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5 Ways to Get Fast, Free Student Loan Help

Most borrowers can get what they need for free from servicers or studentloans.gov. But if you're overwhelmed or being sued, consider paying for help.
April 4, 2018
Loans, Student Loans
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You don’t have to struggle with overwhelming student loans by yourself. There is help available to lower your payments or to get rid of student loans altogether in some circumstances.

The resources below are legitimate ways to get student loan help. Some are free, while others generally cost money, like credit counselors and legal advice. But reputable, personalized service may be worth the cost if you have a complex debt situation.

I want help getting rid of my student loans

1. Apply for student loan forgiveness

There are a few scenarios in which your student loans can be immediately forgiven, or discharged. Federal loans can be discharged if your school defrauded you, if your school closed, or if you are unable to work due to a total and permanent disability.

Other forgiveness programs take longer. You can 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.

You can 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.

» MORE: 10+ student loan forgiveness, cancellation and discharge programs

2. 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.

The government provides clear paths to bring your student loans out of 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. You can find free or low-cost aid on lawhelp.org.

A 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.

» MORE: How to get your student loans discharged in bankruptcy

I want help lowering my payments

3. Call your student loan servicer

The federal government and many private lenders assign each borrower a student loan servicer, which collects student loan payments and should be the first point of contact for loan questions.

When you’re overwhelmed by debt, call your servicer to discuss options to relieve the stress. Servicers process requests for federal student loan consolidation, which simplifies payments, or changes to repayment plans.

Find your federal student loan servicer by logging into the National Student Loan Data System with your Federal Student Aid ID. For private loans, ask the original lender whom to contact for billing or repayment inquiries.

4. Sign up for income-driven repayment

If you have federal loans and you know you’ll need a lower bill for the foreseeable future, sign up for an income-driven repayment plan. These 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 studentloans.gov.

Income-driven repayment plans cut payments to a percentage of your income; if you have none, you’ll pay $0 per month.

Private loans have fewer 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. 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.

Avoid the scammers

As you search, avoid “debt relief” companies that claim to eliminate your student debt. They charge for services you can get on your own for free.

Learn how to spot a student loan scam. If you’ve been in touch with a for-profit company to consolidate your loans or get forgiveness, check whether it’s on NerdWallet’s Student Loan Watch List.

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