Whether you’ve made payments in years or not, your student loan debt can vanish. But to access loan forgiveness programs or other options, you may need to get your loans out of default and into good standing.
With Americans carrying an insurmountable amount of student loan debt — over $1.6 trillion in total — it’s only natural to ask: “Do student loans go away?” Thankfully, the federal government has various programs in place which provide borrowers with loan forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge.
Keep reading to learn when your student loans will go away and what to do if you haven’t paid your student loans in years.
The big credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, TransUnion — remove the default status and late payments from your report seven years after the first missed payment that led to the loan defaulting or being charged off.
Most borrowers will see a jump in their credit scores the following month after their student loans fall off their report. That’s a good thing. But it doesn’t remove their responsibility to pay back the loans. You’ll still owe the debt until you pay it back, it’s forgiven, or, in the case of private student loans, the statute of limitations runs out. Read more about how student loans work.
Eligible borrowers can have their loans forgiven after 10 years — if they meet certain requirements. To qualify, they must spend a decade working in a public service job and make regular payments under one of the four types of income-driven repayment plans. Qualifying positions range from nonprofit work to teaching in a charter or public school, to law enforcement, and providing medical care at a public hospital.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was broken for years. Few borrowers got relief. The eligibility requirements made qualifying challenging. But the Biden administration recently introduced sweeping changes that are fixing PSLF — at least temporarily.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Education Department is using its authority under the Heroes Act to count payments borrowers made on nonqualifying FFELP Loans retroactively. The department expects this change will benefit around 550,000 borrowers.
Student loans will remain on your credit reports and in your life until their paid in full or you qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-based repayment forgiveness, or some other discharge or cancellation opportunity that wipes your remaining loan balance.
Unlike in the UK, where student loans are written off after 30 years, the US Department of Education does not automatically write off federal loans after any set period. Without a statute of limitations, borrowers can find themselves stuck paying debts until their death.
The student loan debt crisis has become a national issue, prompting President Joe Biden to make promises to offer relief for American borrowers during his campaign — including $10 thousand of student loan forgiveness and increasing Pell Grants for lower-income individuals.
He made good on his promise of student debt relief last year by signing an executive order offering up to $20 thousand in forgiveness — only for court rulings to stand in the way.
Now, the administration has brought the case to the Supreme Court and paused federal student loan payments until a decision is reached on its legality.
Federal student loans are never written off because they’ve grown old or expired. On the other hand, banks and loan holders write off their debts when they lose the right to sue borrowers for missing payments.
When that happens, the lender considers the debt “stale” or “time-barred” and clears it from its books. But you can still be hounded by debt collectors demanding payment.
Most states let them call and send letters so long as they don’t violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
It’s important to keep up with student loan payments, or else you might be in for some serious financial and legal consequences. Wage garnishments and court-sanctioned debt collection measures are a few of the possible repercussions. But, if you stay on top of those payments, you can maintain a good credit score and avoid any penalties or extra interest charges that come with late payments.
Do you have a defaulted student loan 20 years ago? Maybe you left the country. Or maybe you ignored the bills because you couldn’t afford the payments.
Whatever your reason, it’s been years since you’ve dealt with your student loans. But now, you’re ready.
Here are step-by-step instructions on what to do when it’s been years since you paid your student loans.
Step 1: Find your loans.
Old federal student loans are easier to find than private student loans. The Department of Education lists every type of loan you borrowed on the Federal Student Aid site. So even if your loans have fallen off your credit report, you can find them on Studentaid.Gov. You can also call FSA customer service at 1-800-433-3243. The representative will check the National Student Loan Data System to find your loan information.
Finding private student loans is trickier. There’s no central database for private student loan debt. To find your loans, check your credit reports with all three bureaus to see if any student loans that aren’t on the FSA website are listed. Those loans are likely private student loans. Another option is to call the most popular private lenders to see if they have an account for you. But that’s tedious and scary.
Step 2: Ask about your repayment options.
Once you find your loans, the next step is to figure out your repayment options. Federal student loan borrowers have four options to get out of default:
repayment in full
The best option for you will depend on your personal finances and whether you’ve previously consolidated your loans or completed the loan rehabilitation program. If you have an FFEL Consolidation loan, you may be able to consolidate a second time. But loan rehabilitation is limited to once per loan. Check out this guide to learn how to get student loans out of collections.
Also, the Education Department rolled out a plan to give defaulters a “fresh start”, providing access to repayment plans, financial aid, and loan forgiveness programs — all without the headache of rehabilitation or consolidation.
Private loan holders and collection agencies don’t offer the same repayment options. Unless you can find a lender willing to refinance your delinquent debt, your best option will either be negotiating a payoff or filing a student loan complaint in bankruptcy.
If you don’t negotiate a payoff, your federal loans will be sent to a new student loan servicer after you get out of default. Make sure the new company has updated contact information for you. Also, review your payment plan. If you need a lower monthly payment, look into the different income-driven repayment plans. Those plans give you an affordable payment based on your family size and discretionary income.
You can use the Loan Simulator to estimate your monthly bill under the repayment options the Department of Education offers.
Do student loans fall off your credit report?
Both federal and private student loans fall off your credit report about seven years after your last payment or date of default.
You default after nine months of nonpayment for federal student loans, and you’re not in deferment or forbearance. So you’ll have the negative information for those nine months plus seven years of negative information before the loans fall off your credit report.
Private student loans usually default or are charged off around 120-180 days of non-payment. Once that status appears on your credit report, it will be another 7.5 years before the loans are removed.
How long do student loans stay on your credit? Student loans will remain on your credit report until you pay them off, or they’re removed seven years after you default. If you’re trying to buy a home, but your student loans are killing your credit score, you can try to remove the loans because the loan servicer or collection agency reports inaccurate information.
How long do defaulted student loans stay on credit reports? Defaulted student loans will hit your credit report for seven years after the default status was entered. Until then, the defaulted loans will affect the interest rates you get for home and auto loans and credit cards.
What does it mean if my student loan is closed on my credit report? Your student loan could show closed on your credit report if you paid it in full, negotiated a settlement, refinanced with a private lender, or combined them into a Direct Consolidation Loan.
President Biden has placed most federal student loans into forbearance and suspended collection activities like Social Security and tax refund offset throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And he has authorized blanket loan cancellation of up to $20 thousand of student debt per borrower, but that’s on hold until the Supreme Court decides the plan’s fate this summer.
Schedule a call where we can evaluate your student loan repayment options. With the right strategy, you can tackle your remaining balance and meet your financial goals even if your student loans never go away.