What Is Student Loan Deferment?

Definition & Examples of Student Loan Deferment

College students on campus
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A student loan deferment is an arrangement allowing you to postpone or reduce loan payments temporarily without damaging your credit scores.

Learn whether it's right for you and your situation.

What Is Student Loan Deferment?

Any student loan payments you skip during deferment must be made up later, which means a longer repayment period than originally planned. You will not be in default on your loan, but it's essential to understand what happens with your interest rate before deciding on a payment amount. You may still be responsible for interest payments each month—even if you're not required to pay them right away.

If you have subsidized loans, the federal government pays your interest costs for you, which prevents your loan from growing during deferment.

With unsubsidized debt, you’re responsible for interest costs. You can pay interest costs each month if you choose, and that approach minimizes your total lifetime cost of borrowing. Alternatively, you have the option of adding those interest costs to your loan balance, or “capitalizing” the interest. In that case, your loan balance grows each month.

How Student Loan Deferment Works

Deferments are typically not automatic. Lenders require that you qualify for deferment and submit an application before you stop making payments. In most cases, you submit your request with a form that documents your reason for deferment and provides details about your loan.

Some private lenders also allow deferment. So, it’s crucial to contact your lender as soon as you think deferment might make sense for you.

Federal student loans have clear rules on eligibility. Federal loans that offer deferment include:

  • Perkins Loans
  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • PLUS Loans
  • FFEL Loans, including FFEL PLUS
  • Direct and FFEL Consolidation Loans

In limited cases, such as when you enroll at least half-time in an eligible institution, deferment on federal student loans can happen automatically.

Eligibility for Deferment

To qualify for deferment on federal student loans, you need to meet specific criteria. Some common examples of satisfying the requirements include:

  • Being enrolled in school at least half-time in an eligible institution
  • Being unemployed or experiencing economic hardship (maximum of three years)
  • Active duty service in the military, including the13-month period following service
  • Participation in approved rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities
  • Participation in a career-related internship or residency program

Again, check with your loan servicer if you’re facing financial challenges. You might qualify for other forms of assistance. Private student loans may allow some relief, but these programs are much less forgiving than federal loans.

Don't stop making payments until you get the word from your lender that it approves your request and it's OK to stop. Missing payments without this approval can lead to penalties and fees.

Student Loan Deferment vs. Forbearance

Student Loan Deferment
  • Short-term loan relief

  • Interest accrues on some loans

  • Application required

Forbearance
  • Up to 12 months


  • Interest accrues on all loans

  • Lower threshold for approval

Like deferment, forbearance allows you to suspend or reduce payments for up to 12 months. Forbearance was put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easier to qualify for, especially during financial hardship. Your request may be approved based on your monthly payments taking up a significant amount of your income. Unfortunately, interest will continue to be charged on all loans, including subsidized loans, during forbearance.

Alternatives to Student Loan Deferment

If you’re having a hard time making payments, speak with your lender about your options. Deferment is just one of several options, and it might not be the best choice. Other possibilities include:

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Income-driven plans can also provide some breathing room. Instead of living with the same monthly payment, you can consider stretching out your payments over an extended period and lowering your payments based on your income. If you take that route, remember you might pay more in interest over the life of your loan. However, after 20 to 25 years (or 10 years, if you work in public service), your loan balance might be forgiven. Note that you may owe taxes on any forgiven balance, so create a strategy with a CPA and financial planner.

Loan Consolidation

Consolidating debts might also result in lower payments, especially if you opt for a longer repayment period. Again, this can result in higher lifetime interest costs.

A Change in Your Payment Due Date

Sometimes, changing the due date of your payment can make things easier. Time the new payment so that you get paid shortly before your payment is due.

Credit Counseling

A certified consumer credit counselor might help you gain control of your debt. If your loans are federal student loans, your odds of getting relief are much better.

Key Takeaways

  • Student loan deferments are an option to suspend loan payments without jeopardizing your credit rating.
  • Deferments may be granted if you meet specific criteria.
  • Interest may still accumulate during the deferral period.
  • Private lenders typically offer less relief than federal lenders can.

Article Sources

  1. Federal Student Aid. "Get Temporary Relief." Accessed Sept. 13, 2020.