Home > Student Loans > What Happens If I Ignore My Student Loans?

Comments 25 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure

Disclaimer

Failing to repay debt is no joke, especially when you’re talking about student loans. If you default on federal student loans (the most common kind), you’ll likely have to deal with debt collectors, wage garnishment, loss of tax refunds and a trashed credit standing, making it difficult (if not impossible) to rent an apartment, buy a car, use a credit card, own a home or attain many forms of financial stability.

 

“Ignoring your debt only makes it worse,” may sound cliche, but when it comes to these loans in particular, there is truth in that adage. Student loans don’t just go away, and the consequences of making no attempt to pay or resolve them can be severe.

The Consequences

You’ll get deeper in debt. Interest will continue to accrue, and your balances that seem so daunting now will get even larger. Loans that go to collections will incur additional collection costs of up to 25%. Ouch! (State law may limit collection costs.)

Your credit scores will suffer. Late payments will appear on your credit reports, and your credit scores will go down. Negative information may be reported for up to seven years, and for many graduates their credit scores are more important than their college GPAs when it comes to real life. You can read more here about how your student loans affect your credit.

You will eventually go into default. Most federal loans are considered to be in default when a payment has not been made for 270 days. Once you are in default, the government has “extraordinary powers” to collect, as we’ll describe in a moment.

Private student loans are a bit different, though. The definition of “default” depends on the contract, and may include simply missing one payment or the death of a cosigner. Private loan lenders don’t have the same collection powers as the federal government but they can sue the borrower, and if they are successful, then use whatever means available under state law to collect the judgment.

“When it comes to private student loan debt, the one axiom people need to remember is doing nothing will generally leave you really, really screwed,” said Steve Rhode, founder of GetOutofDebt.org. Here are the details about what happens when you default on your student loans.

You may have to kiss your tax refund goodbye. Expecting a tax refund? If you have a federal student loan in default, the federal government may intercept it. Married filing jointly? Your spouse’s portion of the refund may be at risk, too, and they may have to file an injured spouse claim to recover it after the fact. (Private student loan lenders cannot intercept tax refunds.)

Your wages may be garnished. Normally, a creditor must successfully sue you in court in order to garnish your wages, and even if they are successful, there may be state limits on whether and how much income can be taken. But if you are in default with a federal student loan, the government may garnish up to 15% of your disposable pay. You may be able to challenge the garnishment under certain circumstances, but in the meantime, do you really want your employer to know you are in serious trouble with your loans?

Any cosigners are in as much trouble as you are. Anyone who cosigned a student loan for you is on the hook 100% for the balance. It doesn’t matter if it was your 80-year-old grandmother who cosigned for you; she is going to be pressured to pay and may be at risk for the same consequences you face.

You may be sued. Lawsuits are less common with federal loans than with private ones. But a lawsuit is always a possibility, especially if you ignore your student loans. If you are sued, you may find you need the help of an attorney experienced in student loan law to raise a defense against the lawsuit.

You’ll be haunted by this debt until you die. It may sound blunt, but it’s the reality. Student loan debt will not go away if you ignore it. There is no statute of limitations on federal loans, which means there is no limit on how long you can be sued. State statute of limitations do apply to private student loans, however, limiting the amount of time they have to sue to collect. But it doesn’t stop them from trying to collect from you — and if you don’t know your rights it may go on indefinitely.

“The biggest tragedy is all of that could be easily avoided by enrolling in one of the government programs to help people repay debt,” said Rhode. He is referring to programs available for federal loans such as income-based repayment (IBR) that allow some borrowers to qualify for a lower monthly payment based on income, and then discharge the remaining balance after a certain number of years of repayment.

But What if You Can’t Afford to Pay?

If you’re now convinced that you can’t ignore your loans, but you also are afraid because you don’t think you can afford to pay them, what can you do? For starters, get your free annual credit reports so you can see which loans are being reported by whom. Then get your free credit score (you can get a free credit score right here on Credit.com) so you have a clear understanding of how this debt is affecting your credit. You can also use the National Student Loan Database to track down your loans.

For federal loans, you can get back on track with a reasonable and affordable payment plan. Start the process at StudentLoans.gov. (Be careful if you talk with a collector or servicer about your options. Some provide borrowers with accurate information, but some do not.) Here’s a guide to options for paying off student loans

For private loans, Rhode recommended you talk with an attorney who understands how to discharge certain private student loans in bankruptcy. It can be tough to qualify, but not impossible. If that’s not an option, you may be able to try to negotiate a settlement.

While it’s never a good idea to ignore loans, there are times when a borrower simply cannot afford his or her loan payments. That’s especially true in the case of private loans, which don’t offer the same flexible options as federal ones.

“If you can’t pay, you can’t pay,” said attorney Joshua Cohen, who is known as The Student Loan Lawyer. “Your living expenses are more important than your private loans, and your federal loans are more important than your private loans,” he said. “It is important to prioritize.”

This article was updated June 1, 2017.

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them. Compensation is not a factor in the substantive evaluation of any product.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.



Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team