For graduates who left school with debt from student loans, November and December can be a month of reckoning.
Government-issued federal student loans and many non-federal private student loans grant students a six-month grace period after they leave school before they need to begin making loan payments. For students who graduated in May and June, then, those college loans come up for repayment in November and December.
And if you’re a graduate who’s caught up in the current recession and the highest unemployment rate on record for new college graduates, you may be getting your first student loan bill having no idea how you’re going to make the payment.
Just ignoring those student loan bills isn’t going to help. Defaulting on a federal student loan is no light matter. The government can step in and garnish your wages, once you get a job, or seize any income tax refunds you may have coming to you in order to put money toward your student loan debt.
Both federal and private student loans are nearly impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, so your student loan lenders can keep coming after you for payment, even if a judge declares you bankrupt and wipes out your other debts.
All your student loan accounts appear on your credit report, so your credit rating is also at risk. Repeated late and missed payments on your student loans will drop your credit score, will linger on your credit history for years, and can have a lasting impact on your ability later on to qualify for anything that requires a credit check. You may not be able to get a credit card, take out a car loan or home loan, rent an apartment, or even get a job — more and more employers are conducting credit checks on job candidates as a measure of your responsibility and maturity.
Clearly, keeping your student loans current needs to be a priority, for the sake of your credit and the health of your financial future. Whether you’re a newly minted college graduate or a longtime borrower who’s now having some financial troubles, if you’re facing student loan payments that you can’t afford, here are five ways to get help now.
1. Contact your student loan lenders.
Whether you’re approaching the end of your grace period or you’re already in repayment, if you know that you don’t have the ability to make the payments on your student loans, contact your lenders immediately, explain your situation, and see what they can do to help.
For your federal student loans, the U.S. Department of Education can grant you additional periods of deferment or forbearance if you’re facing financial hardship. With a government-approved deferment or forbearance, your student loan payments are postponed, with no adverse effect on your credit.
Non-federal private student loans aren’t required to offer the same deferment and forbearance protections that federal student loans provide. But your private student loan lender may be willing to offer you a temporary forbearance or work something else out, perhaps accepting a lower monthly payment, giving your more time to repay your loan, or lowering your interest rate temporarily.