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College debt has reached an all-time high. The U.S. now has $1.44 trillion in student loan debt, with a delinquency rate of 11.2 percent.
We’re not just talking about federal student loans. As of 2015, total private student loan debt amounted to $7.8 billion.
The problem is, private student loans often have higher interest rates than federal student loans. And there are a lot fewer private student loan repayment plans – and no forgiveness programs.
Although private student loan forgiveness programs don’t exist, you have options. Here’s what you can do if you have private student loans and need to find some breathing room.
What to do if you need private student loan forgiveness
1. Talk to your lender
The first thing you need to do if you’re struggling with your private student loans is contact your lender. Every lender is different, so it is important to explore your options with yours.
Your lender likely doesn’t offer private student loan forgiveness. But they might still be able to help you.
For example, many top student loan refinancing companies offer either deferment or forbearance. These options enable you to temporarily postpone your payments, giving you some breathing room while also helping you avoid delinquency.
However, you can only be in deferment or forbearance for a limited amount of time, which will vary based on your lender.
If you’re struggling with repayment and looking for private student loan forgiveness, it’s crucial that you contact your lender and don’t just abandon your payments.
Abandoning your payments will seriously hurt your credit. And that can make it difficult for you to obtain new credit in the future.
2. Refinance your student loans
Refinancing private student loans can make it easier to manage your monthly payments.
Through student loan refinancing, you can consolidate all of your loans. If you qualify for a better interest rate than you have now, you can decrease your monthly payments.
Some refinancing lenders have other ways they can help borrowers. For example, some lenders – such as SoFi – offer extra perks such as unemployment protection. This program not only helps you temporarily suspend your payments if you become involuntarily unemployed, it also gives you access to career advisory services via SoFi.
If you’re interested in exploring refinancing as an option, you can find several refinancing lenders on our student loan consolidation and refinancing page.
3. Optimize your federal loans (if you have them)
While private student loan forgiveness programs aren’t a reality right now, that’s not to say you can’t get some help if you have both private and federal loans.
Federal loans come with a variety of repayment options to help when times are tough. You can utilize these options to ease the burden of your federal loan monthly payments and free up more cash. Hopefully, this will make it easier for you to pay down your private student loans.
Paying down more of your private student loans first also follows the “debt avalanche” payoff method. Here’s how it works:
- The debt avalanche method advises targeting high-interest rate debt first.
- All extra payments should go to that debt while the lower interest rate debt gets minimum payments.
- Once your target account is paid off, apply its payments on top of your next target account’s minimum.
- Do this repeatedly until all of your debt accounts are paid off.
This plan works because it reduces the debt that costs you the most money first. It also creates momentum – as one account is paid off, you roll over its payments to another account. Suddenly that next account will be paid off a lot faster, and so on.
Now, here’s how that applies to your student loans:
- If you’re either struggling to make all your payments or have nothing left to pay extra, you can use an income-driven repayment plan to reduce your federal loan monthly payments.
- Apply the difference that you were paying on your federal loans before the income-driven repayment plan to your private student loans.
- You’ll stay current on your federal loans by paying the minimum due per the income-driven repayment plan, while also eliminating your high-interest private student loans faster.
Since private student loans tend to come with a higher interest rate, targeting them first lines up with the debt avalanche method nicely.
4. Look for updates on private student loan forgiveness
Student loan debt is an ever-changing arena. The laws governing collections on student loans can change as quickly as administrations do. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of news as it comes out.
Right now there are no moves from the current administration to add any private student loan forgiveness programs. In fact, there are more proposals to reduce benefits for student loan borrowers than there are to add any.
That said, until a law is on the books, there’s still hope for positive change. And as a constituent, you have a right to contact your local representatives about laws that are up for a vote.
5. Find new ways to increase your income
This option has nothing to do with private student loan forgiveness – but it’s worth mentioning because of the sheer impact it can have on your student loan repayment.
If you know you’re not eligible for a raise or think you don’t have time to work more, consider looking into side hustles.
Let’s say you earn $400 extra per month for some freelance work and apply it directly to your student loan payments. Here’s how much of a difference that would make:
- If your loan balance is currently $35,000 and your interest rate is 5.00%, one extra $400 payment will save you $243 and take one month off the life of your loan.
- If you made that extra $400 payment from your side income each month for one year, you’ll save $2,657 on your debt overall and pay it off 19 months early.
Finding ways to increase your income can change the game on your finances. And that extra income could be the push you needed to make ends meet or get ahead.
Think about it this way: If you find the right side hustle, you can do more than earn extra money. You can also build your skills and network. And that can help increase your chances of success and income potential as you go.
Talking to your lender is your best bet
Knowing that federal student loans offer forgiveness options that private student loans don’t is frustrating, to say the least. But don’t let that frustration keep you from seeking help when you need it.
Of all the options listed above, talking to your lender can by far be one of the most effective. Financial attorney and author of “Life & Debt”, Leslie H. Tayne of Tayne Law Group P.C., explained this in more detail:
“First I would recommend speaking with your loan provider. While they won’t forgive your student loans just by asking, they may be willing to lower your monthly bill or work out a payment option that works for you.”
Choosing not to speak with your lender when you need to will only lead to more problems. Delinquencies and default will damage your credit for years to come. And bankruptcy won’t likely be a backup plan you can count on.
“Unfortunately, graduates believe bankruptcy is a viable option for throwing away their student loans,” said Tayne. “The truth is unless you have an extreme hardship, it’s going to be near impossible to discharge your student loans through bankruptcy.”
If you fear you won’t be able to sustain your monthly payments any longer, contact your lender. They’ll tell you what options might be available to you. That will be your best chance at taking charge of your private student loans before they take charge of you.