If you’re falling behind on your student loans, you’re not alone.
Nearly 2 million people say they’re also behind on payments, according to The New York Times. Another 7.5 million borrowers have defaulted, meaning they haven’t made a full payments in more than 270 days.
It’s natural to start feeling trapped and hopeless in this situation. If you can’t afford your monthly payments, then how many options do you really have? You might not have time for a side gig or a second job. And you can’t skip rent just to pay your student loans.
Don’t give up just yet. These steps could help you get out of student loan debt.
1. Apply For An Income-Driven Repayment Plan
If you have federal student loans and haven’t defaulted, you might qualify for an income-driven repayment plan.
This means your student loan payments are recalculated based on your income and your family size. According to the Federal Student Aid website, your payments could be as low as $0 a month.
It’s free to apply for an income-driven repayment plan on the Federal Student Aid website, and it shouldn’t take more than about 10 minutes.
2. Replace Your Student Loans With Something More Manageable
Whether you’re behind on your payments or have already defaulted, refinancing your loans (federal or private) can be the relief you’ve needed.
Here’s how student loan refinancing works: You take out a personal loan and use it to pay off your student loan (or loans).
Sure, it might sound like you’re just moving your debt around, but the key is to find a personal loan that has more favorable interest rates, lower monthly payments and/or a longer repayment period. Now you’ll be left with one monthly personal loan payment that more easily fits into your budget.
Before taking out any old personal loan, you’ll want to shop around. One of the easier ways to do this is with a website like Fiona. Enter your student loan amount, ZIP code and credit rating, and Fiona will match you with an option.
With Fiona, if your credit score is at least a 620, you can borrow up to $100,000 with repayment periods ranging from 24 to 84 months. Interest rates start at 3.84%.
Once you review your match, it takes two minutes to fill out some information, then your loan could be approved and funded as soon as tomorrow.
It literally takes a few seconds to search your options.
3. Seek Student Loan Forgiveness
What if the government just forgave your federal student loans? Wiped them out. Said “Nah, we’re good.”
Fortunately, the government offers student loan forgiveness, cancelation and discharge programs. Unfortunately, these programs can take years to qualify for.
Your eligibility for these programs typically depends on your job. If you work in public service, you can receive forgiveness after a certain amount of time, typically 10 years.
There’s a whole lot to know about student loan forgiveness programs, so use our student loan forgiveness guide to see if you might qualify.
4. Apply For Deferment or Forbearance
If you need to take a short break from your federal student loan payments, you might qualify for a deferment or forbearance. This would allow you to either lower your monthly payments or stop making payments altogether for a short amount of time — and, ideally, get yourself in a better financial situation.
Heads up, though: Generally, during a forbearance, you still have to pay the interest that stacks up on your loans. You can choose to do this during the forbearance period or add it to your loan at the end of the forbearance period.
You could be eligible if you’re unemployed for up to three years, in college or grad school, on active duty military service or in economic hardship. Typically, forbearance periods are given for no more than a year at a time.
If you want more information, head over to the Federal Student Aid website. To apply, reach out to your loan servicer.
Carson Kohler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.