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:

  1. Consolidation or refinancing (this essentially means bundling all your loans together and refinancing them as one new loan)
  2. Changing your repayment plan (this generally applies to federal loans)
  3. Deferment or forbearance (this means taking a short break from your loans)

Here's a deeper dive to help you figure this out.

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 30 years. This is helpful in managing your monthly payments with your other financial obligations, but it will increase the total cost of your loan since you will ultimately pay more in interest. 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 option is a private loan consolidation or refinance loan, which typically allows you to combine federal and private loans into one loan with a single interest rate and payment due date. However, you will lose benefits associated with federal loans, including progress toward loan forgiveness and more flexible repayment options. With a private consolidation or refinance loan, 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. Keep in mind that if you extend your repayment period, then you could end up paying more in interest, even with a lower rate. It helps to do the math when considering this option.

Change your repayment plan

There are many 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 plans at any time. 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

Your repayment plan options for a private loan are set for the life of the loan and will vary from one lender to another. Many lenders offer repayment assistance options if you’re struggling to make your monthly payments.

Hit pause on your loan payments

Deferment and forbearance options allow you to temporarily take a break from federal and private student loan payments. With private loans, the options for deferment and forbearance vary from lender to lender so check with your servicer to see what options and criteria are available.

Generally, you may qualify for a deferment if you are enrolled in college or graduate school at least half-time, if you are on active military duty, if you are completing a residency, or if you are performing public service. If you are experiencing a financial hardship like unemployment or a prolonged illness, you may qualify for a forbearance. Both options allow you to pause payments for a certain period of time during which interest will continue to accrue with a few exceptions (e.g., subsidized federal loans). You can choose to pay the interest as it accrues or it will be added to your principal balance (i.e., capitalized) when your repayment schedule resumes. This may increase the amount of your monthly payments and the total cost of your loans.

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. Reach out to your servicer to see which option is right for you.

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