Student loan debt can go away — even if you haven't made a payment in years. But you may need to dig federal loans out of default before you can qualify for loan forgiveness programs or other debt-relief options. And if you took out private student loans, there are options for you as well.
"Do student loans go away?" is a natural question to ask, given the incredible amount of higher education debt Americans are carrying. Thankfully, the federal government has various programs that offer 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.
Latest on student loans
- ITT Tech & Art Institute Settlement: Navient has agreed to wipe out $1.7 billion in private student loans.
- Forgiveness update: $10,000 student loan forgiveness may happen later this year.
- Student loans in default? Student loan garnishments are on hold until September.
- Did your servicer change? What to do if you have a new student loan servicer.
Do student loans go away after 7 years?
Student loans don't go away after seven years. There is no program for loan forgiveness or cancellation after seven years. But if you recently checked your credit report and are wondering, "why did my student loans disappear?" The answer is that you have defaulted student loans.
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.
Learn More: How to handle private student loan default
Do student loans go away after 10 years?
People who work for 10 years in public service jobs and make regular payments can have the remainder of their federal student loans forgiven. Many types of work qualify, from nonprofit employment to teaching in a charter or public school, to law enforcement, or providing medical care at a public hospital.
To qualify for tax-free loan forgiveness, borrowers need to:
- Make 120 on-time monthly payments while working full-time in an eligible public service position.
- Have the right kind of loan — only federal Direct Loans qualify, not Perkins loans or the old Federal Family Education Loans.
- Be in the right kind of payment plan — the income-driven repayment plans Congress designed to help lower-income borrowers.
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.
Learn More: Public Service Limited Waiver Opportunity
Do student loans ever go away?
While there are few private student loan debt relief programs, there are many loan discharge options federal borrowers can take advantage of to wipe out their remaining loan balance.
Federal student loans go away:
- After 10 years — Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
- After at least 20 years of student loan payments under an income-driven repayment plan — IDR forgiveness and 20-year student loan forgiveness.
- After 25 years if you borrowed loans for graduate school — 25 year federal loan forgiveness.
- When you die, or a parent dies — Parent PLUS Loan Forgiveness.
- When you suffer a severe and permanent mental or physical disability that prevents you from working — Total and Permanent Disability Discharge.
- When you teach for five consecutive years in a Title I school district — Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
- If you attended a school that acted fraudulently (e.g., falsified placement rates, used deceptive marketing, and practiced predatory recruiting) — Borrower Defense to Repayment.
- When you file student loan bankruptcy and prove that repaying your debt would cause you and your dependents undue hardship.
Learn More: How to Apply for Student Loan Forgiveness
How long before a student loan is written off?
The UK writes off student loans after 30 years. But the same isn't true in the United States. Here, the U.S. Department of Education doesn't write off student loans automatically after a set number of years. And since there's no statute of limitations for federal loans, you can end up paying those debts until you die.
The American student loan debt crisis has prompted a national conversation about expanding relief options for borrowers. President Joe Biden campaigned on $10,000 student loan forgiveness, increasing Pell Grants for low-income borrowers, and making community college free. But so far, his administration has focused on fixing existing relief options and extending the student loan payment pause to prepare borrowers to eventually enter repayment.
Learn More: How to Get Rid of Student Loan Debt Legally
When does a student loan get written off?
Federal student loans are never written off because they've grown old or expired. On the other hand, banks and loan holders write off its debts when they've lost 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 allow them to call and send letters so long as they don't violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
I haven't paid my student loans in years: A roadmap to reentering repayment.
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 of 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 keeps a list of 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 are listed that aren't on the FSA website. 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
- loan rehabilitation
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.
Most borrowers will want to get out of student loan default quickly to avoid tax refund offset and wage garnishment.
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.
Learn More: Can You Settle Student Loans?
Step 3: Follow-up with the new servicer.
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 various repayment options the Department of Education offers.
Learn More: Major Student Loan Servicer Changes
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 nonpayment. 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 get the loans removed because the loan servicer or collection agency reports inaccurate information.
- How long do defaulted student loans stay on credit reports? Defaulted student loans will remain on your credit report seven years after the default status was entered on your credit report.
- What does it mean if my student loan is closed on my credit report? Your student loan can show closed on your credit report if you paid it in full, negotiated a settlement, refinancing with a private lender, or consolidated them into a Direct Consolidation Loan.
Need a plan if student loans don't go away?
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. But neither he nor Congress has taken action for blanket loan cancellation.
Schedule a free call where we can evaluate your student loan repayment options. With the right strategy, you can tackle your remaining balance and achieve your financial goals even if your student loans never go away.
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