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Making student loan payments more managable

March 30, 2012: 2:31 PM ET
College loans

Borrowers who can't afford their federal student loan payments have options.

Many see the troubles some are having managing their student loans as an information problem, more than a financial one.

That's because many borrowers don't know what resources are available to them to better manage their student loans. Some 27% of borrowers are behind in their payments, according to a recent report for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

It needn't happen in many cases, experts say. Those with federal student loans -- about 85% of the market and 90% of new borrowing -- can take advantage of several provisions if they find themselves unable to afford their monthly payments.

"If you have a federal loan and don't have a job, you don't have to pay it right now," said Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the George Washington University School of Education. "This really should be an avoidable problem."

Unemployed borrowers and those facing economic hardship can apply for deferments of up to three years, according to Lauren Asher, president of the Project on Student Debt. You can also request forbearance, which gives you more time to pay or allows you to reduce your monthly obligation.

The Obama administration also recently expanded the repayment options for struggling borrowers. Under the income-based repayment program, borrowers often have to pay less than 10% of their total income.  Your debt might also be forgiven after 25 years, or 10 years if you work in public service.

Those with private student loans have fewer options, though deferment and forbearance may be available in some circumstances.

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