payment but pay more interest over the life of the loan. This may or may not suit your financial needs and goals, so consider your options carefully.

Which Loans Can’t Be Refinanced While Enrolled?

If you find a lender willing to refinance your student loans while still in school, they most likely won’t exclude a certain type of loan. However, it is best not to refinance federal student loans while enrolled. Federal Subsidized Loans, for example, do not start earning interest until after the grace period is over. Since you aren’t paying anything in interest, it doesn’t make sense to refinance and have to start paying interest on your loans immediately.

If you plan on using federal benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans or student loan forgiveness, refinancing student loans could be a bad idea. Refinancing gives you a new loan with a new private lender, thereby forfeiting your eligibility to federal benefits and protections, as noted above.

Is It Worth Refinancing Only Some of Your Loans?

Yes, it can be worth refinancing only some of your loans. The student loans you may want to focus on refinancing may include ones that have a variable rate (and you prefer a fixed rate), ones with a relatively high interest rate, or ones where you’ve had a less-than-ideal relationship with the servicer and are looking for a new experience.

When you might want to think twice about refinancing:

•   If you have federal loans and plan on using an income-based repayment plan, for example, it makes sense not to include those loans in the refinance.

•   If you have a low, fixed interest rate currently, you should probably keep those loans as is. The main reason to refinance is to secure a lower interest rate or a lower payment. Keep in mind, though, that by lowering your payment, you typically are extending your term. This can mean that you end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.

Pros and Cons of Refinancing Student Loans

Pros Cons

•   Possibly lower your monthly payment

•   Possibly lower your interest rate

•   Shorten or lengthen the loan term

•   Switch from variable to fixed interest rate, or vice versa

•   Combine multiple loans into one

•   Lose access to federal benefits and protections

•   Lose access to remaining grace periods

•   May be difficult to qualify

•   May end up paying more in interest if you lengthen the term

Examples of Refinancing Before Earning a Degree

As stated above, there are some lenders that may allow you to refinance before you graduate or withdraw from school. These lenders may currently include Citizens Bank, Discover, RISLA, and Earnest.

Graduate students are also eligible to refinance their undergraduate student loans, assuming they meet the lender’s requirements or use a cosigner. Parents with Parent PLUS Loans are also typically allowed to refinance their loans prior to their child graduating. Rules will vary by lender, so make sure to do your research and choose a lender that will work with your unique situation.


💡 Quick Tip: Federal parent PLUS loans might be a good candidate for refinancing to a lower rate.

Alternatives to Refinancing

If refinancing your student loans isn’t the right option for you, there are alternatives to refinancing you can explore.

•   The main alternative is student loan consolidation, which combines your federal student loans into one loan with one monthly payment. The main difference between consolidation and refinancing is the interest rate on a federal loan consolidation is the weighted average of the rates of the loans you are consolidating, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percentage.

•   You typically won’t save on interest, but you can lower your monthly payment by extending the loan term. Doing this, however, means you’ll probably pay more in interest over the life of the loan.

•   Student loan refinancing refers to paying off current loans with a new loan from a private lender, preferably with a lower rate. This rate is not the weighted average of the loans, but rather is based on current market rates, your credit profile, and your debt-to-income ratio.

•   Other alternatives to refinancing include making interest-only payments while still enrolled in school or requesting a student loan forbearance if you’re struggling to make your payments. Forbearance means you can reduce or pause payments for a designated period of time.

You’ll want to know all your student loan repayment options — and the pros and cons of consolidating or refinancing your loans, prior to making a decision.

A calculator tool for student loan refinancing can come in handy when estimating savings, both monthly and over the life of your loan.

Weighing Perks and Interest Rates

Before deciding whether refinancing is right for you, it’s important to again highlight this important point: If you refinance your federal student loans with a private lender, those loans will no longer be eligible for programs like income-driven repayment plans, federal forbearance, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

But if you can get a lower interest rate, refinancing may be a good fit. Most refinancing lenders offer loan terms of five to 20 years. Shortening or elongating your loan term can affect your monthly payment and the total cost over the life of your loan.

For some borrowers, lengthening the term and lowering the monthly payment will be a valuable option, even though it can mean paying more interest over the life of the loan. Only you can decide if this kind of refinancing makes sense for your personal finances.

The Takeaway

When can you refinance student loans? As soon as you establish a financial foundation or bring a solid cosigner aboard. Can you refinance your student loans while in school? Yes, however, not all lenders offer this and it may not make sense for your situation. It’s also important to understand the implications of refinancing federal student loans with a private lender. If you do not plan on using federal benefits and protections and are comfortable with the possibility of paying more interest over the loan’s term, it might be a move worth considering.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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