What Is Student Loan Forbearance, Anyway?

Struggling to make your student loan payments each month? You're in good company. According to a May story by CBS Moneywatch, members of the class of 2016 who took out student loans left college with an average of $37,173 in student loan debt. That's the highest average ever, and an increase of 6% from just one year earlier when such students graduated with an average debt of $35,051.

If you're struggling to pay your student loans each month, you can apply for either forbearance or deferment of your federal student loan payments. Deferment and forbearance both put a temporary halt on your payments. That sounds good, and it can provide you with relief. But both programs come with limitations and neither does anything to reduce your student loan debt.

Deferment and forbearance are worth investigating if your student loan payments have become a burden. But before you sign up for either program, here are the facts you need to know.

What Loans Qualify?

You can only apply for forbearance or deferment of federal student loans. Private loans are not eligible for these programs. If you are struggling to pay private student loans, you'll need to work directly with the lenders behind them.


Deferment is the preferred option for a temporary halt on your payments. That's because in deferment, not only are your payments delayed, but the government might even pay the interest on your loan during this period if you are paying off Federal Perkins loans, direct subsidized loans, or subsidized Federal Stafford loans.

The government won't pay interest on any of your unsubsidized or PLUS student loans. But even if the government doesn't pay this interest, you do not have to make interest payments on your own during the deferment period. If you don't, though, the interest that accumulated during the deferment period will be added to your principal balance when you do begin making payments again.

Who Qualifies for Deferment?

You are eligible for deferment if you are unemployed or have been unable to find full-time employment. You might also qualify if you are suffering through an economic hardship, such as a reduction in your full-time income.

You Will Have to Apply for Your Deferment

To start the process, call the loan servicer to which you mail your loan payments, unless you need deferment for Perkins loans. In this case, call the school you were attending when you took out the loan. You'll most likely have to fill out a form detailing the reasons why you can't afford your monthly payment.


In forbearance, your federal student loan payments will again be temporarily halted, usually for up to 12 months. But in forbearance the government will not pay your interest during the temporary halt, no matter what type of federal loan you are paying off.

You can make the interest payments on your loans during forbearance or you can temporarily stop making these payments, too. Your interest will continue to accumulate during the forbearance period, though, and will be added to your principal balance when this halt ends. This means that the amount you owe after your forbearance period ends will be higher than when you started forbearance. This could make paying off your student loan debt even more challenging.

Who Qualifies for Forbearance

You can qualify for a discretionary forbearance because of illness or financial hardship. Again, you will have to start the process by contacting the lender to which you are sending your student loan payments each month.

Mandatory Forbearance

There are times when the federal government requires your lender to grant forbearance. This is known as mandatory forbearance. You might qualify for this if you are serving in a medical or dental internship or residency program, the total you owe in student loan payments is more than 20% of your total monthly gross income, you qualify for the U.S. Department of Defense's Student Loan Repayment System, or you are serving in a national service program.

You might also qualify for mandatory forbearance if qualify for the teacher loan forgiveness program or you are a member of the U.S. National Guard and have been called to duty but don't qualify for a military deferment.

Are you struggling to repay your student loans? Have you considered these options?

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