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Should You Take Advantage of Your Student Loan Grace Period?

April 08, 2020 · 6 minute read

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Should You Take Advantage of Your Student Loan Grace Period?

With graduation comes a fair share of celebration and changes. From grad parties to finding your first job to possibly a major move, life moves pretty fast during that first year out of school. While you’re busy setting up a new life, you may not even have time to think about those student loans you might’ve taken out for school.

When it comes to student loans, however, it’s not as easy as out of sight, out of mind. You might be busy setting up the next phase of your life, but don’t forget that your loan repayment will come calling, and likely sooner than you think.

Graduate students and undergrads currently leave school owing $29,200 on average, but the total amount you’ll pay back will depend on things like the interest rates on your student loans, the length of the loan term, and any loan forgiveness you may be eligible for. If you used student loans to get through college, you’re one of the 45 million Americans sharing the load of the country’s $1.6 trillion-plus student loan debt.

These figures are certainly daunting, especially for students who may face uncertainty about job prospects or find themselves having to leave school unfinished due to financial hardships or other reasons.

But one possible avenue for debt relief is that many student loans come with a grace period. A grace period is the length of time before you have to start student loan repayment, and the clock typically starts six months after you:

•   graduate
•   leave school
•   drop below part-time credit hours

Typically, you can use a grace period once per loan. During the grace period, you’re not required to make payments on your student loans. Most federal student loan grace periods are six months, but the Federal Perkins loan has a grace period of nine months. Some federal student loan grace periods can be extended even longer, for active duty military for instance. PLUS loans do not offer a grace period.

A grace period is different from other loan payment delays, such as deferments or forbearance, which have to be requested (grace periods typically begin automatically for those loans that have them)..

One important note: Grace periods are usually only available on federal student loans, and not all federal student loans have grace periods.

If you take out a private student loan some lenders, such as SoFi, may allow those with existing student loans in pre-repayment grace period status to align their first payment date with the soonest scheduled first payment date of those existing loans (up to a maximum of 180 days from the date of approval). In other cases, you may have to start repayment as soon as you graduate or leave school.

Theoretically, the grace period is there to give you time to get yourself financially settled and solidly employed, and for many students who are just leaving the campus life, a grace period feels like a no-brainer.

That said, there are other options during your grace period: You can get a jumpstart on your student loans and start paying them immediately, or start saving up to pay them. As with any financial decision, though, there are pros and cons to consider.

Here are some questions to consider during your grace period.

Some Advantages of Student Loan Grace Periods

The biggest advantage of the grace period is that you have a cushion of time before you have to start making loan payments, usually around six months after graduation/leaving school/dropping to part-time enrollment. Under certain circumstances, you may qualify for an extension.

Exceptions for most federal student loans include:

•   Active military duty. If you’re called for duty more than a month before the end of your grace period, you’ll have a full six-month grace period when you return.

•   Going back to school. If you go back to school before the end of your grace period, even just part-time, your grace period will reset to six months after you stop attending school.

•   Consolidating the loan. If you choose to consolidate your eligible federal student loans before your grace period ends, you’ll forfeit the rest of your grace period. In that situation, your payments will begin in about two months after the consolidation loan is disbursed.

Federal loans that have a six-month grace period include:

•   Direct Subsidized Loans
•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans
•   Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
•   Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans

If you received a Federal Perkins Loan before the program expired, the average grace period is around nine months. You may want to check with your school to be certain.

The only federal loans that don’t offer a grace period are PLUS loans, which are reserved for:

•   graduate students
•   professional students
•   parents of dependent undergraduates

PLUS repayment begins immediately, but borrowers may be eligible for deferment. (Not sure what type of loan you have? Check the National Student Loan Data System .)

Used wisely, the grace period can serve its intended purpose — to give you some breathing room to find your first job, get settled, and build up a bit of income.

The bills come quickly during that first foray into post-college life, including moving costs, rental deposits, utility setup, groceries, decorations, and business attire. The grace period may give you adequate time to take care of all those necessities and get a few paychecks into your bank account before starting to pay back your loans.

Some Disadvantages of Student Loan Grace Periods

Even when you’re not required to make payments during your grace period, you’ll likely still accrue interest on your federal student loans. If your loan was large to begin with, this accumulation of interest could put you at even more of a disadvantage right out of the gate.

The exception to this rule is if you have federal Direct Subsidized Loans—these will not accrue interest during the grace period.

To make matters even more complicated, some loans simply accrue interest, while others capitalize unpaid interest into the principal balance of the loan, which means you effectively pay interest twice. Making interest payments on a student loan, even if you decide to use the grace period, may help you avoid any unpleasant surprises.

On top of that, graduation, moving, and getting a job can come with a bunch of unexpected spending. While emergencies and unanticipated bills come up, especially during your first year out of school, it’s encouraged to keep expenses down.

Remember when the grace period is up, you’ll have to start making monthly payments, or risk penalties such as delinquent marks on your credit report and late fees.

Choosing How to Handle Your Grace Period

If you decide that the pros of the student loan grace period outweigh the cons, you could use that payment-free time to start setting aside funds for later. During your grace period you can:

•   Use a student loan calculator to determine your monthly payments.
•   Work with your lender/servicer to see what your payments will be.
•   Make it a goal to try and put away at least a partial amount each month.

If you get used to living on a budget that doesn’t include your student loan payment, you may be setting yourself up for future stress. Instead, you could consider:

•   Waiving the grace period and starting student loan payments immediately. If you have enough wiggle room in your budget, you can start paying your loans down immediately. Since your loan wouldn’t be accruing unpaid interest during the grace period, it could lead to savings in the long term.

•   Setting aside a part of your monthly paycheck to start paying down the interest. If your budget doesn’t allow for monthly payments yet, you could try saving what you can to pay off some of the interest on your student loans during the grace period. Even a small contribution can make a difference.

But if your budget doesn’t allow for any payments during your grace period, don’t sweat it. Your grace period is there for a reason, to give you some breathing room while you sort things out financially.

Some Ways Refinancing Can Help

Although you might be stuck with the debt, you aren’t necessarily stuck with the terms of the original loan you took out. It may be possible to refinance your student loans to terms that work better for you. Refinancing lets you take out a brand-new loan with a new interest rate and new loan terms.

When refinancing, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate than the one you are currently paying. Refinancing student loan debt could also offer you the opportunity to shorten your term length or lower your monthly payment (possibly by extending your term).

If you are managing a number of student loans, refinancing may help to simplify your life by giving you one loan to pay, instead of multiple loans to remember.

Keep in mind that if and when you refinance your federal student loans, you will be losing out on potential benefits that come with them.

These benefits, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), income-driven repayment plans, or deferment or forbearance, can also save you money and stress, so make sure to do your research before deciding to refinance.

If you choose to refinance your student loan, you might consider doing it with SoFi. With flexible terms and low- or fixed-variable rates, SoFi can make it easy to save while repaying your student loans. There are no application or origination fees, and you can do it all online.

Don’t let your grace period’s end catch you off guard. If you plan ahead, and plan for future payments, you could end up on more solid financial footing.

About SoFi

SoFi offers student loan refinancing which may help you lower your monthly payments or shorten your loan term. Discover the different student loan refinancing options to see if refinancing could be a good option for you.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF SEPTEMBER DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE
FOR MORE INFORMATION.
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.

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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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF SEPTEMBER DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE
FOR MORE INFORMATION.
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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