Deferment vs forbearance: What’s the better way to postpone student loan debt payments?

When you graduated you promised to pay your loans. And you meant to.
But then you went to grad school. Or your rent got out of control, and your new job pays way less than expected. Or you lost your job.
No matter the reason, it is important to recognize when you’re in trouble — you do not want to become one of the more than 40% of Americans who have gotten three months or more behind on student loan repayments.
Even falling late by less time might slide you into a danger zone: Delinquency and default can seriously hurt your credit.
If this sounds like you, remember that you might be able to take advantage of programs that will keep you from drowning: loan deferment and forbearance.

If you meet certain eligibility requirements, a loan deferment or forbearance allows you to temporarily stop making your federal student loan payments or temporarily reduce the amount of your federal student loan payments.  Both are options to avoid going into default– the main difference is that with deferment, you may not be responsible for paying the interest that accrues on certain types of loans during the deferment period. Deferments and forbearances must be requested through a form to your loan servicer. There are different eligibility and qualifications with each option.

You may be eligible for a deferment on your federal student loan:

  • while you are enrolled at least half-time at an eligible college or received a Direct PLUS Loan of FFEL PLUS Loan as a student
  • if you are enrolled in an approved graduate fellowship program
  • while you are enrolled in an approved rehabilitation training program for the disabled
  • while you are unemployed or unable to find full-time employment, for up to 3 years

The two types of forbearances are general and mandatory. Eligibility depends on the type of forbearance. You can request a general forbearance if you are temporarily unable to make your scheduled monthly payments due to:

  • financial difficulties
  • medical expenses
  • change in employment and other reasons.

You may be eligible for a mandatory forbearance if:

  • you are serving in a medical or dental internship or residency program and meet specific requirements.
  • the total amount you owe each month for all the student loans you received is 20 percent or more of your total monthly gross income, for up to three years (Direct Loans, FFEL Program loans, and Perkins Loans
  • you are serving in an AmeriCorps position for which you received a national service award (Direct Loans and FFEL Program loans only
  • you are a member of the National Guard and have been activated by a governor, but you are not eligible for a military deferment
  • you qualify for partial repayment of your loans under the U.S. Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program (Direct Loans and FFEL Program loans only

Deferment or forbearance may be a good short-term option if you are struggling to pay your loans due to temporary circumstance. A better long-term solution to consider is to apply for loan forgiveness or an income-driven repayment plan. For more information about applying for loan forgiveness, feel free to call one of our expert advisers for help.


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