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How to Defer Student Loans When Going Back to School

By Casey Bond · October 14, 2023 · 6 minute read

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How to Defer Student Loans When Going Back to School

Due to the financial challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, federal student loan payments were automatically paused from March 2020 to September 2023. During that time, interest didn’t accrue and collections activities were also paused. But now that payments are due again, many borrowers are looking for ways to make their loans more manageable, especially those who are facing ongoing financial hardships.

One option is student loan deferment, which allows you to temporarily pause your student loan payments. As with most financial decisions, there are pros and cons to deferring your student loans. Here’s more information about student loan deferment and what it could mean for your financial future.

What Is Student Loan Deferment?

Deferment is a program that allows you to temporarily stop making payments on your federal student loans or to temporarily reduce your monthly payments for a specified time period.

This is similar to another option known as forbearance. However, unlike forbearance, you may not be charged interest while your loan is in deferment. According to the Department of Education, if you hold one of the following types of loans, you will not be responsible for paying interest on your loan while it is in deferment:

•  Direct Subsidized Loan

•  Subsidized Federal Stafford Loan

•  Federal Perkins Loan

•  The subsidized portion of a Direct Consolidation Loan

•  The subsidized portion of a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Consolidation Loan

If you have one of the following types of loans, you will be responsible for paying the accrued interest on your loan while it is in deferment:

•  Direct Unsubsidized Loan

•  Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan

•  Direct PLUS Loan

•  FFEL PLUS Loan

•  The unsubsidized portion of a Direct Consolidation Loan

•  The unsubsidized portion of a FFEL Consolidation Loan

If you are responsible for paying interest on your student loans while they are in grad school deferment, you have two options: 1) you can make interest-only payments on the loans while they are in deferment; 2) if you choose not to make these interest-only payments, the accrued interest will capitalize (be added to the loan principal) when the deferment period is over.


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

How Do You Qualify for Student Loan Deferment?

In order to qualify for student loan deferment, you must meet one of the following requirements:

•  You’re enrolled at least part-time at a qualifying university

•  You’re unemployed or unable to find employment (for up to three years)

•  You’re experiencing an economic hardship

•  You’re currently volunteering in the Peace Corps

•  You’re on active-duty military service (or are in the 13 months following that service)

•  You’re in an approved graduate fellowship program

•  You’re in an approved rehabilitation program (for disabled students)

Requesting a Deferment

If you’re interested in deferring student loans to go back to school, you’ll need to apply for an in-school deferment. Most likely, you will request the deferment directly through your loan servicer—there is usually a form for you to fill out. When you request a deferment, you’ll also need to provide some sort of documentation to prove that you qualify for a deferment.

If you are enrolled in an eligible college or career school at least half-time, may be placed in deferment automatically . If it is, your loan servicer will notify you that deferment has been granted. If you enroll at least half-time and do not automatically receive a deferment, you will need to contact the school in which you are enrolled. The school will then send the appropriate paperwork to your loan servicer, so that your loan can be placed in deferment.

Pros and Cons of Student Loan Deferment

The biggest benefit of student loan deferment is the ability to temporarily postpone student loan repayment. As of the first quarter of 2023, 2.8 million loans were in deferment.

If you are deferring for extreme financial hardship, deferment allows you to free up money to pay off bills that require immediate attention like rent or electricity.

For students who have qualified for deferment through community service, like a stint in the Peace Corps, deferment gives them the opportunity to serve their community without any added stress from student loan payments.

While temporarily pausing loan repayment may seem like a blessing, it can come at a cost, especially if your student loans are not subsidized by the government. When in deferment, interest continues to accrue on your loan. And at the end of your deferment period, that interest will be capitalized on the loan. (This means that the accrued interest will be added to the principal balance of the loan. So ultimately, you’ll be paying interest on top of interest.)

This can mean you end up paying even more money over the life of the loan. To see how much deferring your student loans could cost, you can use an online calculator to get an estimate of how much interest will accrue while the loan is in deferment.

The Pros and Cons to Student Loan Refinancing

If you have private loans that aren’t eligible for federal student loan deferment, refinancing your student loans is another option to consider. You may also want to think about refinancing when you’re done with your graduate degree to pay off your loans at a potentially lower interest rate.

When you refinance, your existing student loans are paid off with a new loan from a private lender. If you are refinancing private loans before going back to graduate school, you may be after a lower monthly payment, which you could potentially qualify for when refinancing your loans and extending the loan term. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.)

Alternatively, if you’re looking to refinance after graduate school, you could potentially qualify for a lower interest rate, which could reduce the amount of money you spend over the life of the loan. The lender will use your credit score and earning potential to determine what interest rate you’ll qualify for. And thanks to your new graduate degree, you could have significantly increased your earnings.

Another big benefit of student loan refinancing? You’re able to combine all of your student loan payments – for both federal and private loans – into one easy-to-manage payment.

If you hold only federal student loans, however, you could look into a Direct Consolidation Loan , which allows you to consolidate federal loans into one loan with a single monthly payment. The new interest rate will be the weighted average of your current interest rates (rounded to the nearest one-eighth of 1%), so unlike refinancing, when you consolidate your student loans, you won’t necessarily qualify for a lower interest rate.

If you are taking advantage of your federal loans’ flexible repayment plans or student loan forgiveness programs (or if you are planning to do so), refinancing might not be the best option for you. A major con of student loan refinancing is that you’ll lose access to federal loan benefits when refinancing with a private lender—including deferment and income-driven repayment plans.

Refinancing Your Loans with SoFi

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.


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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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