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What to Do if You Miss a Student Loan Payment

We all know that it’s important to pay off our debt. But student loan debt can sometimes get lost in the shuffle when you’re trying to keep up with your other bills and financial obligations. If you happen to miss one student loan payment, there’s no need to panic. If you act quickly, you can prevent your mistake from ruining your credit score and jeopardizing your financial future.

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Know What it Means

It’s important to understand the consequences of missing a student loan payment. If you have federal student loans, your payment status will immediately change from current to delinquent. If you have private student loans, you might end up in default after missing a single student loan payment (although it depends on your individual loan terms).

You’ll also likely face late fees. The exact amount that you’ll owe will depend on your lender’s policies and the terms you agreed to. But late fees are often a percentage of the missed payment amount.

If your student loan payment is at least 30 days late, your lender can report the delinquency to the credit bureaus. For every month that you fail to make your payment, your lender can update the credit reporting agencies. As a result, your credit score could fall and it could become more difficult to buy a house or qualify for a new credit card, among other things.

You’ll officially default on your federal student loans once your payment is 270 days late. At that point, your loans (and any interest, fees and penalties) are due in full. Your employer can begin withholding money from your paycheck and turning it over to the government and you can even face a lawsuit for forgetting to pay your student loans.

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Reach Out

What to Do if You Miss a Student Loan Payment

If you miss a student loan payment, it’s a good idea to contact your student loan provider or servicer. Owning up to your mistake and asking for help can work in your favor.

Some servicers agree to waive fees for first-time offenses. And you may be able to apply for forbearance or deferment if you miss your payment because of a financial hardship, like the sudden loss of a job. Even if you can’t qualify for any of those options, you can discuss your next steps with your loan provider.

Related Article: 6 Reasons to Pay Off Your Student Debt

Investigate Your Options

What to Do if You Miss a Student Loan Payment

There are plenty of ways to avoid making late student loan payments. You can set up your account so that your payments are automatically withdrawn from your bank account each month. Certain lenders even lower interest rates for borrowers who make automatic payments. Just keep in mind that in doing so, there’s a chance that you could overdraw your account.

You can also inquire about changing your payment due date to better align with your pay schedule. Or you can ask to break up your payments into bi-weekly amounts. Being able to make smaller payments might make your student debt easier to manage.

If making late payments seems to be a recurring problem, you may want to look into changing your repayment plan. You can switch to a plan that allows you to pay lower amounts in the beginning and gradually pay more over time. You can even apply for a plan that lets you make payments based on your income. As a last resort, you can consider refinancing or consolidating your student loans.

Bottom line: Missing one student loan payment shouldn’t be a huge financial setback, as long as paying late doesn’t become a habit.

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Liz Smith Liz Smith is a graduate of New York University and has been passionate about helping people make better financial decisions since her college days. Liz has been writing for SmartAsset for more than four years. Her areas of expertise include retirement, credit cards and savings. She also focuses on all money issues for millennials. Liz's articles have been featured across the web, including on AOL Finance, Business Insider and WNBC. The biggest personal finance mistake she sees people making: not contributing to retirement early in their careers.
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