The good news: There are options to help you get back on track.
First, take a deep breath. You’re definitely not alone. When the grace period ends and the bills start coming, it can feel a lot more overwhelming than you expected when you took your loans out. And sometimes, even with careful budgeting, you find yourself in a situation where you just can’t seem to keep up. Fortunately, there are several options that may lower your monthly payments or give you a break from them.
Your choices generally fall into three categories:
- Consolidation or refinancing (this essentially means bundling all your loans together)
- Changing your repayment plan (this generally applies to federal loans)
- Deferment or forbearance (this means taking a short break from your loans)
Let’s take a deeper dive to help you figure this all out ASAP.
Get a direct consolidation loan
If you have multiple federal loans, you can use this program to combine them. It won’t necessarily lower your interest rate, as the rate on the new loan will be a weighted average of the loans you’re combining. It could, however, lower your monthly payment by stretching out the repayment term for up to thirty years. Consolidating your federal loans can also make you eligible for certain repayment plans that you might not have otherwise had access to. If you only have federal loans, or the bulk of your loans are federal ones, this is an option worth exploring.
Explore private student loan refinancing
Another “combine your loan” option is a private loan consolidation or refinance loan. Like with a direct consolidation loan, you can combine multiple loans into one loan with a single interest rate and payment due date. But unlike a direct consolidation loan, you can typically combine federal and private loans. And, you may actually be able to lower your interest rate compared to what you were paying – which, in turn, could lead to a lower monthly payment. However, by consolidating federal loans into a private consolidation loan, you’ll lose benefits associated with federal loans.
Change your repayment plan
There are actually seven different repayment plans for federal student loans. Most likely, you chose the standard repayment plan, or it was applied as the default. With its ten-year plan, it gets you to the finish line faster than some of the other options. But if you’re struggling to make your payments on this schedule, you can change to one of the others. A few of them are income-driven, meaning that the amount you pay each month tops out at a certain percentage of the amount of money you earn each month. After a set amount of time, the balance is forgiven. For more information on federal repayment plans, check out studentaid.gov.
Your payment plan options for a private loan will vary from one lender to another. Discover Student Loans offers repayment assistance options if you’re struggling to make your monthly payments. For example, with “reduced pay” the minimum monthly payment is reduced to a number equal to or greater than the monthly interest charge, but less than your previous bill. This is for a six-month period (at least to start), and you’re only eligible if your payments are less than 60 days past due.
Hit pause on your loan payments
Certain life situations, like being in the military or going back to school, may qualify you for a deferment, which is a temporary break from your loan payments. With a subsidized federal loan, you don’t have to pay the interest that accrues during this time. With an unsubsidized loan, you’re responsible for paying back that interest, but not until after the deferment or grace period. Another option is forbearance, which puts payments on hold for up to a year, though again, you’ll continue to accrue interest during that time. You can choose to pay the interest as it accrues or it will be added to your principal balance when your standard repayment schedule resumes, which may increase the amount of your monthly payments and the total cost of your loans.
With private loans, the rules on deferment and forbearance vary from lender to lender. With a Discover student loan, you can qualify for deferment if you’re on active military duty, are enrolled in school at least half time, are serving in a qualified public service organization, or are in a medical residency. You could qualify for forbearance if you have temporary financial issues like losing a job or having unexpected big expenses like medical bills. Just remember, when you are in deferment or forbearance, the interest on your loan will likely continue to accrue. Be sure to check with your lender on the forbearance or deferment details of your loan.
You got this
It can definitely feel scary when repayment hits and bills start arriving. But whether you have federal loans, private loans, or a mix of the two, you have options. Your unique financial situation will help you figure out which one is right for you. If that’s private consolidation, a Discover Private Consolidation Loan can simplify your student loans and help you lower your interest rate and