6 Ways to Get Fast, Free Student Loan Help

Most student loan borrowers can get the help they need for free from servicers or at studentaid.gov.

Brianna McGurran, Ryan LaneSeptember 18, 2020

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Student Loan Relief Guide

COVID-19 relief may affect information on this page. Know your options before making any decision.

Student loans can be confusing and overwhelming, but the resources below offer legitimate student loan help if you want to lower your payments or get rid of your debt altogether.

Some of these services are free; others, like credit counselors and legal advice, generally cost money. Personalized help may be worth paying for if your situation is complex — and the provider is reputable.

Avoid “debt relief” companies that promise immediate student loan forgiveness. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

I want help getting rid of my student loans

1. Call your student loan servicer

The federal government and many private lenders assign each borrower a student loan servicer.

These agencies should be your first point of contact for student loan help. You can find your federal student loan servicer by logging into your My Federal Student Aid account. For private loans, ask the original lender whom to contact for billing or repayment inquiries.

Your servicer can help you understand options for getting rid of student loans, like forgiveness programs. While servicers should be able to answer all your questions, many borrowers complain about receiving inaccurate or incomplete information. Do your own research on the Federal Student Aid website, and ask to speak to a call center supervisor if something doesn't sound right.

If you still need a second opinion, reach out to a student loan nonprofit such as The Institute of Student Loan Advisors for help.

2. See if you qualify for forgiveness

Your federal student loans can be discharged, forgiven or canceled in a few scenarios. For example, you may qualify for a discharge if:

You can also receive federal student loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years if you sign up for income-driven repayment, or 10 years if you work for the government or a qualifying nonprofit. Work with your student loan servicer to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or Teacher Loan Forgiveness; contact your school for questions about Perkins loan cancellation.

3. Consider your legal options

Unpaid federal student loans go into default after nine months; the timeline is shorter for private loans. Default damages your credit and will stay on your credit report for seven years, and you'll still owe the loan.

The government provides clear paths to recovery in the event of student loan default, and your servicer can help you determine the best one for you.

But private loan default can get especially messy. If you’re sued by a private lender to collect the debt, consider searching the National Association of Consumer Advocates for a student loan lawyer to plan out your defense or help with a student loan settlement. You can find free or low-cost aid on lawhelp.org.

An experienced bankruptcy lawyer can also help you determine whether filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will dissolve your student loan debt or change its repayment terms. While this is difficult to do, it’s not impossible.

I want help lowering my payments

4. Sign up for income-driven repayment

Federal student loan borrowers can choose from multiple repayment options.

If you have federal loans and will need a lower bill for the foreseeable future, your best bet is income-driven repayment. These plans cut payments to a percentage of your income; if you have no income, you’ll pay $0 per month. After 20 or 25 years of payments, you’ll receive forgiveness on the remaining balance. These plans are free to apply for on studentaid.gov.

If you only need to pay less temporarily, request a deferment or forbearance instead. You must qualify for a deferment — for example, by being unemployed — but your servicer can grant forbearance at its discretion.

Private loans usually offer forbearance but have few other repayment alternatives. Still, stay in close contact with your lender or servicer and ask how you can reduce payments, perhaps through an interest rate discount or interest-only payments for a period of time.

5. Consolidate or refinance your loans

Federal student loan consolidation combines your existing federal loans into a single loan with a weighted interest rate. Consolidation won't lower your interest rate, but it can lower your payments by extending your repayment term, though you'll repay more overall as a result.

Student loan refinancing can decrease your payments or the total you repay by replacing your existing loans — federal or private — with a new private loan with a lower interest rate. Refinancing isn't right for everyone, especially borrowers struggling to repay their loans. But if you have steady income and good credit, and simply want to pay less each month, refinancing may make sense for you.

6. Work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency

Nervous about contacting your lender, or scared to look at your loan balance? You can get a personalized plan of action from a nonprofit credit counselor.

General credit counseling — to discuss simple budgeting techniques, for instance — is often free. Fees for student-loan-specific counseling vary by agency, but you’ll likely pay $50 for an initial session that will provide you with a personalized repayment plan. For $250, or sometimes more, a student loan counselor will offer more intensive help as you carry out the plan. Search for a counselor trained by a respected organization such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

You could also pay to work with a traditional financial planner. Look for one who is a Certified Student Loan Professional to help ensure they understand all the ins and outs of student loans.

Avoid the scammers

As you search for student loan help, beware for-profit, debt-relief companies that offer to consolidate your loans, enroll you in income-driven repayment or get you forgiveness — for a fee.

These companies charge for services you don't have to pay for. And some may take your money without doing what they've promised or charge you for extra services, like ongoing analysis of your credit.

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