Did you know that to the federal government, defaulting on your student loans is considered almost as serious as not paying your taxes? In today’s worrying economic climate, many recent and soon-to-be graduates might be concerned about the possibility of student loan default. Here’s the cold hard truth about going into default… and some good news for you if you’re already in this situation.
First, it’s important to know what student loan default is. You are considered in loan default when you have made no scheduled payments on your student loans for at least 270 days. This applies to anyone whose loans are currently considered in repayment. If your loans are being deferred because you are currently attending school at least half-time, or for any other reason, your loans will not go into default.
Student loan default can come with some pretty hefty penalties. These may include:
a) Serious damage to your credit report. – The negative effect on your credit report created by loan default cannot be underestimated. Even if you’ve never been in default, the ability you’ve shown to repay/manage your student loans is one of the first things a loan officer may look at in addition to your credit rating when determining eligibility for a car or home loan.
b) Withholding of wages and other income. – The government may decide to garnish your wages, a certain percentage being withheld from you and going directly to loan payments before the rest of your monthly paycheck reaches you. Other funds such as federal tax returns and lottery winnings can also withheld. Of course, if you win the lottery, paying off student loans should be on the top of your priority list anyway.
c) Professional license and transcript blocks. – If you have earned a professional license, such as a medical, cosmetology, or real estate license, you can be prevented from receiving that license while your loans are in default. An even more common problem is a transcript block. Many jobs available to college grads require that you submit a copy of your college transcripts as a part of the application process. If your loans are in default, the school(s) you’ve attended are not allowed to release official transcripts to other institutions until the default is resolved.
But the good news is…
For most of us, it’s not easy to go into student loan default. No one (the schools, lender banks, guaranty agencies, or the federal government) wants you to go in to default. So you do have options and resources to help you keep that from happening. Some of these are:
a) Deferment and Forbearance – Deferment allows the postponement of payments in cases of economic hardship, re-enrollment in school, or disability. Forbearance is a similar condition which allows for the lowering of minimum monthly payments based on your situation.
b) Alternate payment programs. – Rather than a standard loan repayment schedule, you may choose an income sensitive, graduated, or extended plan. Graduated and income sensitive repayment plans may be a good option for those who are unsure how much they will be earning during their first years out of college or entering into an unstable job market. Extended repayment is an option available to borrowers with more than $30,000 in federal loans. It allows you to repay over a 25-year period, rather than the standard 10 years.
c) Consolidation – Under current federal loan programs you may be eligible to consolidate your student loans. In essence, consolidation involves taking out a new loan with a lender bank or servicer to cover all of your current student loans. This allows you to work with a single lender bank (rather than multiple banks if you took out your student loans through more than one lender), may lower your monthly payments, and opens up whatever new payment options your consolidation lender may offer. Many banks offer consolidation loans, some even marketing them aggressively through mail and phone solicitations. So it’s important to approach this option with the attitude of an informed consumer to determine what offers might work best for you.
As always, the first and best resource you have when it comes to managing your student loans are the people who are there to help and work with you. If you’ve started missing payment, chances are your lender bank is already trying to contact you. It’s best though if you speak with your bank’s representatives before it reaches that point, and always make sure they have current contact information for you. Also, the financial aid counselors/administrators at your school should be available for you to consult with even after graduation. Repayment is a process that takes place primarily between you and your lender bank, but a school’s FA counselor can at least point you in the right direction even if they don’t have all of the details you are looking for.