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If you stop paying back your private student loans, a lender can bring you to court to demand repayment. But they only have a certain amount of time to do so. Once your loan’s statute of limitations is up, the lender has no legal recourse to collect the money from you.
Before you think you can walk away from your student loans, though, it’s important to understand the harmful consequences of default.
Let’s try to answer some key questions about the statute of limitations on private student loans, including exactly what happens to unpaid debt and how your finances can be impacted:
- What’s the student loan statute of limitations?
- When does private student loan debt fall off your credit report?
- How do debt collectors, capitalized interest affect student loans?
- What happens if you default on student loans?
- Can you discharge student loans through bankruptcy?
- What’s next for your private student loan debt?
Defaulting on student loans is a risky financial move that’s not recommended. When the student loan statute of limitations runs out, however, there’s not much lenders can do to collect.
Although collection agencies can still call you, they won’t be able to win against you in court.
The statute of limitations on private student loans varies by state, from as few as three years in certain states to as many as 10 years in others. State laws also have different statutes for written contracts, oral agreements and promissory notes.
The legal time limit begins from the date of your last payment. If you stop repaying your debt but then resume payments at any time, the statute of limitations resets. Sometimes even admitting that a debt is yours in writing can restart the statute.
In fact, debt collectors can take advantage of borrowers’ ignorance of the laws to restart the statute of an old loan, as the National Consumer Law Center notes in this 2015 report on “zombie debt.”
The statute typically applies to your state of residency when you borrowed the loan, rather than your current state of residency. However, the waters can get murky there, so expect debt collectors to look for loopholes on this issue.
To clarify your situation, you should speak with a lawyer or call up your state’s attorney general’s office. When it comes to your options and rights, listen to a lawyer, not a debt collector. If you don’t have the money for legal fees, know that there are low-cost and free options out there.
Besides the statute of limitations, there’s a second limit on the repercussions of defaulting on private student loans, and it has to do with your credit score.
You may be relieved to hear that most private student loan debt will fall off your credit report after seven years. It will no longer drag down your credit score, and you can start to rebuild your credit from the ground up.
That said, all those years of default on student loans would have completely tanked your credit score. And a poor credit score can make your life pretty difficult. It can prevent you from qualifying for a mortgage, an auto loan or even an apartment rental.
A bad credit score may not feel significant right after graduating college, but it can become a serious burden as you move into your late 20s and 30s.
If you have a huge amount of private student loan debt at high interest rates, you may be tempted to stop paying altogether. There are a rare few out there who advocate this approach.
But before treading down this risky path, you should know everything that can happen.
First off, if you miss payments, your loans will keep growing thanks to capitalized interest. Your debt will become more and more insurmountable the longer you avoid it.
Secondly, your original lender will likely sell your loan to a debt collector, and third-party collection agencies tend to pursue repayment aggressively. They may call you several times a day, send letters and even try to contact you while you’re at work.
There are limits to when a debt collector can contact you, so make sure you know your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The biggest consequence of defaulting on your private student loans, overshadowing all the rest, is the possibility of a lawsuit.
Although collection agencies can’t sue you when the statute of limitations on the private student loan expires, they certainly can do so before that time. An agency can summon you to court for defaulting on one, several or all of your private student loans.
If this happens, then you’ll very likely want to consult a financial attorney to discuss your options. If you lose in court, then you’ll have to start repaying your loans again — and if you still don’t pay at that point, the debt collector could be granted permission to garnish your wages or seize your assets.
As you can see, defaulting on your private student loans can severely weigh you down in life just as you’re trying to move up.
But if you feel like there’s no way you can afford to pay your loans, yet you want to avoid default, what are your options? If your financial situation is truly dire, you may qualify to discharge private student loans through bankruptcy. Note that this process is currently very difficult to do, but it does happen.
Still, bankruptcy can wreck your credit and cause headaches for some time to come. However, if you can manage to pay your loans back (but don’t know how to start), then you’re better off coming up with a different plan of attack.
If you’re looking for a more stable financial future, there are better ways to get out of private student loan debt than defaulting and trying to stall for time.
Although private debt doesn’t have the same options as federal debt (such as income-driven repayment plans), you can often work with your lender to find a manageable solution for repayment.
And private loans are usually good candidates for refinancing — if you or a cosigner can qualify — since this comes with the opportunity to adjust your monthly payments and possibly even lower your interest rate. This method can be a game changer if you can get the right deal on your refinanced loan.
Even better, you might be eligible for student loan repayment assistance and not know it. This list of student loan assistance programs could get you out of debt more quickly than you thought possible.
Student loans can feel like a huge burden, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re proactive about finding the right repayment strategy, then you can steadily work your way toward financial freedom.
Renee Morad contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.84% – 9.40%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.76% – 7.14%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)..
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.