Whether you’re still a student or are already in the working world, it feels like between project deadlines and the rest of life, there’s enough to worry about. Add on any stress of those student loans waiting for their first payment, and it might feel like you’re drowning.
But not knowing when that first loan repayment is due can add more stress when that day finally creeps up on you—and that day may be sooner than you think. So when do you have to start paying back student loans?
Federal vs. Private Loans: Similarities and Differences
When it comes to repaying your student loans, your first step will be to determine whether you borrowed private student loans or federal student loans (or both). Private student loans are borrowed from a bank, credit union, or another lender. Federal loans are backed by the U.S. Department of Education.
If you’re not sure, you can take a look at the National Student Loan Data System to review information on federal loans. If you took out student loans with a private lender, contact your loan servicer for more information.
Your grace period is the time you’re given after graduation before you have to start paying back your student loans. The federal government and many private lenders understand that you might not find a steady job straight out of college.
Since not all loans have grace periods, you’ll have to check yours to know when interest will start adding up.
The majority of federal loans come with a six-month grace period, including :
• Direct Subsidized Loans
• Direct Unsubsidized Loans
• Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
• Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
Direct PLUS loans for graduate students and parents don’t have a grace period. Make sure you understand which loan you have so you can start to make payments on time.
While the grace period helps to give you time to find a job before you have to start making payments, it’s important to understand that most federal student loans continue to acrrue interest during their
grace periods .
Federal Student Loans
For Direct Subsidized Loans, your interest won’t start accruing until six months after you graduate. But for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, interest starts accruing as soon as the loan is disbursed (in other words, while you’re in school).
So, your grace period might allow you to delay paying back your loans, but that doesn’t mean your interest is delayed. This means you’ll likely end up paying more for an unsubsidized loan if you’re not paying the interest that accrues while you’re in school.
Private Student Loans
Some private student loans operate with the same six-month grace period as federal student loans. However, it’s up to each individual lender to implement a grace period of any kind. If you have a private student loan, check your loan terms to see if you have a grace period.
If you’re looking to take out a private student loan, and you would like a loan that has a grace period, you may wish to review different lenders to see if any offer terms comparable to federal student loans. Also check to see if interest will accrue while you’re in school or if it starts after your grace period.
Unlike federal student loans, interest rates for private student loans vary based on your creditworthiness. Because of this, your interest rates might be higher than they would be with federal loans.
Can You Get More Time Before You Start Paying Back Your Student Loans?
If you’ve already graduated and you’re having trouble finding a job in your field, you might be stretching your finances as thin as they go. Even your student loan repayments might not get priority. Before you let late payments get the best of you, a great first step is to see if you have other options.
You can talk to your lender or loan servicer about delaying your payments a little longer—like a few more months. Your lender doesn’t want you to be late, either, and might be willing to work with you.
You might qualify for student loan deferment or forbearance , which allows you to temporarily pause payments. Keep in mind that interest may still accrue while your loans are in deferment or forbearance, depending on the type of loan you hold. You’d be responsible for that interest regardless of when you start making your payments.
The start date of those repayments isn’t the only thing you should be concerned with. If you have student loans, lowering your payment amount is probably on your mind as well. Not sure what your monthly payment is? Use our student loan calculator to estimate your student loan payments.
Can You Lower Your Student Loan Payments?
Depending on the types of loans you have, there are a few different methods available to lower your student loan payments.
If you have many different federal student loans, you might want to consider student loan consolidation. Consolidating your existing loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan means consolidating all of your federal loans into one and potentially lengthening the term so your payments go down. A longer term, however, means paying more interest over the (now longer) life of your loan.
And the new interest rate is the weighted average of all your federal loans combined, rounded up to the nearest eighth of 1%, which means consolidation might not lower your interest rate.
Refinancing your student loans is a lot like consolidation, but instead of just combining your loans into one new one with an average interest rate and longer term, you get one new loan to replace all your old ones with a hopefully lower interest rate. And you can typically choose to lengthen or shorten your loan term. Refinancing can be done with private student loans, federal student loans, or both.
Your new interest rate is typically based on your creditworthiness among other financial factors. If you’re having trouble getting the lowest interest rate you can, you can see if a co-borrower will help you refinance.
Income-Driven Repayment Plans
If you have federal student loans and have a lower income, you might want to look into Income-Driven Repayment plans. There are a few different IDR options that vary based on your income and household needs, like how many family members you care for.
All IDR plans forgive the remaining balance on your loans either 20 or 25 years after you begin paying the loan back. This could be a good option to consider if you are a recent grad.
Paying Back Your Student Loans
Generally, most student loans give you some time after you graduate to get your career and finances in order. A traditional federal student loan grace period is typically six months. It’s important to know when you’re expected to start repaying your loans, and what your options are in terms of lowering your interest rate or monthly payment.
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.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.