Single parents have to make ends meet with just one person’s income, time, support system and resources. Every fixed cost, from rent to student loan payments, can strain the budget.
If you’re a single parent with student loans (or managing parent student loans you took out for your child), it can feel like there’s no way to get ahead. However, single parents can solve the challenge of student debt with the capability, creativity and grit that they rely on every day.
Student loan solutions for single parents: 6 ways to get ahead
Here are some ways single parents can tackle student loans — and create more breathing room in their budgets each month:
1. Refinance student loans
2. Explore your options for student loan forgiveness
3. Sign up for income-driven repayment
4. Defer or forbear student loans
5. Increase your income
6. Use public assistance
As a single parent, you’re probably used to economizing and keeping expenses low. But have you considered cutting costs on your student loans? Refinancing to lower student loan rates is one way to do that.
By refinancing with a private lender, you may snag a low interest rate and lower your overall costs of borrowing. Refinancing student loans also gives you the opportunity to choose new loan terms that match your goals. You could choose a longer term to lower monthly payments or go with a shorter term to pay back your debt faster and save money on interest.
But before refinancing, make sure you understand the pros and cons. Refinancing federal student loans turns them private, so you’ll lose federal protections such as getting your payments capped at a percentage of your disposable income or having more options to put those payments on hold if need be. If you don’t feel confident you’ll always be able to keep up with repayment, refinancing might not be worth it, despite the possible savings.
Also note that you’ll need good credit and income to qualify for student loan refinancing in the first place. If your credit isn’t so solid, then you may want to find a cosigner before applying.
Whatever you decide, carefully compare all your options before you refinance your student loans to ensure it’s the right move for you.
While we couldn’t find any student loan forgiveness programs specifically for single moms or single dads, there are some broader options for discharging your debt, depending on where you live and what you do.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness, for instance, cancels student debt for borrowers who work in nonprofits or government organizations for 10 consecutive years. Most states also offer student loan repayment assistance programs for professionals who work in certain fields, such as healthcare, education or law.
Also note that if you attended a school that misled borrowers or closed while you were a student, you might be eligible for student loan discharge through the borrower defense to repayment program.
Learn more about the various student loan forgiveness programs to see if you could qualify to have your debt cancelled, and also look into whether your employer (or prospective employer) offers student loan matching benefits.
If you’ve got federal student loans with burdensome monthly payments, you also have the option to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan (IDR). Unlike refinancing, an IDR plan preserves your loans’ federal status — and it can still lower your payments, though it does this by slowing down your repayment rather than cutting your interest rate.
Basically, an IDR sets your monthly student loan payments based on your income and cost of living, hopefully keeping those payments at an affordable level. IDR plans can be a smart choice for single moms and dads, who often earn less than their married counterparts.
Single mothers, in particular, are more likely to face unemployment, Forbes reports, and they make, on average, less than a third of the combined income for married couples with one or more children at home.
When low income is the problem, an IDR plan can reduce payments and free up monthly cash flow. It can even set payments at $0 for some borrowers struggling with their finances.
If you need a break from your student loans as a single parent, deferment and forbearance can pause your payments altogether. Postponing payments temporarily could help you get back on your feet financially before you have to resume student debt repayment.
With federal student loans, you’ll generally have these options for deferment/forbearance:
- Defer student loans while enrolled in college at least half-time, and for a six-month grace period after enrollment ends.
- Defer student loans for up to three years due to unemployment or inability to find full-time employment.
- Defer student loans for up to three years due to financial hardship.
- Forbear student loans for up to 12 months at a time, at the discretion of your student loan servicer. Common reasons for forbearance include financial difficulties, medical or emergency expenses or employment change.
However, be aware that most student loans will continue to accrue interest, even if you don’t have to make payments. So deferring or forbearing your student loans can increase your overall debt balance and the total cost of the loans.
Single parents should look for ways to maximize their take-home pay. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re balancing work with family life. But there are a few things you can start thinking about:
- Look at where your paychecks are going. For example, you may want to adjust W-4 withholdings to give yourself a bigger paycheck, since as a single earner with a dependent child, you face fewer taxes. Or consider scaling back employee-paid benefits if they don’t seem useful.
- Focus on increasing your salary. Work toward earning a raise or switching jobs. If you have time in your busy schedule, a side hustle or part-time online job could help you supplement your monthly income.
- Communicate with your ex. Child support can make a big difference for a single parent’s budget. Keep an open discussion with your former partner about how to cover your child’s costs. Hold them responsible for their end of the deal. If they stop paying or get behind on child support, try to stay on good personal terms, while diligently following up on this big financial issue.
- Consider returning to college. Single parents are less likely to have a college degree than married parents, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, a college education can bring a huge boost in earning potential. While it might not be practical for many single parents, going back to college could be a smart investment in yourself and your child’s future. Plus, enrolling in college is a qualifying reason to defer student loans.
Spend some time researching benefits and support that’s available. This help can sometimes make a massive difference to your financial situation. Take a look at programs in your area that can give you more resources to cover living costs:
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and local food banks can help cover grocery costs.
- Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Affordable Care Act subsidies can make health insurance affordable (or free).
- Many states have child care assistance programs to help low-income parents cover preschool, daycare and after-school care.
These programs can help ease money anxiety and improve your family’s quality of life.
Still in school or planning to enroll? These tips can help
If you’re a current college student or are planning to enroll, you might be searching for ways to cut costs. Before your school year starts, make sure to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
This important form opens the door to financial aid, including grants and low-rate student loans. You should also keep an eye out for private or institutional scholarships, particularly any that are designed for single parents.
At the same time, find out if your college offers childcare services for students with kids. If they do, make sure to sign up early before spots get filled up.
Your state might also have an educational agency or other body that offers grants to cover child care costs. And check out Child Care Access Means Parents in School, a federal program that awards a monthly stipend for childcare costs to student moms and dads.
Although these grants and resources aren’t always well advertised, there are programs that might be able to help. By pursuing this type of financial aid, you can hopefully get assistance with college and childcare costs, and take out less in student loans as a result.
Keep the positives in mind
Single parenthood can be extremely demanding. Remind yourself that you’re up to the challenge — you’ve proven you are, just by coming this far. Remember too that your kids are watching and learning from how you’re handling your student loans and finances.
Student debt is a big burden, but you can manage it — and pay it off — with some self confidence and a bit of help.
Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.