For the millions of Americans paying off private student loans, the financial impact of the past year will outlast temporary relief measures. Private loans don’t have as many repayment and forgiveness options as federal loans, and if you’re having trouble making payments on your private loans, it can be hard to know what to do next.
The goal should be to find a monthly payment you can afford, and to avoid defaulting—this can lead to large collection fees being added to your balance, as well as a big drop in your credit score that might prevent you from purchasing a car or a home, or even renting a place to live.
Let’s take a look at three options for making your private student loan payments more affordable.
The best option available for private student loans is refinancing. This is the process of transferring your loans to a new lender for a lower interest rate. The new interest rate and repayment period can also mean that your monthly payments will be lower and more affordable. For more information on the process, check out Summer’s guide to refinancing or sync your loan information to see if Summer recommends refinancing for your situation.
But first, you need to qualify for refinancing—which may be a hurdle for some. A potential lender will be reviewing your credit score, income, and financial situation before they decide to approve you for a loan. If your loan balance is higher than your income, or your credit score is below the high 600s, you may be rejected for refinancing with a private lender.
So what can you do if you don’t meet those criteria? There are a few options.
- Apply to another lender. We always recommend getting estimates from multiple private lenders before deciding where to refinance. If you’re rejected from one lender, you can try another. Not all lenders have the same criteria for approval, so if one doesn’t accept international graduates, or doesn’t accept a credit history under two years, another might.
- Look at why. If a lender doesn’t accept your application, they may be required to send you an adverse action notice that lets you know why. The reasons could be based on your credit score, payment and credit history, job, income, debt-to-income ratio, or number of open credit lines. This is a good opportunity to correct any errors you see on your credit report if they’re getting in the way of acceptance.
- Work toward approval. Improving your credit score and increasing your income are good goals to work toward in the long term, and will help you get accepted for a lower interest rate on your private student loans in the future. There may also be shorter-term steps you can take to improve your application, like consolidating existing credit lines.
- Use a co-signer. If you’re having trouble refinancing by yourself, you can consider refinancing your loans with a co-signer. A co-signer legally accepts responsibility for your loan if you can’t make payments, so their credit can be impacted by the agreement. But if you have a trusted friend or family member with a strong income and credit score, adding them to your loan can help you get accepted if you can’t yet on your own. Over time as you improve your financial situation, you can also refinance again in just your name to release your co-signer.
Work with Your Lender
If you’re concerned about making your next monthly payment on your private loans, or if you’ve already missed payments, your first call should be to your lender. They’re not required to offer you any set assistance options, but many lenders have programs to help struggling borrowers.
For temporary emergency help, you can ask for a forbearance or deferment—this is a set period of time where payments aren’t due, but interest will continue to accrue on your loans. For a more sustainable, longer-term solution, ask for a different repayment plan, a rate reduction on your loans, or a repayment term extension.
When you contact your lender, be specific about why you’re asking—some lenders will have specific programs for people who are unemployed, attending school, or serving in the military, for example. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great sample letter you can send to your lender to request assistance.
Lower Federal Loan Monthly Payments
About 82% of Summer’s users with private student loans also have federal student loans. There are a lot more options for lowering monthly payments on federal student loans, and taking advantage of those will free up funds that you can then apply to your private loan payments.
Federal income-driven repayment (IDR) plans lower your monthly payments by basing them on a percentage of your income. If you’re out of work or have a low income, your monthly payment could be as low as $0 per month. To enroll in IDR, you’ll submit a form and provide proof of your income like a tax return, paystub, or unemployment details. Summer can walk you through this process step by step and submit your form online. If you don’t have an account yet, head here to get started.
Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about IDR, private loans, or your options. You’re not alone, and we’re here to help.