Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.
While on the work grind at the office, you get an email from the HR department, inviting you down to pay them a visit. Uh-oh. What could possibly be up? You’re a rock star on the job, so you cannot imagine what the trouble could be.
The good news: you’re not getting fired. The bad news: they tell you that part of your wages are going to be garnished in order to pay back your outstanding school loans.
What Is Student Loan Wage Garnishment?
Student loan wage garnishment is a tough thing to face; what makes it doubly troublesome is the official letter from the U.S. Department of Education that notifies your employer that a percentage of your paycheck will now go directly to paying back your outstanding student loan balances.
This may be something that would be a big enough bummer when you’re the only one who knows about it. When your employer is let in on the secret, and ordered by the government to reconfigure your paycheck, the awkwardness knows no bounds.
Student loan wage garnishment does not make it easy for you or your employer . Your company’s payroll department generally executes (and sometimes calculates) the student loan garnishment amount, and forwards the payments to the correct agency or creditor. In some cases, your employer can be held liable for the full amount or a portion thereof for failure to comply with the garnishment. This can include interest, court fees, and legal costs.
If it’s any consolation, you would not be alone in this situation. Let’s start with the macro: according to
CNBC , more than one million people default on their student loans each year. By the year 2023, nearly 40% of borrowers are expected to default on their student loans. Outstanding debt in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade and now exceeds $1.5 trillion. That number far exceeds the traditional debt of autos and credit cards.
Now for the micro: according to a study by the ADP Research Institute , 7.2% of employees had their wages garnished in 2013 (the latest research we could find on this). Of that total, 2.9% of those garnishments were from student loan and court-ordered consumer debt garnishment.
Defaulting on your student loan is not ideal. We’re going to share some details on federal student loan garnishment, and how you can avoid defaulting on your loans.
💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.
How Does Federal Student Loan Garnishment Work
Your wages can’t be garnished out of nowhere. It starts with your loan becoming delinquent, which happens the first day after you miss a payment. Your loan will remain delinquent until you pay back everything you owe.
If you are more than 90 days delinquent on your payment, your loan servicer reports the missed payments to the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). This will negatively affect your credit, as payment history makes up 35% of your score.
Eventually, if you still fail to repay your debt, the government may resort to garnishing your wages and/or withholding your tax refund, which they can do without a court order. Legally, they can garnish up to 15% of your disposable pay. Disposable income is calculated by taking your gross income, and then subtracting your tax obligations and other withholdings such as Social Security, Medicare, state tax, city/local tax, health insurance premiums, and involuntary retirement or pension plans.
The good news is that there is a temporary exception to this process. To help financially vulnerable borrowers transition to making their student loan payments after an automatic, three-year pause that ended in October, the Biden administration implemented an “on-ramp” period. From Oct. 1, 2023 through Sept. 30, 2024, borrowers who miss payments will not be considered delinquent or in default, have missed payments reported to the credit bureaus, or have their loans referred to collections agencies.
Ways To Help Prevent Your Student Loan From Becoming Delinquent
If you are concerned about wage garnishment for your federal student loans, there are proactive steps you can take to keep your account from becoming delinquent in the first place:
Scheduling automatic payments. You can have the monthly obligation automatically and electronically deducted from your checking or savings account.
Building an emergency savings fund. You can save at least six months of backup funds that you can use specifically to make your monthly payments. This may come in handy should you be without income for a time.
Ways To Help Prevent Your Student Loans From Going Into Default
Based on your financial circumstances, there are a few options available that may allow you to make your student loan payments more affordable or even put them on a temporary hold:
Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plans: With these plans, your student loan payments are adjusted based on your discretionary income. Depending on the plan you choose, the government typically extends your repayment terms and readjusts your monthly payment, and may eventually forgive the balance of your loan. The newest IDR plan, the SAVE Plan, will provide the lowest monthly payments once it’s fully implemented in July 2024.
Forbearance or Deferment: If making payments is becoming or has become nearly impossible, you can ask your lender to defer your payments or request forbearance. If they agree and you qualify, you can delay your payments and avoid default.
Student Loan Refinancing vs Consolidation
If student loan wage garnishment is the nightmare that comes true, here are two options that may be able to stop it: consolidating or refinancing your student loans. First, know the difference between the two (and it’s a pretty big one):
When you refinance student loans, you’re actually paying off your existing loans with a new loan from a private lender. In this process, you can possibly reduce your payments and make them more affordable. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Or you may be able to lower your interest rate. However, you also will lose out on certain benefits that come with federal student loans, like deferment and forbearance, and lose your eligibility for all other federal student loan programs.
When you consolidate your federal student loans with the federal government, you essentially “bind” them all together into one, big loan. Sounds like a plan, but there can be a few downsides; this could result in you paying more in interest over the life of your new, consolidated loan because the interest rate on your consolidated federal loan will be the weighted average of all your loans, rounded to the nearest eighth of 1%. You can also only consolidate your federal loans under a Direct Consolidation Loan, which has its own requirements if you’re already in default, and isn’t available for private student loans.
Consolidating a Defaulted Loan
According to the U.S. Department of Education, if you want to consolidate a defaulted loan, you must make “satisfactory repayment arrangements” on the student loan with your current loan servicer before you consolidate.
If you want to consolidate a defaulted loan that is being collected through garnishment of your wages, or that is being collected in accordance with a court order after a judgment was obtained against you, you may only do so if the garnishment order has been lifted or the judgment has been vacated.
Refinancing Your Student Loans
You may be able to combine your private and federal loans into one brand-new, private refinanced loan.
You may be a good candidate for student loan refinancing if you have a steady income, a consistent history of on-time debt payments, and you don’t have need for federal student loan benefits—among other important personal financial factors. (When you refinance your federal loans with a private lender, you can no longer access any federal loan benefits.)
A lender will most likely offer you a few choices for your refinanced student loan: fixed and variable interest rates, as well as a variety of repayment terms (this is often based on your credit history and current financial situation). If you qualify for refinancing, your new loan should (hopefully) come with a new interest rate or a new loan term that can lower your monthly payments.(You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.)
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.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .
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.