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    Can I Defer My Loans if I Go to Grad School?

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: October 10th, 2023
    Can I Defer My Loans if I Go to Grad School?

    If you have plans to attend graduate school, you may be wondering if you have to pay your undergrad student loans while pursuing your next degree. In most cases, the answer is no. You can defer payments on federal loans and some private loans if you’re enrolled in grad school at least half-time. 

    Although you can defer your loans, this may not be your best option since you’ll still accumulate interest. If you can afford to make many payments during grad school, you’ll save money in the long run. Read on to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of loan deferment during grad school. 

    Grad school loan deferments

    The following are descriptions of various graduate school deferment scenarios:

    In-school deferment for federal loans 

    In-school deferment for federal loans usually occurs automatically. Your school will report your enrollment status to the government, and you’ll receive in-school deferment if you’re eligible. If this doesn’t happen, and you meet eligibility requirements, then ask your school to report your enrollment information or fill out an in-school deferment request

    In-school deferment for private loans 

    Unlike federal student loans, in-school deferment doesn’t automatically occur for private student loans. If you have private student loans, you’ll have to request a deferment. Policies regarding private loan deferment vary, so check with your lender or servicer about its process. 

    Graduate fellowships deferment 

    This type of deferment is not automatically applied, so you’ll have to inform your lender about your status as a graduate fellow. If you’re seeking a graduate fellowship deferment, you’ll need to submit a graduate fellowship deferment request to your federal loan servicer. 

    Unemployment deferment

    Students that are unemployed may also receive unemployment deferment. However, it’s not automatic, so it’s important to fill out the unemployment deferment request or economic hardship deferment request as soon as possible. 

    Think carefully about your options

    Make sure to weigh the benefits vs. drawbacks of deferment during grad school. Remember, your loans will still accumulate interest during deferment. Good luck!

    Learn more: Grad school financing options

    How does loan deferment during grad school work? 

    When you defer your student loans, you postpone making payments for a certain period of time. Normally, your loans would go into default if you stop making payments. When you defer your loans, though, you can stop paying without penalty. 

    Fortunately, students attending graduate school can defer their student loans in most cases. There are a few deferment options for grad students, and they work for all federal and some private loans. 

    1. In-school deferment 

    All federal student loan payments can be deferred if you’re enrolled in graduate school at least half-time. Direct PLUS Loan borrowers get an extra six months of deferment after dropping below half-time status. 

    You can also defer some private student loans if you’re enrolled at least half-time. While some private lenders offer deferment, not all of them do. If you have private debt, check with your lender to see if you qualify for deferment. 

    Also keep in mind that universities have their own definition for half-time enrollment, so check with your school if you’re unsure about your status. 

    2. Graduate fellowship deferment 

    Graduate fellowships are programs that provide financial support for students pursuing graduate studies and research. Students enrolled in approved graduate fellowship programs can qualify for loan deferment. Federal loans are eligible for this type of deferment, but private lenders may have their own requirements. 

    3. Unemployment deferment 

    If you receive any unemployment benefits from the government, you likely qualify for unemployment deferment. Similarly, there’s deferment for students experiencing economic hardship if you work but still fall under 150% of the poverty guidelines for your household. 

    Both forms of deferment can be used for up to three years, so you may want to consider the best time to apply. 

    Should I defer loans in grad school? 

    Grad school loan deferment only makes sense if you truly can’t afford your monthly payments. If you’re on a tight budget during grad school and you’re worried about defaulting on your loans, then deferment is the best option. 

    Just know that deferment is a temporary solution and that you’ll likely pay more money in the long run. You’ll continue to accrue interest on unsubsidized loans, which will increase the overall cost of the loan. You’ll also be extending the terms of your loan, so paying it off will take longer than originally expected. 

    After obtaining your degree, though, hopefully you’ll be better positioned financially to pay back your loans. After all, one of the top reasons to attend grad school is to increase your earning potential.

    Benefits of deferring student loans 

    If you’re enrolled in grad school and not making much money, loan deferment can be very helpful. Since you won’t have to make monthly student loan payments, you’ll have more room in your budget for school and living expenses. You also won’t have to worry about defaulting on your student loans, which can result in damaged credit scores and even wage garnishment

    Deferment is especially useful if you have subsidized direct loans. Interest does not accrue on subsidized loans while they’re in deferment, meaning your debt balance won’t grow while you’re in school. 

    Drawbacks of deferring student loans 

    The downside to deferment is that you’ll continue to accrue interest on your loans (unless you’re deferring a subsidized loan). This means your debt will continue to grow, and you’ll probably owe more money than you did when you started. Not to mention, if you’re pursuing student loan forgiveness, then a period of deferment typically doesn’t count toward that goal.

    See also: Scholarships for graduate students

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Deferring your undergraduate student loans is entirely possible as you enter into graduate school, but you should weigh the costs and benefits
    • Some loans will automatically defer upon entrance into graduate school like federal loans, but some will require a deferment request
    • There are several other conditions in which you can receive deferment, such as graduate fellowship or unemployment 
    • Deferring your student loan is a good idea if you want to prevent your loans from going into default or your credit score lowering, especially since a student budget might not be enough to afford your monthly payments
    • You still accumulate interest even if your loans are deferred 
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    Frequently asked questions about deferring graduate loans

    Will I accumulate interest if I defer my student loans?

    Unfortunately, yes, it’s likely you will accumulate interest during your loan’s deferral period unless you have a subsidized direct loan. Fortunately, you can still make payments on your student loans during this time or set up a repayment plan to start lowering your debt.

    Can I apply for student loan forgiveness while my loans are deferred?

    No. You can only make progress toward achieving loan forgiveness if you are currently in the repayment period of your loan. If they’re deferred, you might not qualify for student loan forgiveness yet.

    Is there a way to stop accumulating interest on my student loans?

    Yes, there are multiple ways to lower or stop accumulating interest on your loans! Signing up for certain repayment plans can prevent interest accumulation, such as the SAVE plan. You can also sign up for automatic debit to reduce the percentage of interest you accrue each month.

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