When do you have to start paying back your loans?

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When do student loan payments start?

To know when to start repaying your student loans, you should have a good understanding of your loan repayment schedule. Then, you can evaluate your current financial situation and decide which repayment plan works best for you.

Your repayment period can differ depending on the type of loans you have and your lender. Most loan servicers offer a six-month grace period after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment, but this may differ from lender to lender. According to the U.S. Department of Education, federal student loan borrowers start repaying their loans six months after graduating or dropping below half-time enrollment.

Private student loans may also have a six-month grace period, but some lenders require you to make monthly payments as soon as the funds are dispersed.

There are options if you need more time to start paying back your loans. Alternative payment plans could offer you a better repayment option for your situation.

Alternative student loan repayment options

If you’re worried about repaying your student loans or thinking of pursuing another path, there are alternative options for you to explore. Keep in mind that while some alternatives may apply to your federal student loans, you may be able to apply some to your private loans as well. Some alternatives include:

  • Student loan deferment
  • Student loan forbearance
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Student loan refinancing

Each option has different eligibility requirements depending on the length of your loan, your employment status, the type of loan you have, and more.


Student loan deferment is a common way to extend your student loan payments. The deferment period usually lasts anywhere between six months to three years. If your loans are federally subsidized, interest will not accrue (grow) throughout deferment. If you have private or unsubsidized loans, your student loan debt will continue to accrue interest throughout the deferment period.

To see if you qualify for deferment, apply directly through your loan servicer. Keep in mind that deferment is a short-term solution for your student loan debt. If you’re looking for a long-term solution, there are other options, like an income-based repayment plan. 


Student loan forbearance is another short-term solution if you’re having trouble making payments. Forbearance may pause or lower your payments for a certain period, usually up to 12 months. It works the same way for all types of federal and private student loans. You’ll have to go through an application process with your loan servicer to determine if you’re eligible.

In forbearance, interest typically continues to accrue on all types of loans, including subsidized loans.

Forbearance can be easier to qualify for than deferment due to its eligibility requirements, such as financial hardship or medical expenses, while deferment usually requires meeting more specific criteria, like being enrolled in school at least half-time, experiencing economic hardship, or serving in the military.

Student loan forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness programs can reduce your total loan amount. Only federal loans are eligible for student loan forgiveness. There are also much stricter eligibility requirements compared to both deferment and forbearance.

Some programs borrowers can apply to are the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge, and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. Federal student loan servicers offer these programs but tend to have strict qualifications.


Student loan refinancing can make your monthly payments more manageable. Refinancing is basically getting a new loan from a private lender to pay off your existing loans. It comes with a new interest rate, new terms, and possibly a new lender. While refinancing doesn’t allow you to pause your payments, you’ll have a single payment to make instead of several, and you might even get a lower interest rate.

You can refinance your student loans with a private lender with no eligibility requirements, but you will be subject to a credit check before finalizing your new rates.

Repayment plans

When considering repayment plans, there are options to weigh against your financial circumstances. 

Fixed repayment

A fixed repayment plan ensures your monthly payments remain consistent over your loan's lifespan. The loan servicer sets a fixed payment amount based on factors like total loan balance, interest rate, and repayment term. This stability helps with budgeting and long-term planning, providing peace of mind.

Variable repayment

Variable repayment plans offer less predictability. Monthly payments can fluctuate due to shifts in interest rates. While this can mean lower payments during certain periods, it can also result in higher payments if interest rates rise.

Income-driven repayment

Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, available for federal student loans only, offer relief by adjusting your monthly payment based on your earnings, making payments more manageable. Keep in mind that private student loans typically don't offer IDR options.

Loan consolidation

Loan consolidation presents another alternative, particularly for simplifying multiple federal student loans. Through consolidation, you merge multiple loans into a single loan with a fixed interest rate. While consolidation doesn't necessarily lower your interest rate, it streamlines payments, as you'll only need to make one monthly payment. This convenience can simplify loan management.

Each repayment option has its benefits and considerations. Choose a plan that works best for your financial situation to make your student loan debt manageable.

Frequently asked questions about student loan repayment

What are student loan grace periods?

The term “student loan grace period” refers to the time between when a student leaves school and when principal and interest payments begin. For most federal student loans, the grace period lasts six months after you leave school.

Note: Repayment can kick in after six months of being less than a half-time student.

It’s important that you check with your loan servicer for the exact date your first loan payments are due. For private student loans, there isn’t a standardized rule as to when repayment begins. Contact your student loan servicer to find out when repayment starts. 

What is a student loan repayment schedule?

A student loan repayment schedule is the monthly date, amount, and duration for paying off your student loan. For example, if you pick the standard 10-year repayment plan, you’re on a schedule to make payments every month for 10 years. The date and amount you’ll pay each month won't be the same as someone else’s. Ask your loan servicer for the due date of your payments to be sure you’re able to pay it on time. 

How much do I pay each month?

The amount you have to pay each month depends on the type of loan you received, how much money you borrowed, the interest rate on your loan, and the repayment plan you chose. Your payment may range from $0/month and up. Contact your servicer to find out your payment amount and your repayment options.

Should I pay more than my required monthly payment? 

If you’re on an income-driven repayment plan, you may not want to make extra payments. IDR plans can offer some loan forgiveness after 10 or more years of payments, so the extra payments will only reduce the amount that can be forgiven. If you’re not on an IDR plan, making extra payments can help you pay off your loan faster. Be sure to ask your servicer if extra payments can be applied to the principal of your loan, not towards future payments.

What happens if your student loans fall into default? 

If your student loans fall into default, you can expect it to have a big impact on your credit report. This can make it hard to get new lines of credit in the future for things like mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, and more.

How do I get a discount on my monthly student loan payment?

Some private lenders will offer various discounts on your monthly student loan payments. The most common among student loan lenders is an autopay discount. If you sign up for autopay on your monthly student loan payment, your servicer may offer you a discount.

Plan for success

Student loan payments can be more manageable with the right planning and tools to help you start strong. Understanding your circumstance to choose the right repayment plan is crucial to setting you up for financial success. If you have concerns with making payments, your loan servicer can guide you to a solution for your situation. 

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

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