What Is a Forbearance on Student Loans?

Paying back a student loan may be trickier than getting it.
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The time between when someone completes her education and begins earning enough money to pay back student loans can be considerable. Falling behind on your payments harms your credit score and increases the risk of your loan being placed in default. If you can't make those payments, you may qualify for a mandatory or discretionary forbearance. Doing so offers a temporary respite with eliminated or reduced payments for 12 months, though interest will continue to accrue.


Mandatory Forbearance

Your lender must grant you a mandatory forbearance under certain conditions. For example, you may qualify for a mandatory forbearance if you're in a medical or dental internship program, serving in a national service position for which you received a national service award, or qualify for teacher loan forgiveness. You may also be granted forbearance if you qualify for partial repayment under the Department of Defense Student Loan Program, or if you're activated for the National Guard but not eligible for a deferment. Finally, if the total amount of your student loan debt exceeds 20 percent of your total monthly income, you may also qualify for a forbearance.


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Discretionary Forbearance

In a discretionary forbearance, the decision is up to the lender. You can make a request for a discretionary forbearance because of financial hardship or illness. However, your lender might insist on documentation that supports your request. In any forbearance, if you don't make at least the interest payments they may be capitalized, which would increase your payments thereafter.