I’ve heard the stories about not paying your student loans and they all sound like nightmares. I’m talking about the kind that make you wish you were dreaming kinda nightmares.

Nightmares are working 40-hour weeks and having the government garnish your wages. See? Nightmares. I’m sure you agree, moving along…

While I haven’t gone through this personally, one of my biggest financial fears is student loan default. Many people go into default for different reasons and sometimes it simply boils down to not earning enough money to pay those suckers back.

Regardless of whether you’re a recent graduate or a seasoned loan payer, it’s good to know some options just in case you you need them.

These options will keep you from doing the one thing you shouldn’t do when you can’t pay your student loans, and that’s giving up.

I mean, if you hadn’t heard there are folks living in exile just to avoid their outrageous student loan payments.

Crazy, right?

Well, I’m sorry. Moving out of the country just to avoid my student debt isn’t going to work for me. I’m pretty sure it’s not an option for many of you either, so let’s discuss some others that don’t involve evading the government.

Paying Student Loans When You’re Broke

If you’re broke and find yourself unable to pay your loans — first, you’re going to need to have a come to Jesus moment with your provider.

Yes, that means pick up the phone, call Sallie and tell her all your problems. When you call them, here are two options you can discuss that will help you if you’re unable to pay your student loans.

Deferment and Forbearance

During times of economic hardship, you may be eligible for an economic deferment for your federal loans.

Deferment simply means you are postponing any student loan payments. In some instances the government will pay interest on these loans while you are in deferment. To take advantage of this option, you have to call your lender and fill out any necessary paperwork for approval.

If you’re not approved for a deferment, forbearance is your next option. With forbearance you may be able to temporarily postpone or reduce your payments for up to 12 months. Approval is based on individual circumstances such as illness or economic hardship.

Change your repayment plan

After graduating, your lender will automatically enroll you in the 10-year standard repayment plan. Depending on the amount of debt you have, this payment could feel like a car payment or mortgage note.

Forbearance & Deferment Guide

If you have never discussed repayment plans with your provider, you should. There are several income-driven repayment plans that can reduce your student loans to within 10 percent of your income. In some instances, you can even reduce them down to a big, fat, whopping Z-E-R-O!

There are four repayment plans you should look into: Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR), Revised Pay as You Earn Plan (REPAYE), Pay as You Earn Plan (PAYE), and Income Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR).

If you have private student loans, you aren’t eligible for these programs. Private student loans typically have more rigid repayment plans with no income-driven options.

So, Which Route Should You Take?

It really depends on your individual circumstances. Since graduating, there have been a few times I’ve needed to rely on forbearance and economic hardship (like being out of work for maternity leave).

There have been other times when I was working and my budget was extremely tight. Then there are times when the thought of making a $700 payment sends me into a full-blown panic because that would mean the mortgage wouldn’t be paid.

If it means you have to choose between food and shelter, it’s safe to say you’re facing an economic hardship. If you have a job and just can’t afford to pay your loans and some of your bills, perhaps a reduced payment would help.

However, if it comes down to your loan payment or cutting off the cable (which I’ve already done, by the way), then maybe you need to get your priorities in order.

In Conclusion

The weight of student loan debt doesn’t have to come down to a matter of life and death. Seriously, you have options. You can be like those guys living in exile that I mentioned earlier or be like this guy who has some serious balls to walk around in default.

However, if you don’t want to face living nightmares like the aforementioned, you can be like me and explore other repayment options. If you have a great income and credit score, you may qualify for some private companies that will let you refinance student loans. Hopefully now you can walk around this country without worrying about who’s coming after you because of some damn student loans. The choice is yours!