If you are struggling to make your student loan payments, you may be able to ask your loan servicer for a forbearance. A forbearance allows you to temporarily pause your student payments and can be helpful, especially if your financial hardship is not going to last very long.
Forbearance is generally not as helpful as a deferment (which is the other way to temporarily postpone payments) because with a forbearance interest usually continues to accrue while the loan payments are postponed. Be very careful before you ask for a forbearance. Your loan balance can increase very quickly with all of the added interest. Beware that your loan servicer may tell you that forbearance is the best option for you, even if it isn’t.
Consider an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan Instead
Before you ask your loan servicer about a forbearance or deferment, you may want to consider an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. In some cases, your monthly payment in an income-driven repayment plan can be as low as $0 per month. In IDR, you can also earn time toward having your student loan balance eventually canceled after 20 to 25 years in income-driven repayment, even if your payment is $0, which is not the case for time in deferment or forbearance.
Under the one-time IDR account adjustment that will take place in 2023, you may receive credit for some previous time in forbearance and deferment. For more information, see the Department of Education’s website and our page on the IDR account adjustment.
Am I Eligible For a Forbearance?
There are usually limits on the amount of time your loans can be in forbearance. If you ask for a forbearance due to a medical or financial hardship, it is up to the loan servicer to decide whether or not to grant you a forbearance. These are called “general” or “discretionary” forbearances. You can usually only be in a general or discretionary forbearance for 12 months at a time, before you have to ask for an additional forbearance, and no more than 3 years total.
There are certain types of forbearances where the loan servicer is required by law to put your loans in forbearance if you request it. These forbearances are very limited and typically are reserved for borrowers who are working or volunteering in certain programs, such as AmeriCorps or the National Guard. If the total amount you owe each month on your federal student loans is 20 percent or more than your monthly income, you may be eligible for a mandatory forbearance if you ask for it for up to three years.
For more information on forbearance, see the Department of Education’s website.