If you are struggling to make your student loan payments, you may qualify for a forbearance. With a student loan forbearance, you postpone or reduce your student loan payments for a set period of time. A student loan forbearance is either discretionary (meaning it's up to the lender to grant or deny your request) or mandatory (meaning your student loan lender must forbear your loans if you meet certain conditions).
Because the interest on your student loan continues to accumulate during a forbearance, if you want to temporarily postpone payments, a deferment is usually a better option, if you qualify. (Learn about other options that may be available to you if you can’t afford your student loan payments.)
What Is Student Loan Forbearance?
If you receive a student loan forbearance, it means that you can stop making payments (or make a reduced payment) on your loan for a specified amount of time (generally up to 12 months for federal student loans). If you are struggling to make your student loan payments, a forbearance can help you avoid defaulting on your loan. But your interest will continue to accrue while you are in forbearance (discussed below).
Difference Between Student Loan Deferment and Forbearance
Both student loan deferment and forbearance excuse you from making payments on your loan for a set period of time. In addition to their eligibility rules, the primary difference between deferment and forbearance is whether or not interest charges will accrue while your payments are postponed. (Learn more about the differences between deferment and forbearance.)
Your interest continues to accrue during the forbearance period. If you qualify for deferment, interest doesn’t accrue on your subsidized student loans while your payments are deferred. In contrast, interest charges always accrue during forbearance regardless of whether you have a subsidized or unsubsidized student loan. Unless you pay the accruing interest during the forbearance period, it will capitalize and be added to your principal loan balance.
Are You Eligible for Student Loan Forbearance?
Eligibility requirements for student loan forbearance typically depend on whether you have a federal or private student loan. (Learn the difference between a federal and private student loan.)
Private student loans. Not all private student loan companies offer a forbearance option. If your private loan servicer does offer forbearance, whether or not you qualify will depend on the rules of that particular lender.
Federal student loans. For federal student loans, your loan servicer may grant you a discretionary forbearance in some circumstances, and must grant you a forbearance if you satisfy certain conditions (discussed below).
Federal Student Loan Forbearance Rules
Depending on your individual circumstances, if you have a federal student loan, you may be able to request:
- a discretionary forbearance (meaning that your loan servicer decides whether or not to grant your request), or
- a mandatory forbearance (your loan servicer must grant your request if you qualify).
When Can You Request a Discretionary Forbearance?
You can request a discretionary forbearance if:
- you are experiencing financial hardship, or
- you have an illness.
Your loan servicer is not required to grant your discretionary forbearance request. In most cases, it will review your application and supporting documents to determine whether or not to grant your request.
When Can You Request a Mandatory Forbearance?
In general, your loan servicer must grant you a forbearance if:
- you are in a medical or dental internship or residency program and you meet certain other requirements
- your total monthly payment for all student loans is equal to or greater than 20% of your monthly gross income (and you meet certain additional conditions)
- you are serving in a national service position (like AmeriCorps) and have received a national service award
- you are teaching in a capacity that qualifies for teacher loan forgiveness
- you are eligible for partial repayment under the U.S. Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program, or
- you are a National Guard member (and you were activated by a governor).
Is Student Loan Forbearance in Your Best Interest?
Because interest continues to accrue during forbearance, it’s not as good as deferring your student loans. But if you can’t make your student loan payments and don’t qualify for deferment or cancellation of your loan, forbearance may be your best option to avoid defaulting on the loan. (Learn more about the negative consequences of defaulting on student loans.)
How Do You Request a Student Loan Forbearance?
Your loan servicer won’t automatically give you a forbearance. If you believe that you qualify, you must request the forbearance by applying to your loan servicer. In most cases, you must submit a written application and supporting documents to request a forbearance. (Learn how to find your loan servicer.)