Do Student Loans Expire?

By Becca Stanek · October 05, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Do Student Loans Expire?

Federal student loans never expire. Unlike private student loans, federal loans have no statute of limitations, which is the time limit creditors have to use legal means to collect on a debt. And while the clock technically can run out on private student loans, that doesn’t mean your student loans have vanished — lenders simply can no longer sue you to collect the debt. Plus, waiting it out will wreak havoc on your finances, anyway.

As such, waiting for student loans to expire is not a recommended tactic to manage student loans. Read on to learn more about why your student loans aren’t likely to expire and more effective ways to deal with student loan debt.

Why Federal Student Loans Don’t Expire

When does my student loan expire?

The answer to that question is “never” when it comes to federal loans. There’s no statute of limitations for collections on federal student loans. This means that if you stop making payments, your loan servicer or a debt collector can sue you to force repayment, regardless of how long it’s been since you last made a payment.

So what happens if you do stop paying your federal student loans altogether? First, your total balance will continue to increase. Whether or not you’re making any payments, interest will accrue, which means that every month your lender will add your new interest fees to your principal loan balance.

After at least 270 days of non-payment, your federal student loan will be in default. This can cause a number of things to happen, including loan acceleration (meaning your entire balance becomes due) and your loan getting sent to collections, which can damage your credit score and lead to additional fees from a collection agency.

Additionally, the federal government may decide to withhold your tax refund or even garnish wages directly from your paycheck. Your loan holder can also sue you to force you to pay up.

There is one temporary exception to this situation. Following the end of the federal student loan payment pause, which lasted from March 2020 to October 2023, the Biden administration instituted a special “on-ramp” period to protect financially vulnerable borrowers from experiencing the negative consequences of missing payments.

From Oct. 1, 2023 to Sept. 30, 2024, federal loan borrowers who miss one or more payments will not be considered delinquent or in default, have their missed payments reported to the credit bureaus, or have past-due loans referred to collections agencies. Any payments missed during this time will be due once the on-ramp period is over. And the normal process around loan default will resume Oct. 1, 2024.

Recommended: What Happens When Your Student Loans Go to Collections?

Why Private Student Loans May Expire

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans may be bound by a statute of limitations on collections. The statute of limitations varies by state and is generally between three and 10 years from the date you stopped paying your loans. Once the statute of limitations is up, the debt becomes “time-barred.”

Before you stop making your monthly payments, it’s important to know that a statute of limitations is not the same thing as an expiration date on your loans. A statute of limitations is merely a limit on the time that a lender or debt collector has to sue you in court to force you to pay back the loans.

Even if your debt is time-barred, you still technically owe the money, and failure to pay could lead to student loan default. When you default, you may face negative impacts to your credit score, and you may still end up dealing with collection agencies, plus any additional fees they may charge.

One Way You Can Get Rid of Student Loans

You can technically get rid of federal student loans in bankruptcy. However, doing so is extremely rare.

To potentially get your student loans (federal or private) discharged in bankruptcy, you would have to prove that paying your loans would cause you “undue hardship” (to borrow a phrase right from the U.S. Bankruptcy Code). Proving that paying your loans would cause undue hardship typically involves passing the Brunner test. This is a tool bankruptcy courts use that basically lays out ways in which you might claim undue hardship.

In short, it’s far from a sure thing, and the process is not especially clear-cut. But whether you’re 19 or 90 years old, your federal student loans will not just automatically expire after a period of non-payment — and failing to pay has some serious consequences.

Alternative Options to Manage Student Loan Debt

Just because federal student loans don’t expire doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to manage your student loan debt. Here are a few other options you might explore.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is available to professionals who work for qualifying employers in certain fields such as government, the nonprofit sector, and healthcare. This program is meant to encourage graduates to fill needed jobs in the public service sector without worrying about making enough money to pay off their student debt.

PSLF requires that you make 120 payments (the equivalent of 10 years, though they don’t need to be consecutive) while working full-time for a qualifying employer. Only payments made under certain repayment programs (such as income-driven repayment) count toward forgiveness. Still, federal loan forgiveness may be a good option for public servants with lots of debt left to pay.

Income-Driven Repayment

Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans reduce your payments to a percentage of your discretionary income. For borrowers who fall below certain income thresholds, payments could be as low as $0. There are four IDR plans available today:

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), which replaced REPAYE

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

In addition to reducing payments, these plans also extend the repayment term up to 25 years. Once the repayment period is up, any remaining debt is forgiven (but may be considered taxable income). For the SAVE plan, in particular, certain borrowers with smaller balances could have their loans forgiven after just 10 years of payments. In some sense, it might seem like the loans have “expired.” But really, the loans were repaid according to the terms of the IDR plan and the debt is considered satisfied.

Student Loan Refinancing

Another option to save money on your student loans is student loan refinancing. Loan refinancing doesn’t change the underlying amount that you owe. However, it may reduce the amount of money you spend on interest and help you secure better payment terms, which can add up to some serious cash over the life of your loan. When you refinance a federal student loan, you replace it with a private student loan.

Refinancing your federal and private loans based on your current credit score and income may allow you to score a brand new loan with a better interest rate or a shorter payoff term. To see how refinancing your loans could help you spend less money in interest, you can take a look at this student loan refinance calculator. Just know that if you’re working toward PSLF, refinancing with a private lender will disqualify your loans from this and any other federal program.

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The Takeaway

If you’ve been waiting around for your federal student loans to expire, you’re out of luck — federal student loans don’t expire. While private student loans may expire due to their statute of limitations, your debt won’t just disappear when this happens. Your finances will also suffer in the meantime. This is why it’s important to look into other ways to manage your student loan debt, such as student loan refinancing or income-driven repayment.

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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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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