Paying Off Student Loans as a Single Parent

By Melissa Brock · February 26, 2024 · 9 minute read

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Paying Off Student Loans as a Single Parent

Almost one quarter of American children are being raised in a single-parent household, according to the US Census Bureau, Almost 80% are headed by single mothers.

As you might guess, single-parent households may have less financial resources than those with two parents. And if you’re trying to make ends meet for yourself and your child (or kids), it can be hard to stick to your student loan payment plan.

So how can you pay off your student loans as a single parent? This guide can help. You’ll learn about many of the options available. The information you’re about to read can help you make the best choice for handling student loans.

What Are Student Loans?

A student loan is money you borrow for educational expenses, which you must pay back with interest. Loans are unlike scholarships, which are “free money” that you don’t have to pay back.

There are two main types of student loans: federal and private loans.

•   Federal loans: Federal student loans are loans that you borrow from the federal government, or the Department of Education, to pay for college.

◦   Subsidized student loans are awarded on the basis of student need. The government absorbs some of the interest payments on the loan, making it a better deal for students. Typically, the borrower begins to pay these loans back after a six-month grace period post-graduation.

◦   Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, don’t involve the government shouldering some of the interest payments, and interest can begin to accrue while the student is in school.

•   Private loans: Private loans come from private organizations, such as banks or credit unions. Interest rates are often determined by creditworthiness, which can make them more or less affordable than federal loans depending on your situation.

💡 Quick Tip: Often, the main goal of student loan refinancing is to lower the interest rate on your student loans — federal and/or private — by taking out one loan with a new rate to replace your existing loans. Refinancing makes sense if you qualify for a lower rate and you don’t plan to use federal repayment programs or protections.

Student Loan Solutions for Single Parents

The most important thing to remember is that you have several options as a single parent when deciding how to handle student loans. Below, you’ll get details on parent loan forgiveness, deferral and forbearance, increasing your income, public assistance, scholarships, and refinancing your student loans.

This advice can also be helpful if you’re thinking about paying student loans and starting a family at the same time.

1. Single Parent Loan Forgiveness

While there’s no program that exists explicitly called “single parent student loan forgiveness,” there are some income-driven repayment (IDR) plan options. You won’t have to pay your remaining balance under all four plans if your loans aren’t fully repaid at the end of the indicated repayment period.

There are four different IDR plans (only for federal loans) you can apply for give you a monthly payment based on your income and family size:

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan: The new SAVE Plan considers your income and family size to determine your monthly payment. Your payments may be based on a smaller portion of your adjusted gross income (AGI) and are typically designed so that no one with an undergraduate loan has to pay more than 5% of their discretionary income towards their student debt. The government may cover the interest accrued monthly and can keep your balance from growing. The plan typically lasts 20 years for loans received for undergraduate study and 25 years for loans received for graduate or professional study.

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan: The PAYE Plan is a repayment plan with monthly payments about equal to 10% of your discretionary income, divided by 12. Typically, those who can use this plan will never pay more than the 10-year Standard Repayment amount. The term is usually 20 years with PAYE.

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: The IBR Plan is a repayment plan with monthly payments equal to about 15% or 10% (after July 1, 2014) of your discretionary income, divided by 12. With this plan, a student pays loans 20 years if they’re a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, or 25 years if they’re not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: You’ll pay for 25 years with the ICR Plan. The ICR Plan assigns monthly payments based on the lesser of:

◦   Your repayment plan payment with a fixed monthly payment over 12 years, adjusted based on your income, or

◦   Twenty percent of 20% of your discretionary income, divided by 12.

•   You may also take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which means that if you work for an eligible nonprofit or government organization, you may qualify the remaining balance on Direct Loans after 10 years — 120 monthly payments — under a repayment plan like the ones above for single mom student loan forgiveness.

On the topic of forgiveness, note that President Biden’s targeted student loan forgiveness plan was struck down by the US Supreme Court in June of 2023 and therefore does not offer an avenue to reduce student loan debt.

2. Student Loan Deferral and Forbearance

Single parents may consider applying for student loan forbearance or deferral, meaning that you temporarily qualify for a suspension of your loans. But what’s the difference between the two?

•   In deferment, interest doesn’t accrue on certain loans.

•   Interest does accrue on all loans during a forbearance.

It’s worth mentioning that forbearance changes went into effect in fall of 2023, after there had been a pause since March 2020, as the pandemic unfolded. Student loan interest accrual restarted on September 1, 2023, and payments were once again due starting on October 1, 2023.

In addition to economic hardship, single parents may be able to get a deferment for reasons related to:

•   Cancer treatment

•   Graduate fellowship programs or half-time school enrollment

•   Military service or post-active duty service

•   Parent PLUS borrower with a student enrolled in school

•   Rehabilitation training program

•   Unemployment.

Note that you can only apply deferral and forbearance toward federal student loans, not private student loans. Log in to the Federal Student Aid website to learn more about and apply for various plans under the Department of Education.

3. Increase Your Income

Single parents may consider adding to their income to help make student loan payments or to have extra income on hand. Beyond picking up extra hours at your current job or asking for a raise, you may want to consider picking up a side hustle, renting out an extra room in your house, going back to school to get a better job, or looking for a new job. There are myriad ways to increase your income, especially since you only have one income stream.

Also consider various ways to budget as a single parent.

4. Public Assistance

Public assistance may be one way to help you reserve a pool of money specifically to pay for necessities, including student loan payments.

Public assistance can come in many forms, including food benefits (SNAP, D-SNAP, and WIC for women, infants, and children), home benefits (rental, home buying, and home repair assistance programs), help with utility bills, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), health insurance, and disability benefits.

Every state has specific rules about who can qualify for various benefits. Learn more about benefits from your
state social service agencies.

5. Scholarships

If you’re thinking about returning to school as a single parent to increase your income, consider applying for scholarships. This free source of money for college keeps you from having to borrow money for college.

Where do scholarships come from? They can come from the college or institution where you plan to attend, clubs and organizations, your employer, and other sources. Also consider asking your current employer whether they can help you pay for college through educational benefits, such as an employee tuition reimbursement program.

6. Refinance Your Student Loans

When you refinance your student loans, you “repackage” your private and/or federal student loans with a private lender with the goal of lowering the interest rate or accessing a lower monthly payment via an extended repayment term. (Note that if you do extend the term of the loan, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan.)

Also note that you cannot refinance your student loans under the federal student loan program. If you do refinance with a private loan, you will forfeit benefits and protections of federal loans, like IDR payments. To qualify for the best refinance rates, you’ll typically need to have a solid credit history and stable income.

If you currently have private student loans or are thinking of refinancing, shop around to see what offers best suit your situation and your needs.

Helping Pay Student Loans for Single Parents

Certain websites highlight ways single parents can pay for education, including grants and scholarships. For instance, the website mentions such resources as:

•   Soroptimist International

•   The Amber Foundation

•   Kickass Single Mom Grant from Wealthy Single Mommy

•   Idea Cafe

•   Halstead Grant

•   Wal-Mart Foundation’s Community Grant Program

•   The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Be cautious that you don’t fall prey to fake scholarships; sadly, they do exist. You should never have to pay money to enter a scholarship competition, for example. Nobody intentionally wades into the financial mistakes parents make, so do be wary when looking into ways to finance educational expenses and avoid scammers.

Refinancing Student Loans With SoFi

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.


Do single moms qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Yes, single moms can qualify for student loan forgiveness through two main programs: Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and income-driven repayment programs. To find out if you qualify for either one of these programs, apply or contact your loan servicer directly for more information.

How do single moms pay off student loans?

If single moms can’t make their student loan payments, they can access various programs through the Federal Student Aid program for federal loans. They can also ask their private lender for more options available to them. Refinancing of both federal and existing student loans is also possible; just know that if you refinance a federal loan with a private loan, you forfeit federal benefits and protections. Also, if you extend the period of loan repayment when refinancing, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Is paying off a student loan considered a gift?

If someone else pays off your student loans, yes, it is considered a gift. This type of gift would churn out a gift tax for any gift above $17,000, the gift exclusion cutoff for 2023. In other words, both parents can contribute $34,000 per calendar year toward a child’s student loans without getting charged a gift tax.

Photo credit: iStock/Drazen Zigic

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.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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