Student loan debt can be overwhelming, especially when you’re not sure how you’re going to be able to pay it back. The government gives you the option to defer, or temporarily stop, your federal student loan payments in select circumstances, but this isn’t always the best move.
The government may pay the interest during the deferment period on subsidized federal student loans, but on unsubsidized federal and private student loans, the balance will continue to accrue interest. If you aren’t paying it off as you go, that interest gets added to your principal balance once the deferment period is over, and this can make it more difficult to pay back what you owe. But there are a few situations where deferring your student loans can make sense. Here’s a look at four times you may want to consider it.
1. You’re still in school
Most federal student loans are automatically placed into deferment if you’re enrolled at an eligible college or vocational school at least half time. This way you can focus on getting your education and not how you’re going to pay for it. If you don’t automatically receive a deferment, contact your school and ask it to send proof of your enrollment to your loan servicer. This deferment will continue indefinitely as long as you are enrolled half-time.
2. You’re experiencing a temporary financial setback
You may qualify for a deferment of up to six months on federal student loans, with the option to extend it as long as three years, if you aren’t able to find full-time employment. You must be able to prove that you are diligently seeking full-time employment or that you’re eligible for unemployment benefits if you were fired or laid off from your job.
An unemployment deferment can relieve some of the financial pressure on you, so you can save money for your living expenses and focus on finding a job. Once you’re employed again, you can resume payments.
3. You’re called to active-duty military service
The government enables military members to defer their federal student loan payments while on active duty and for the first 180 days after they return home. It may make sense to defer your student loan payments while deployed because, one, it’ll give you one less thing to worry about back at home, and two, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness programs. Depending on which branch of the military you’re in, you could receive up to $65,000 in loan assistance. This money can go a long way toward paying back what you owe and it may even wipe out your debt entirely.
Check into what student loan forgiveness programs are available to you and what you have to do in order to qualify. If the amount of loan assistance you’re eligible for is larger than your debt, it may be smarter to defer your student loan payments and let the government pay off your debt instead.
4. You’re seriously ill
As of 2019, individuals diagnosed with cancer can defer their federal student loan payments while they are undergoing cancer treatment. This way you can save your money for your medical care, which is probably top of mind. Once you recover and are able to resume your normal life and work, you can begin making student loan payments again.
You can also defer your student loans if you have to go to a rehabilitation center for vocational rehabilitation or drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental health treatment. The facility must be recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs or a state agency in order to qualify. Under this deferment, you won’t have to make any federal student loan payments for as long as you are receiving treatment.
What about private student loans?
The information above applies to federal student loans, but private student loans work differently. Private lenders aren’t required to grant you deferments for any reason. It’s entirely up to the company’s discretion. If they do let you defer your loan payments, they may charge a monthly fee during the deferment period.
Read through the terms of a student loan before you accept one, and make a note of how the company handles deferments. Look for any special conditions required to qualify for deferments, how long deferments can last, how many times you can use them, any costs associated with deferment, and whether or not interest will continue to accrue during the deferment period. If you’re not comfortable with the terms offered, shop around to see if other lenders will give you a better deal.
How to apply for a student loan deferment
If you qualify for student loan deferment, you must complete a form requesting the deferment and submit it to your lender. If you have loans through multiple companies, you must submit a deferment request to each lender. Don’t stop making payments until you’re notified that your deferment request has been approved. Otherwise, the lender will record those payments as missed and this could hurt your credit.
Before applying for a student loan deferment, look at all your options to be sure you’re making the best choice. Your balance may accrue interest during the deferment period, and this can leave you worse off than you were before you deferred your payments. If you can, try to at least pay the interest on your balance each month so your lender doesn’t add it to your principal balance once the deferment period ends.
Another option is to avoid deferment altogether and opt for income-driven repayment. These payment plans determine how much you owe based on how much you’re making, so you’ll pay less when your income is lower and more when your income is higher. Switching to a plan like this may reduce the strain on your finances without stopping payments.
Student loan deferment can be a lifesaver if you find yourself in a tight spot, but eventually you will have to start making payments again, so it’s important to understand how your deferment will affect your future student loan payments before you make that call.