Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.
As student loan debt increases, it’s likely that so will the number of borrowers defaulting on their student loans. Student debt in the U.S. has reached crisis levels at $1.76 trillion. The average borrower owes $37,338 in federal student loan debt.
Approximately 4 million student loans go into default every year, according to EducationData.org. About one in 10 borrowers have defaulted at some point, and about 5% of all student loan debt is currently in default.
Failure to make payments on your student loans can result in serious consequences. If you’re struggling with your student loans and are in danger of defaulting, there are options. The sooner you take action to remedy your student loan troubles, the better.
If your loans are already in default, there are steps you can take to recover. Read on to learn how to get student loans out of default.
What is Considered Student Loan Default?
At its most basic, student loan default happens when you have failed to make payments on your student loans.
If you have a federal student loan, the U.S. Department of Education considers your loan delinquent the day after you miss your first payment. After 90 days, your failure to pay will be reported to all three big credit bureaus, which may negatively impact your credit score.
If your loan is delinquent, there are steps you can take to prevent the loan from going into default. If you’ve failed to make a payment or two, consider applying for student loan deferment or forbearance, especially if you’re facing a temporary financial hardship.
If you’re having long-term difficulty paying your monthly student loan payments, an option is to see if you can change your payment terms to reduce your monthly bill. This process will extend the life of the loan (lowering your monthly loan payments usually involves lengthening your loan term) and you’ll most likely pay more in interest over the life of the loan. However, making payments on time can help you avoid defaulting and the consequences that come with it.
After 270 days of nonpayment, the loan is considered in default, triggering a series of consequences for the borrower.
For example, the default and history of missed payments can stay on your credit report for years to come. You also become ineligible for federal payment assistance such as forbearance, deferment, and student loan forgiveness. Any costs associated with collecting the loan are added to your balance due, and the government has the ability to garnish your wages or seize your tax refund.
There is a temporary on-ramp period in place to help struggling borrowers transition back to making their payments after the end of the pandemic-era federal forbearance period. From Oct. 1, 2023 to Sept. 30, 2024, borrowers who miss payments will not have their loans considered delinquent or in default, have those missed payments reported to the credit bureaus, or be referred to collections agencies. At the end of the on-ramp period, however, any missed payments during that time become due.
💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.
Tips for How to Get Student Loans Out of Default
If you’re wondering how to get student loans out of default, there are options. These include: loan rehabilitation, consolidation, refinancing, or paying off the loan in full—including any additional interest accrued on student loans. Oftentimes, borrowers in default are unable to repay their loans in full, so the following alternatives may be more practical.
1. Loan Rehabilitation
You may be able to remove a default from your credit report through student loan rehabilitation. The specifics on how to remove your default via student loan rehabilitation depend on the type of loan you have. Here’s roughly what the process looks like if you have federal loans in default:
First, you contact your lender’s customer service office to request a rehabilitation plan for your loan. Second, you want to be sure you can commit to the program since you can’t rehabilitate a loan a second time.
Third, you follow your lender’s plan. That means making nine payments on time, usually at a lower payment rate (your lender determines the monthly payment amount, usually equal to 15% of your annual discretionary income, divided by 12).
Once you’ve successfully made all payments on rehabilitated student loans, the default can be removed from your credit report, but sometimes it takes about 90 days. Note that missed payments prior to the default on your loan will remain on your credit report, and your loan holder may still take involuntary payments (like wage garnishment) until your loan is no longer in default and/or you begin making rehabilitation payments.
Once you have rehabilitated student loans and you’ve again become a borrower in good standing with your lender, you now have the opportunity to get further relief through forbearance or deferment, especially if you’re still struggling.
2. Loan Consolidation
If you have federal student loans, you may be able to consolidate your student loans into one Direct Consolidation Loan. By consolidating, you pay off your existing loans and replace them with one new loan. The new rate is a weighted average of the interest rates on your old loans, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.
If you qualify to consolidate your student loans, you have the ability to choose a different payment plan, including income-driven repayment plans. These plans lower your monthly payment to a percentage of your discretionary income. Most plans also extend the term out to 20 or 25 years, and cancel any remaining balance once the term is up (the SAVE plan, however, awards forgiveness as soon as 10 years for certain borrowers). Keep in mind that extending your repayment term could mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
You can also consolidate and refinance your federal and private student loans with a private lender, reaping some of the same benefits as consolidating your federal student loans: paying off several loans with one new loan and potentially lowering your payments.
But unlike federal student loan consolidation, a private loan consolidation doesn’t limit you to a weighted average of your previous loan rates, so you may be able to get a better rate depending on your personal financial history and current financial situation. When you consolidate student loans with a private lender, you are essentially refinancing them.
3. Refinancing Your Loans
If you have a solid personal financial picture (which includes things like your income and credit score), you may be able to refinance your loans with a private lender instead of consolidating them with the government. You may get a lower interest rate, which can allow you to trim the amount of interest you’ll pay over time, unless you extend the loan to lower your monthly payments instead. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.)
However, if you’re wondering how to get student loans out of default, your credit has likely already suffered. An option for those who want to refinance, but have a less-than-great credit score, is finding a cosigner for the loan. With a cosigner, you may be better able to qualify for refinancing. However, your cosigner would be equally responsible for the loan.
If you qualify for student loan refinancing, you may be able to also adjust the loan term, extending it to get a more manageable monthly payment or shortening the term to pay off your loan sooner. If you lengthen the loan term you may pay more in interest over the life of the loan, and a shorter-term usually means higher monthly payments.
But when you refinance a federal student loan with a private lender, you’ll no longer be eligible for federal protections, such as income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Recommended: Student Loan Refinancing Guide
How Refinancing Can Help Keep You From Defaulting
If you are at risk of defaulting on your student loans, there’s no better time than now to take action. It’s scary to not be able to pay your student loans. But there are ways to lower your monthly payments before you go into default.
First, if you have federal loans, you may want to look into income-based repayment plans, as mentioned above, which can lower your payments in accordance with your discretionary income.
If you’d like to consider refinancing your student loans, this could also potentially lower your payments. If you qualify for refinancing, you can opt to extend your loan term, and potentially secure a more manageable monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Using a student loan refinance calculator can help you see how your payments might change.
While a refinanced loan with a longer term could mean paying more in interest over the life of your loan, it could also help you get your payments under control.
Should you refinance your student loans? You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons. Again, keep in mind that if you refinance with a private lender, you will lose access to federal loan benefits like income-based repayment plans, forbearance, and deferment.
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.
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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