What to do when you can’t make your monthly student loan payments

The cost of higher education has skyrocketed, and despite the attention this phenomenon has received in the news and from politicians, little has been done so far to stem the costs of a college degree. In fact, tuition (adjusted for inflation) has tripled for public universities and doubled for private universities in recent decades.

If you’re a former student saddled with a large amount of student debt, there’s a chance you may not have found the ideal career to match your degree yet—and that’s okay. There’s always time. But, if you simply cannot afford to pay back your student loan, this expert advice will help you identify the right solution.


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  • define your current loan situation
  • notify your lender
  • explore your options
  • choose the option that’s right for you
  • stick to your plan

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  • ignore the situation
  • be uninformed
  • jump into a repayment option
  • declare bankruptcy
  • default

Scott Smith‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do define your current loan situation

You may know that you cannot afford to pay your current student loan payment. But do you know how long you will be paying this debt? Do you know your total balance, and how much in interest you will pay over the lifetime of the loan? Most of this information should be readily available through your loan provider. It’s helpful, before you start figuring out options, to define the total picture of your student loans.

Do notify your lender

If you can’t afford your loan, you should contact your lender and explain your situation. Many student loan lenders have options for struggling students.

Do explore your options

Depending on the lender, and the type of loan you have, there are a number of different options you can explore to make paying back your loan easier. For instance, extended repayment periods allow you to extend your repayment period from 10 years to 25 years. Income-based repayment plans allow you to potentially see a lower payment based on your actual salary. Graduated plans require lower payments initially, but after a certain amount of time, lenders will increase payments until the end of the loan.

If you only need temporary relief from your loans, you may also qualify for a deferment, which delays repayment and interest accrual on certain conditions, such as if you are currently enrolled in school.

Another option is a forbearance, which also delays payments but still accrues interest. There are even very specific scenarios in which a loan can be cancelled, such as a permanent disability.

Lenders are not benevolent beings who will forgive your debt with no questions asked. They do want to get their money back, but in many cases will be willing to work with you so repayment is not an overwhelming burden.

Do choose the option that’s right for you

Once you’ve got a list of your options, you can choose which one may be right for you. Be sure to carefully weigh each option. Each may have its own unique set of advantages and drawbacks.

Do stick to your plan

Hopefully you were able to identify the right option for you based on what you’ve learned from your lender. Now that you’ve worked out a solution, make sure you stick to it.

Scott Smith‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not ignore the situation

The worst thing you can do is just stop making payments without contacting your lender. This can land you in delinquency, and eventually, default. This could be extremely damaging to your credit, your financial health, and many other aspects of your life.

Do not be uninformed

There are a number of articles and resources online to help understand your student loan situation and appropriate options. A good place to start is The Office of Federal Student Aid, part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Do not jump into a repayment option

Don’t leap into a repayment option without considering the distinct benefits and drawbacks of that option. For instance, an extended repayment plan will make your monthly payment more affordable, but over the lifetime of the loan, you’ll end up paying substantially more in interest. Carefully weigh these details before you decide on an alternative that works for you.

Do not declare bankruptcy

In most cases, even declaring bankruptcy does not clear you of student loan debt. While there are a few exceptions, this is likely not going to make your student loans go away.

Do not default

You need to do as much as you can to avoid defaulting on your loan. Your school and a few government agencies can take action to make you repay, including garnishing your paychecks. Defaulting can even disqualify you from some of the aforementioned payment options. To prevent this, contact your lender immediately to see what alternative actions you can take to avoid a default.


Unfortunately, many people today are burdened with student loan debts they cannot afford. For loans from public institutions, there are several options provided to either delay repayment or to make repayment more manageable. If you believe you cannot handle your student loan debt, you must take action immediately; the consequences of default can be devastating. Fortunately, there are many possibilities that are available to those who are struggling. Follow these tips to help you manage that process.

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