An estimated 7.8 million part-time college students are hard at work this year. They may be a part-time student because of financial reasons, caregiver or parental duties, medical issues, or other reasons, but for all scenarios, balancing college with other duties and needs can be a struggle.
One question that can come up for part-time students is whether they need to pay back student loans if they’re not attending classes full time. Read on for some clarification.
What Is a Part-Time College Student?
A part-time college student is someone who is not taking a full course load during any given academic quarter or semester. Individual schools set the standards for what counts as a full- or part-time student, but in general, full-time students may take about 12 credits or four classes at a time.
Part-time students may take anywhere from six to 11 credits or two to three classes per academic period.
Many students choose to attend college only part time in order to take care of family obligations, work a day job, or because of other circumstances that don’t allow them to take four classes at one time.
In general, part-time students may not need to pay back their federal student loans as long as they don’t drop below half-time enrollment—or as long as they haven’t graduated.
What does this mean in practicality? If you’re a part-time student and you are taking at least half of the full-load credit hours, you generally won’t need to start paying off your federal student loans until you graduate.
For example, if a full course load at your school is 12 credits, and you’re taking six credits this semester, you are still enrolled at least half time, and wouldn’t normally be required to start paying back your federal student loans.
If, however, you drop down below half time enrollment by taking only one three-credit class, you would no longer be attending school at least half time and may be required to start paying off your federal student loans.
When Do I Have to Start Paying Back My Student Loans?
If you are a part-time student who graduates or drops below half-time enrollment, you may not need to start paying back your federal student loans right away. Many new grads, or those entering a repayment period for the first time, are given a six-month grace period before they have to start paying federal student loans back.
The exact length of any grace period depends on the type of loan you have and your specific circumstances. For example, federal Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans all use the standard six-month grace period before payments are due.
You may lose out on any grace period if you consolidate your federal student loans with the federal government during your grace period. In that scenario, you’ll typically need to start paying back your loan once the consolidation is disbursed (paid out).
There is good news if you’re a member of the armed forces—and are called to active duty 30 days or more before your grace period ends, you could delay the six month grace period until after you return from active duty. If you have private student loans, don’t count on getting a grace period before you start paying back your loans.
Student loans taken out from private lenders don’t have the same terms and benefits as federal student loans , which means that private student loans may not offer a grace period at all, or it may be a different length than the federal grace period. The best way to check if your private student loan has a grace period is to talk directly to your lender.
One important thing to remember is that if you enter a grace period because you dropped below half-time enrollment but then you re-enroll in school at least half time before the end of the grace period, you will receive the full six month grace period on your federal student loans when you stop attending school or drop below half time enrollment (other conditions can apply here).
This is because, in general, once you start attending school at least half-time again, you’re no longer obligated to start making payments on federal student loans. In this situation, you would still get a grace period after you graduate, even though you may have used part of a grace period while you were attending school less than half time. Note that most loan types will still accrue interest during the grace period.
How Do I Pay Back My Student Loans?
There are things you can do to make paying back your loans as painless as possible. When you enter loan repayment on a federal student loan, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the Standard Repayment Plan , which requires you to pay off your loan within 10 years.
However, there are other types of repayment plans available, including income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs for public service, and it is always worth learning about the different plans so you can make an educated choice.
Of course, choosing a student loan repayment plan isn’t the only decision you’ll have to make about paying off your loans.
In fact, there are so many different deadlines and strategies for loan repayment that you may want to take some time to set up a system to help you manage it all.
Once you have a system in place, you may want to take some time to nail down a plan for repayment, whether you want to try to pay everything off as fast as possible or pay consistently over time.
Take a Look at Refinancing
One option you may want to consider is refinancing your student loans with a private lender. Refinancing your student loans allows you to combine all your federal and private student loans into one new, private loan.
This new loan might come with better terms, meaning if you qualify you may end up with a lower monthly payment or a shorter loan repayment term.
It’s important to remember, however, that student loan refinancing isn’t right for everyone. If you refinance your federal loans they will no longer be eligible for any federal repayment assistance, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program or income-driven repayment plans.
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