If you are going through a difficult time in life or are simply returning to school, student loan deferment might be a good choice for you. This option allows you to put your student loans on “pause” for a period of time.

Deferment can be helpful if you are unemployed, disabled, or are simply heading back to obtain another degree and cannot afford your student loan payments but there are downsides to consider.

This article outlines the basics of student loan deferment, from when it is available to what you can do if you do not qualify. For a better understanding of how to defer student loans, continue reading below.

What is Student Loan Deferment?

Student loan deferment allows borrowers to stop making payments on their loans for a period of up to three years, or often indefinitely if they are enrolled in school. Federal student loan deferment is automatic if you continue your education; otherwise you will need to apply to defer your student loans if you are out of school or if you have private student loans.

There are eight types of federal student loan deferment, each based on a specific life situation. They are: (1) In-School; (2) Parent PLUS Borrower; (3) Graduate Fellowship; (4) Rehabilitation Training; (5) Unemployment; (6) Economic Hardship; (7) Military Service and Post-Active Duty Student; and (8) Health Education Assistance (HEAL) Borrower.

Private student loan deferment may be offered, but often on a more limited basis. Each lender has different restrictions on deferrals. Typically, deferments are limited to economic hardship, military deployment, unemployment, or being enrolled in school.

It is important to note that interest will continue to accrue on all unsubsidized student loans and private loans while they are deferred. Deferment is different than forbearance, which is available to borrowers who are not eligible for deferment. Forbearance allows borrowers to pause student loan payments for up to 12 months. During this time, interest will accrue on all loans, subsidized or unsubsidized.

How to Get Student Loans Deferred

In order to obtain a student loan deferment, you will need to submit an application to the government or your lender. The type of application that you submit and the documentation that will be required will depend on the type of deferment that you are requesting.

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Federal student loan borrowers can apply online through the Department of Education’s website. There, you will be required to provide basic information, including your name, address, telephone number, and Social Security Number. From there, you will be required to provide additional documentation depending on the type of deferment that you seek. For example, if you are seeking deferment based on unemployment, you may need to submit proof of eligibility for unemployment benefits.

After submitting the form and all required documentation, continue making regular payments until you have received notice that deferment has been granted. Otherwise, your loan may be deemed delinquent or go into default.

Contact your private student loan servicer to learn more about your deferment options and to figure out how to apply.

Student Loan Deferment: Pros and Cons

Student loan deferment can be incredibly helpful if you are struggling to pay off student loans due to an unexpected life event or because you are back in school. You won’t damage your credit by not paying your student loans, and you won’t have to worry about your loans during a period of time in which you may already be under financial stress.

However, there are drawbacks to this program. While in deferment, you aren’t making progress on your student loans, and interest will continue to accrue on all unsubsidized loans (including private loans). In addition, you often cannot use deferment repeatedly and for only a certain amount of time.

What If You Can’t Defer Your Student Loans?

If you cannot defer your student loans, you can look at other options, including forbearance. You may also consider an income-driven repayment plan to lower your monthly payment or consolidating your federal student loans to extend the payment term and lower your payments.

For private student loans, you can talk to your lender about repayment options or any alternatives if you are experiencing a hardship. They may suggest you refinance student loans to obtain a lower interest rate or tell you to seek forbearance of your private student loans.