Dealing with substantial student loan debt can be overwhelming, especially if you find yourself struggling to make your payments.
Fortunately, there are some options that may help minimize the amount of money you pay back, such as federal forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans. You also might be able to reduce your monthly payment with a student loan refinance or temporarily postpone your payments through deferment or forbearance.
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Options to Get Out of Repaying Student Loans Legally
1. Loan Forgiveness Programs
Depending on your eligibility, there are a few different federal loan forgiveness programs available to borrowers with federal student loans. These programs could help you get out of paying a portion of student loan debt as they forgive your loan balance after a certain number of years.
Each forgiveness program has different eligibility criteria.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
This federal student loan forgiveness program forgives the loans of highly qualified teachers. Depending on the subject area they teach, teachers who meet the eligibility requirements may have up to $17,500 or up to $5,000. Teachers are eligible to apply for this loan forgiveness program after they have completed five years of service.
Recommended: Explaining Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
This program is designed for those working in public service. In order to qualify for Public Services Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), applicants must meet the programs eligibility requirements, including:
• Work for a qualified employer
• Work full-time
• Hold Direct Loans or have a Direct Consolidation Loan
• Make 120 qualifying payments on an income-driven repayment plan
Borrowers who are interested in pursuing PSLF will have to follow strict requirements in order to qualify and have their loan balances forgiven.
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2. Income-Driven Repayment Plans
Income-driven repayment plans for federal student loans tie a borrower’s monthly loan payments to their income and family size. Depending on the specific income-driven repayment plan you select, your payment will typically be 10-20% of your discretionary income. However, depending on your income and family size, your payment could be as low as $0.
The repayment period for income-driven repayment plans varies from 20 to 25 years. While these plans help make loan payments more affordable for borrowers, extending the loan terms may result in accruing more interest over the life of the loan.
At the end of the loan term, any remaining loan balance may be forgiven. Be mindful that the forgiven amount may be considered taxable income by the IRS.
3. Disability Discharge
It may be possible to have federal student loans discharged if you have a permanent disability. To be eligible for the disability discharge, you need to show the Department of Education that you are not able to earn an income now or in the future because of your disability.
To do so, you need to get an evaluation from a doctor, submit evidence from Veterans Affairs, or show that you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance. You cannot apply for disability discharge until you have been disabled for 60 months unless a doctor writes a letter saying that your disability and inability to work will last at least 60 months.
4. Temporary Relief: Deferment or Forbearance
This is an option to consider for borrowers struggling to make monthly payments on their federal student loans. Forbearance and deferment both offer borrowers the ability to pause their payments if they qualify.
Depending on the type of loan you have, interest may continue to accrue even while the loan is in deferment or forbearance. However, applying for one of these options can help borrowers avoid missed payments and potentially defaulting on their student loans.
Note that private student loans don’t offer the same benefits as federal student loans, but some may offer their own benefits. For example, SoFi offers Unemployment Protection, which allows qualifying borrowers to pause loan payments if they lose their job through no fault of their own.
5. Student Loan Refinancing
This option won’t get rid of your student loans, but it could help make student loans more affordable. By refinancing your student loans, you can potentially qualify for a lower interest rate, which can possibly lower your monthly payments or save you money on interest over the life of your loan.
If you refinance with a private lender, you can also change the term length on your student loans. While private lenders can refinance both your federal and private student loans, you do lose access to some protections that federal student loans provide, such as income-based repayment programs.
6. Filing for Bankruptcy: A Last Resort
Bankruptcy is a legal option to clear debt. However, it is extremely rare that student loans are eligible for discharge in bankruptcy. In some instances, if a borrower can prove “undue hardship,” they may be able to have their student loans discharged in bankruptcy.
Recommended: Bankruptcy and Student Loans: What You Should Know
Filing for bankruptcy can have long-term impacts on an individual’s credit score and is generally a last resort. Before considering bankruptcy, review other options, such as speaking with a credit counselor or consulting with a qualified attorney who can provide advice specific to the individual’s personal situation.
It can be challenging to pay student loan debt, but there are options that can temporarily reduce or eliminate your payment. It is only in extremely rare circumstances that student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy.
For federal student loans, some options that can help alleviate the burden of student loan debt include deferment or forbearance, which may be helpful to those who are facing short-term issues repaying student loans. Another avenue to consider may be income-driven repayment plans, which tie a borrower’s monthly loan payments to their income, helping make monthly payments more manageable.
Refinancing student loans could be another option to consider. Qualifying borrowers may be able to secure a more competitive interest rate, which could result in less accrued interest over the life of the loan. This option won’t be right for all borrowers, as refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from federal benefits and protections.
If refinancing is something you are looking into, consider SoFi. There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties and it’s possible to get a prequalification quote in just a few minutes.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.
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Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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