Friday, August 19, 2011
Can't Repay Your Student Loans? 5 Ways to Get Help
For college students, November and December are filled with research projects and final exams. For recent graduates, however, these months can be exceptionally stressful, especially if a post-graduation dream job hasn't materialized on schedule. For graduates who left school with debt from student loans, November and December can be a month of reckoning.
Government-issued federal student loans and many non-federal private student loans grant students a six-month grace period after they leave school before they need to begin making loan payments. For students who graduated in May and June, then, those college loans come up for repayment in November and December.
And if you're a graduate who's caught up in the current recession and the highest unemployment rate on record for new college graduates, you may be getting your first student loan bill having no idea how you're going to make the payment.
Just ignoring those student loan bills isn't going to help. Defaulting on a federal student loan is no light matter. The government can step in and garnish your wages, once you get a job, or seize any income tax refunds you may have coming to you in order to put money toward your student loan debt.
Both federal and private student loans are nearly impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, so your student loan lenders can keep coming after you for payment, even if a judge declares you bankrupt and wipes out your other debts.
All your student loan accounts appear on your credit report, so your credit rating is also at risk. Repeated late and missed payments on your student loans will drop your credit score, will linger on your credit history for years, and can have a lasting impact on your ability later on to qualify for anything that requires a credit check. You may not be able to get a credit card, take out a car loan or home loan, rent an apartment, or even get a job — more and more employers are conducting credit checks on job candidates as a measure of your responsibility and maturity.
Clearly, keeping your student loans current needs to be a priority, for the sake of your credit and the health of your financial future. Whether you're a newly minted college graduate or a longtime borrower who's now having some financial troubles, if you're facing student loan payments that you can't afford, here are five ways to get help now.
Whether you're approaching the end of your grace period or you're already in repayment, if you know that you don't have the ability to make the payments on your student loans, contact your lenders immediately, explain your situation, and see what they can do to help.
For your federal student loans, the U.S. Department of Education can grant you additional periods of deferment or forbearance if you're facing financial hardship. With a government-approved deferment or forbearance, your student loan payments are postponed, with no adverse effect on your credit.
Non-federal private student loans aren't required to offer the same deferment and forbearance protections that federal student loans provide. But your private student loan lender may be willing to offer you a temporary forbearance or work something else out, perhaps accepting a lower monthly payment, giving your more time to repay your loan, or lowering your interest rate temporarily.
These approaches won't stop the interest from accruing on your student loan debt (with the exception of deferments on subsidized federal student loans, during which the government will cover the interest on your subsidized loans), but they will help you avoid debt collection.
If you're carrying more than ,000 in federal student loan debt, you may be able to extend your loan repayment terms from 10 years to 25 years. With a repayment extension, since your student loan debt is being spread out over a longer period, your monthly payments will be lower. Keep in mind, however, that the longer you take to repay your student loans, the more you'll pay in interest, so your loans will end up costing you more overall in the long run.
Private student loans don't offer the same built-in repayment extensions as federal loans. But your lender may still be willing to offer longer repayment periods on a case-by-case basis. Contact your private student loan lender, and ask.
Student loan consolidation allows you to bundle multiple student loans into one single consolidated loan with one monthly payment. Student loan consolidation may allow you to extend your repayment term and give you a lower monthly payment than what you were paying each month on all your individual student loans separately.
To consolidate your federal student loans, you'll need to contact the U.S. Department of Education directly at loanconsolidation.ed.gov.
Private student loans can't be consolidated with federal student loans, but some private lenders are currently offering private consolidation loans that allow you to consolidate all your private student loans into a single consolidated loan. Do an Internet search for lenders offering private consolidation loans.
A new federal student loan repayment plan, known as income-based repayment, allows some borrowers to make monthly payments based on their income. If your income is tight, check out this option to see if it works for you.
Income-based repayment can cut your monthly payments on your federal student loan to an amount that's affordable for you. As an added bonus, if you're on the income-based repayment plan for 25 years and make all your monthly payments on time, you may be eligible to have any remaining balance on your federal student loans forgiven.
Again, private student loans don't offer a built-in income-based repayment option the way federal student loans do, but your lender may be willing to work with you in order to encourage you to continue making payments on your debt. Your lender should rather receive at least some money each month than no money at all if you default. Contact your lender, and see if you can work something out.
Depending on your job field, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness on your federal student loans. Public service careers — like teaching, social work, public safety, government service, and health care and legal support for the impoverished — may qualify you to reduce or wipe out your remaining federal student loan obligations, depending on how long you serve following graduation.
The federal Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program allows you to have your federal student loans forgiven after 10 years, provided you've been making on-time payments and you meet other certain requirements. Contact the U.S. Department of Education for more information and details.
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