What Happens If You Cant Pay Your Student Loans?

What happens if I don't pay my student loans? find out why the consequences of defaulting on a student loan are even worse. Then, learn about the alternatives you may have.
Financial Expert
Managing Editor

Student-loan payments have become a worrisome reality for a generation of young adults.

Many are shocked at the size of the payments they face after college and find it especially challenging to make those payments in the early years of their careers when their earning power is often at its lowest.

The urge to blow off those payments is understandable, but it could be a life-long mistake that makes your current student-loan obligations look fairly mild by comparison. Before you decide that defaulting on your student-loan payments is your only course, it is best to know the consequences and the alternatives.

The Challenge of Student Loans

There is no question that the recent generation of students faces a student-loan burden unlike anything faced by previous generations.

The latest figures from the Federal Reserve show that the total student-loan debt outstanding is approaching $1.6 trillion, a figure that has more than doubled in just ten years.

To break that total down into individual terms, according to data compiled by credit-monitoring firm Experian, 14.4 percent of U.S. consumers now have a student loan with an average balance of $35,359.

Given the size of this burden and growing political pressure to do something to ease it, many students feel justified in simply ignoring their student-loan-payment obligations. That, however, is a decision that is likely to make a bad problem even worse, so it’s wise to consider other alternatives that could help with student loans.

Which Lenders Have the Best Personal Loan Rates?

Finding the lender with the best personal loan to meet your needs is as simple as using our search tool. Compare personal loans and find the best rates being offered today.

Consequences of Not Repaying Your Student Loans

Think paying off student loans is an impossible burden? The consequences if you don’t may be even worse:

  1. Your credit history will suffer

    Missed student-loan payments are reported to the major credit bureaus, which financial companies routinely check before extending credit to consumers. This means that student-loan default or delinquency might make it tough for you to get a credit card or a loan in the future and, if you do, it may come with a higher interest rate.

  2. You may find it tough to get a job or an apartment

    Financial companies aren’t the only stakeholders interested in your credit history. Increasingly, employers and landlords check credit history for clues as to how reliable their potential hires or tenants are.

  3. The government may garnish your wages

    If you do get a job, the government may garnish your wages (as well as tax refunds and government benefits) if you have defaulted on a federal student loan. So, you’ll be making payments anyway, but still suffering the consequences of non-payment.

  4. You may get sued for non-payment

    Under some circumstances, the government or a private lender may sue you for non-payment. This means legal bills could be added to your student-loan debt.

  5. Your payment obligations become steeper and less flexible

    If you default on a federal student loan, the remaining amount you owe becomes due immediately. You also lose eligibility for borrower assistance such as student-loan forbearance, deferment or alternative payment plans.

  6. Professional and driver’s licenses may be suspended

    Some states suspend professional licenses or drivers licenses if you are in default on a federal student plan, which could seriously hinder your ability to work.

Making It Easier to Repay Your Student Loans

After reviewing those consequences, you may realize that keeping up with your payments is the best choice, but that still doesn’t make it easy. Here are some things that can help:

  1. Budget

    Plan for how much of your paycheck is going to be eaten up by student-loan payments. Ideally, you should do this before you borrow the money by comparing a repayment schedule with typical wages in your chosen profession.

    If you have already borrowed the money, plan around how much your payments will be and when they will start coming due before you take on any other financial obligations such as a lease.

  2. Contact your loan servicer

    If you anticipate problems making your payments on time, your first move should be to contact your loan servicer. Note that this servicer may be a different organization from your original lender; just check your payment plan information to identify your loan servicer.

    Especially if you have a federal student loan, your loan servicer may help you find special programs to ease the repayment burden, such as income-based-student-loan repayment. If you contact your loan servicer, there is a chance they may work with you. If you simply avoid making your payments, you can expect the relationship to be nothing but adversarial.

  3. Know your rights

    Fortunately, since most student-loan debt is via government loans, there are several provisions in place that help protect borrowers. The Federal Student Aid website is a good source of information on your rights and repayment options.

Taking out a student loan is the first major financial decision many young Americans make. How you handle that loan could set the tone for your financial circumstances for decades to come.

Richard Barrington has been a Senior Financial Analyst for MoneyRates. He has appeared on Fox Business News and NPR, and has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, CNBC and many other publications. Richard has over 30 years of experience in financial services. He has earned the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation from the Association of Investment Management and Research (now the “CFA Institute”).