One benefit of taking out federal student loans for college is being privy to a host of protections in the event you're unable to make your monthly loan payments. For example, federal loans offer income-driven repayment plans. If your monthly payments are too high, you can apply for one of these plans and get your payments capped based on a reasonable percentage of your income. 

You can also defer your federal student loans for a period of time if you encounter a financial hardship that makes it impossible to pay even a small amount of money. And if you have subsidized federal loans, you won't accrue interest on your debt while your loans are in deferment.

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But what happens when money becomes tight and you're sitting on private loans? While there are many reasons for taking out private student loans, they don't come with the same borrower protections that federal loans do. So if you need to defer your payments for a bit, you may be out of luck -- or maybe not.

Deferring private loans

Private lenders generally aren't obligated to let you defer your student loan payments -- but that doesn't mean yours won't work with you if you're experiencing a true financial hardship. As such, it pays to reach out to your lender, explain what's going on, and ask for some amount of temporary relief. Your lender might agree to let you hit pause on your payments for a few months, or make interest-only payments until you're back on your feet. 

Now to be clear, for private loan deferment to be on the table, you'll need to prove that you're deep in the throes of a financial crisis. That could include:

  • Losing your job
  • Losing a spouse or loved one and grappling with a loss of income and funeral expenses
  • Being unable to work due to illness or injury

Sharing the details of your financial circumstances could sway your lender to have a heart and suspend your payments temporarily. But if you are allowed to defer your private student loans, you can bet that interest will continue to accrue on that debt while you're not making payments. 

If your private lender does not agree to let you defer your payments, you can ask for a lower monthly payment -- either temporarily or permanently. That, too, should provide some financial relief when you're going through a tough time. 

Don't just skip those payments

As tempting as it may be to ignore your student loans when money is tight, don't make the mistake of neglecting to pay anything toward them without contacting your lender. If you stop making payments and default on your debt, your lender could go after you for that money -- namely, by obtaining a court order to garnish your wages. 

That's a good way to make a difficult financial situation even worse, so communicate with your lender when you start struggling with your debt payments and don't hesitate to advocate on your own behalf for relief. And if your lender really doesn't budge, look into refinancing your student loan. That way, you'll get a new lender that may be more reasonable.