Dropping out can have implications for student loan repayment if you took out loans when you started attending a higher education institution. The clock begins to run on any grace period you have before repayment must begin if you drop below half-time enrollment. You're taking less than half of the full-time course load.
The good news is that you can pay back your student loans efficiently and effectively, even after dropping out, if you're proactive in creating a budget plan,
What Happens to Student Loans When You Drop Out?
Some federal and private student loans offer a grace period before you're required to make payments. Your grace period countdown starts if you drop out of school while you have student loans.
You have six months before payments start for most federal loans, but it’s important to check in with your lender to be sure. Interest continues accruing during your grace period on all private loans, as well as on most federal student loans except for subsidized direct loans.
Borrowers risk negative consequences to their credit score if they don't repay any loans owed, leading to financial roadblocks in the future when trying to buy a car or obtain a credit card.
Explore Your Repayment Options
You have several options if you've dropped out and your grace period is coming to an end, or if you want to get a jump start on repaying loans before interest accrues on your balance.
Increase Your Income to Make Full Payments
Start making payments on your student loan debt as soon as possible after dropping out if you can afford to do so, even during the grace period. This will reduce your balance more quickly. You’ll also avoid accruing interest, which is an issue for anyone with private loans or loans that aren't set at 0%.
You may need to increase your income before you can afford to make full payments. There are many ways to do that, including asking for a promotion at your current workplace (if you have one), looking for a new job and negotiating your salary, or finding a side hustle. You can start repayment right away after you're no longer attending school if you're able to earn enough.
Talk to your loan servicer about having payments automatically taken out of your bank account on a regular basis, ensuring that you never miss a payment.
Sign Up for Income-Driven Repayment
Income-driven payment options may be right for you if you're concerned that you won't have the money to make student loan payments after dropping out.
You'll pay a set amount on your loans each month based on your earnings and family size under an income-driven plan. The amount you'll pay may not be enough to cover the interest in full and begin reducing the balance, but loan forgiveness options exist after a certain number of on-time payments.
Your monthly payments should be affordable with an income-driven repayment plan even if your job doesn't pay much. Your monthly payment could be as low as $0 in some cases if your income is low enough.
Income-driven payment options are only available for federal loans, not private ones.
Consider Refinancing Private Student Loans
You may be able to reduce your payment through refinancing if you have private student loans. This would involve getting a new student loan from a private lender to repay your existing debt. You could reduce your monthly payment if your new loan has a lower interest payment, a longer repayment timeline, or both.
Refinancing to a loan with a longer repayment timeline could increase your total interest costs, however, even if you reduce your interest rate. You would owe the lender interest for a longer period of time.
You must be able to prove through a good credit score and proof of income that you can repay your loans. This may be difficult if you've recently dropped out of school and aren't earning a lot of money. But it can help you get approved for a loan at a lower rate if you apply with a cosigner who has more income or a stronger credit history.
Refinancing generally isn't a good idea for federal loans because it would require that you get a new loan from a private lender. That would mean giving up income-driven payment options, generous forbearance and deferment options, and other federal borrower benefits.
Explore Options for Deferment or Forbearance
If you’re facing financial hardship, it’s possible to suspend your federal student loans for a brief period if you're facing financial hardship. There are two options for relief: deferment and forbearance. Both allow you to stop making payments for a given period of time.
Eligibility for deferment is limited. You must meet certain criteria, such as serving in active duty military service or participating in an internship or residency program related to your career.
Forbearance is the better option in most cases for those who know that their financial hardship is temporary, although interest will accrue. Deferment can work well for individuals who have some subsidized student loans and want to avoid interest accrual, or who are unsure how long their financial instability will last.
Many private lenders will also permit you to put loans into forbearance, but it’s best to discuss the rules and policies with your lender. They can vary depending on the organization.
Explore other repayment plans prior to considering deferment or forbearance because of the impact on interest and potential loan forgiveness.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 16 million Americans have abandoned plans to attend classes at a post-high school institution this year as a direct result of the economic disruption and general fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Education extended its student loan forbearance period, initially instated in March 2020, through Jan. 31, 2022. Forbearance suspends collections activity and pauses interest accrual. This date was then further extended for an additional 90 days in December 2021, to May 1, 2022. Reach out to your lender if you haven't yet been notified by your loan servicer of the deadline change.
Individuals who have federal student loans aren't expected to make payments. You can benefit from the 0% interest rate if you want to continue making payments. This reprieve applies only to federal student loans. Private loan payments are not automatically paused, and interest will keep accruing if you're in a grace period or have requested forbearance.
Consider Your Obligations Before You Drop Out
Deciding whether to drop out of school is a big decision, and it's important to consider all the financial implications before you make your choice, including the challenges of boosting your earning potential without a degree.
You may want to talk with academic advisors and financial aid counselors before you decide. They can help you explore your options and ensure that you're making the decision that's best for you.