Many students take out loans without actually realizing how much of their income those monthly payments will eat up once they graduate. If you're sitting on a pile of student loans, you may now be struggling to pay that debt back. And if you have federal loans, you may be considering loan deferment -- an option that allows you to hit pause on your payments for up to three years. But while deferment might seem like a good solution, there are drawbacks to going that route.

Why deferring your student loans might hurt you

Student loan deferment is a reasonable option when you lose your job or find yourself in the midst of a financial crisis that leaves you unable to make your monthly payments. And to be clear, you're always better off deferring your student loans than falling behind on payments to the point of default. Once that happens, you'll risk a host of negative consequences, like damage to your credit score and the potential to have your wages garnished. 

A female college student studying at a desk near the window of a library.

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On the other hand, if you're having a hard time keeping up with your loans but you're not in completely dire financial straits, deferment isn't necessarily a great choice. For one thing, depending on the type of loan you have, you may continue to accrue interest on the sum you owe. If you have subsidized federal loans, you won't have to worry about that. But if you have unsubsidized federal loans, interest will accumulate on your balance during your deferment period and will be added to your principal balance once your deferment comes to an end. 

Another problem with deferring your student loans? You'll extend your repayment period, thereby causing that debt to hang over your head even longer. As such, it often pays to explore alternative solutions before seeking to defer your student loans.

Before you defer your payments, try lowering them

If you still have some money coming in from a job and are able to pay some amount into your student loans, then it makes sense to look at an income-driven repayment plan before resorting to deferment. These plans are one of the benefits that federal loans offer, and they calculate your monthly loan payments based on your earnings. If your earnings aren't substantial, you won't be liable for a huge monthly payment -- but at the same time, you'll continue paying your loans and avoid dragging out your repayment period.

Keep in mind that you may be eligible for an unofficial income-based repayment plan even if you took out private student loans. Many private lenders will negotiate when borrowers can prove that their current payments are unsustainable. For the record, deferment may be an option for private loans, too -- but again, you'll face the same drawbacks you would with deferring federal loans. And you can bet on accruing interest during your deferral period. 

The idea of hitting pause on your student loan payments may seem appealing when you're having a hard time keeping up with them. And while deferment is appropriate in many scenarios, it also has its drawbacks, so be mindful of them when making your decision.