You graduated and now your student loan is due. The job hasn’t come through yet, or you are just in over your head. What can you do about that student loan?
Before you enter the default stage, relax and review your options. Realize that you aren’t alone. Unfortunately, since so many former students default on their loans each year, the Department of Education has a well-oiled process of collecting payments from those who default.
If you just stop paying, or never begin making payments when they are due, you can expect the Department of Education to take action to collect your student loan. There are several drawbacks to procrastinating. First, they will add substantial collection fees to your outstanding balance. You owe enough already, but they are going to want extra to track you down and force you to pay.
The IRS works closely with the Department of Education, and they’ll take any tax refund that you might be due. That’s right, they’ll turn it over to the Department of Education without a second thought.
Finally, once you do get a job, they can garnish your wages. Not only will they get the collection fees and hit your take home pay, but your employer will know you defaulted on your loans as well.
If you default, your credit will be damaged. This will prevent you from getting the best available financing deals, a mortgage and possibly even a job.
Want to avoid all that hassle? First, realize that you do have options. Shirking your responsibilities should be the last option. Contact an Ombudsman at the Department of Education (877-577-2575). Review your options and choose one that you can live with.
You may be able to defer your loans. This program allows you to defer, or put off, payments on principal, interest or both under some conditions. If you’re out of work but looking for a job, experiencing a financial hardship or going back to school you may be able to put off paying for awhile. You must apply and be approved, so be proactive and request the paperwork from your lender before you find yourself in default.
Most loans have a provision for cancellation. However, canceling a student loan is very difficult. If you meet one of the requirements you can apply for a cancellation by completing a form provided by your lender. Some of the qualifications include total disability, either permanent or temporary, death, providing instruction or other services to needy populations or entering a rehabilitation program for your disability. Serving in one of the armed forces may also allow you to cancel your student loans under certain circumstances. Cancellations are hard to obtain and will always require documentation of your condition or situation.
If you find yourself in extreme circumstances, student loans can be discharged through certain types of bankruptcy. However, you must be able to prove that if you repaid the loan you would suffer severe financial difficulty, and most student loans can only be discharged through Chapter 13 bankruptcies in which you must repay a portion of your debt (usually pennies on the dollar).
Whatever your situation, deal with your student loan problem before it enters default. Whatever choice you make, don’t ignore the problem. It won’t go away, it’ll only get bigger. Contact the Ombudsman at the Department of Education or your lender before you find yourself in default.