What Happens if I Miss a Student Loan Payment?

By Kayla McCormack · October 02, 2023 · 11 minute read

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What Happens if I Miss a Student Loan Payment?

Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.

What happens if I miss a student loan payment? That’s the question on many borrowers’ minds as federal student loan payments resume after more than three years of emergency forbearance.

Missing payments on student loans can have a variety of negative consequences, including damage to your credit score and wage garnishment. However, the Biden administration is offering a temporary “on-ramp” to ease the transition back into repayment. Until the end of September 2024, borrowers will not have to worry about their student loans falling into default or damage to their credit score if they miss payments.

Interest will continue to accrue during this time, though, and any missed student loan payments will be due eventually. Rather than ignoring your student loan bills, take some time to review your options for making them more affordable. The Department of Education offers various plans to help struggling borrowers get back on track.

What Happens if I Miss a Federal Student Loan Payment?

Missing federal student loan payments typically leads to delinquency and default, but from October 2023 through September 2024, borrowers who miss a payment will avoid these consequences. Here’s a closer look at what this student loan on-ramp entails, followed by what typically happens when you miss payments.

Understanding the Student Loan On-Ramp

Federal student loan borrowers have been exempt from student loan payments and interest since March of 2020. With the end of this emergency forbearance, the Biden administration is offering a one-year on-ramp for borrowers to adjust to the new reality. Until Sep. 30, 2024, borrowers won’t face the usual consequences if they miss payments.

For example, your loans won’t fall into delinquency or default, and missed payments won’t be reported to the credit bureaus. Your loans won’t go into collections, and you won’t have to worry about garnishment of your wages, tax refund, or Social Security benefits.

What’s more, the interest that accrues during this year won’t be capitalized, or added onto, your principal balance when the on-ramp expires. This on-ramp gives borrowers time to start making payments again after the lengthy pause.

However, interest will still accrue during this time, and you’ll still have to pay back your loan eventually. Instead of skipping payments over the next year, you may be better off applying for an income-driven repayment plan for more affordable monthly bills.

What Normally Happens When You Miss a Student Loan Payment

Normally, your student loan is considered delinquent the day after you miss a payment. Even if you start making the next payments, your account will remain delinquent until you make up for the missed payment or receive deferment or forbearance.

Once 90 days pass, your loan servicer will let the major credit reporting agencies know that your loan is delinquent. Your credit score will take a hit, making it more difficult to qualify for good terms on loans or credit cards or to rent an apartment.

If you continue not paying, your loan will go into default. For federal loans, the government will wait 270 days. Defaulting on your student loan has serious consequences. The entire amount you owe on your loan, including interest, becomes due immediately.

You won’t be able to take out any other student loans, and you’ll no longer qualify for deferment or forbearance or be able to choose your own mortgage, car loan, or other forms of credit. The government may take your tax refund or federal benefits to pay off your loan. You may also have your wages garnished, meaning your employer will take part of your paycheck and send it to the government to be applied toward the loan.

It’s rare, but the government can also sue you at any time — there’s no statute of limitations. You may also be responsible for collection fees, attorney’s fees, and other costs. In other words, you do not want to default on your student loans. (If you do, options exist for getting out of default, such as the Fresh Start program.)

💡 Quick Tip: Get flexible terms and competitive rates when you refinance your student loan with SoFi.

What Happens if I Miss a Private Student Loan Payment?

Private lenders usually give you much less leeway than the federal government. Exactly what happens if you miss a payment depends on the company’s policies and your loan terms. A private lender can tack on late fees and transfer your loan to a debt collection agency.

Also, private lenders can sue you if you stop paying your student loans. If they win, a court can sign a judgment allowing them to garnish your wages. States set the statute of limitations for lawsuits about payment of private loans; the time period usually ranges from three years to a decade. But the lender can continue trying to collect the debt for as long as they want. Plus, certain actions can reset the statute of limitations, such as making a payment or even acknowledging that the debt belongs to you.

Will My Loans Eventually Go Away if I Can’t Pay?

If you stop paying your student loans, they will not go away. However, it may be possible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy or qualify for student loan forgiveness or discharge.

For example, federal student loans can be discharged if you suffer from a total permanent disability or your school closes while you’re attending or soon after you leave. You can also pursue student loan forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness or Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Student loan cancellation from an income-driven repayment plan may also be an option. Income-driven plans will discharge your remaining student loan balance at the end of your term. While the term is 20 or 25 years for some plans, the new SAVE plan will offer forgiveness after 10 years if your original principal balance was $12,000 or less. On all the income-driven plans, it’s possible that your monthly payment could be $0, depending on your discretionary income.

For instance, borrowers who earn less than $32,800 as individuals or $67,500 as a family of four in most states could have $0 monthly payments on the SAVE plan. If this describes you, you could essentially stop paying your student loans and see them go away after anywhere from 10 to 25 years on the plan, depending on how much you borrowed and whether you took out the loans for undergraduate or graduate school.

However, you’ll have to apply for income-driven repayment and recertify your income annually to stay on the plan and keep making progress toward loan cancellation. If you give the Department of Education permission to access your tax information, it can recertify your plan automatically each year.

What if I’m Experiencing Financial Hardship?

If you are having a tough time with your finances or are putting off making a late student loan payment, don’t just ignore your loans; instead, approach your lender or loan servicer to discuss your options.

For federal loans, an income-driven repayment plan could help. Income-driven plans, which include SAVE, PAYE, Income-Based Repayment, and Income-Contingent Repayment, adjust your monthly payments based on a percentage of your discretionary income. Most also extend your loan terms and offer loan forgiveness if you still owe a balance at the end. The new SAVE plan particularly has the most generous terms for borrowers.

You might also be able to qualify for a deferment or student loan forbearance, allowing you to temporarily stop or reduce payments. If you’re in deferment, depending on the type of loan you have, you may not be responsible for paying the interest that accrues during the deferment period. Among other reasons, you can apply for deferment if you’re in school, in the military, unemployed, or not working full-time.

You can apply for forbearance if your student loan payments represent 20% or more of your gross monthly income, if you’ve lost your job or seen your pay reduced, if you can’t pay because of medical bills, or if you’re facing another financial hardship, among other things. Private lenders are not required to offer relief if you’re facing hardship, but some, including SoFi, do.

Will I Be Sent to Collections if I Do Not Pay My Student Loans?

It is possible that if your student loan is in default it may be sent to a collections agency. Federal student loans in default are managed by the Department of Education’s Default Resolution Group. The Default Resolution Group oversees collections for all federal student loans that are in default, so they are not sent to a private collections agency.

The Department of Education is temporarily offering a Fresh Start program for student loans in default. By calling your loan servicer or logging into myeddebt.ed.gov, you can get your loans back into active repayment, enroll in a new repayment plan, and have the record of default removed from your credit report. You’ll also regain access to federal financial aid.

Private student loans may be sent to a collection agency as soon as the loan enters default, which is generally after 90 days of non-payment.

What if I Don’t Expect My Situation to Change Anytime Soon?

Deferment, forbearance, and relief offered by private lenders are temporary solutions. If your financial hardship looks like a long-term issue, you’ll need a permanent fix.

With federal loans, you may be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan. The government currently offers four plans that aim to make payments affordable by tying them to your monthly income.

On most plans, the payments range between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income, and if you make them on time, the balance is eligible to be forgiven in 20 or 25 years.. As mentioned, though, the new SAVE plan may offer loan forgiveness after just 10 years, depending on your original loan balance. Plus, starting in July 2024 it will cut monthly payments on undergraduate loans in half. For most borrowers, the SAVE plan will likely offer the most affordable monthly payments. However, parent loans are not eligible for SAVE. If you’re a parent borrower, your only option for an income-driven plan is Income-Contingent Repayment.

Private student loans are also not eligible for income-driven repayment, and most private lenders don’t offer this option. If you’re struggling to afford your private student loan bills, though, it’s worth explaining your situation to the lender and seeing if they can work with you on a feasible repayment plan. It’s in their interest to continue collecting even partial payments from you, rather than seeing payments stop altogether and having to go through the trouble of lawsuits or referrals to collection agencies.

Why You May Want to Consider Refinancing

Another potential long-term solution to unaffordable payments is student loan refinancing. With a private lender like SoFi, you can refinance federal student loans, private loans, or both. Refinancing involves obtaining a new loan to pay off all of your old ones and committing to the new terms and interest rate.

Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you qualify for a lower interest rate, which, depending on the term you choose, may be able to cut down the money you spend in interest over the life of your loan. Or, if you choose a longer term than you originally had when refinancing, you could lower your monthly payments, which can make the loan more affordable for you now. You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.

When you refinance with SoFi, you won’t pay any origination fees to refinance, and if your financial situation improves down the line and you want to pay off your loan faster, you won’t face prepayment penalties. It takes just two minutes online to figure out whether you qualify and the potential rates you can obtain.

The Takeaway

Missing student loan payments can have serious consequences, including entering default and damaging your credit score. Fortunately, borrowers have some leeway through September 2024 as they adjust to making payments on their federal loans again. However, private student loans offer no such benefit.

Refinancing could be an option to consider for borrowers looking to secure a lower interest rate. Consider SoFi — where there are zero fees for refinancing student loans and qualifying borrowers can secure a competitive interest rate.

Hoping to get a handle on your student debt? Look into whether refinancing your student loans with SoFi could help you lower your payments or save money in the long term.


What happens if I’m late on a student loan payment?

If you are late on a student loan payment, the loan may be considered delinquent. The loan will remain delinquent until a payment is made, or other arrangements — such as deferment or forbearance — are made. Through Sep. 30, 2024, missing payments on your federal loan payments won’t cause them to go into delinquency or default thanks to the student loan on-ramp.

Does a late payment on a student loan affect credit?

A late payment may have a negative impact on your credit score. With the exception of the student loan on-ramp through the fall of 2024, federal loans are normally reported to the credit bureau if they remain delinquent for 90 days. Private student lenders may report a late payment to credit bureaus after 30 days.

What happens if you miss a student loan payment by 270 days?

If you fail to make payments on your federal student loan for 270 days, the student loan will enter default (again, with the exception of the temporary student loan on-ramp). Consequences of default can be serious, such as the total balance of the loan becoming due immediately.

Private student loans may be considered in default after 90 days.

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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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