Federal Student Loan Debt: When to Start Paying

Many college students are carrying more than one type of Federal student loan debt. Each each of these Federal student loans will have somewhat different schedules both for the time to begin repayment, and as well as a somewhat different timeline for the term of the loan before the loan will have to be repaid in full.  


Federal Student Loan Debt: When to Start Paying

Typically a student isn't required to start paying back their Federal student loan debt until they are no longer attending the school for which the loan was obtained. After that there is a generally a standard grace period before they need to begin repaying their federal student loan debt. But there are several different types of federal student loans and each one carries a different grace period before you need to begin repayment, as well as different eligibility criteria for deferment.

For example, for Federal Perkins loans, the grace period is nine months if you are no longer attending the school, or are attending less than half time, and the grace period for a FFEL Stafford loan is six months, using the same criteria.

You can access your specific Federal student loan debt information, repayment schedule and status with the United States Department of Education National Student Loan Data System (NLDS). The NLDS web page is www.nslds.ed.gov.

There are usually a number of different repayment plans to choose from that can affect your repayment start date.  Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible for a number of repayment schedule options including extended, Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) and Income-Sensitive Repayment.  

Though grace periods vary, most federal student loans will offer a grace period of at least six months. This grace period is built into most Federal student loan debt repayment schedules, as they are designed to accommodate the transition period from being a full time student, to finding and establishing yourself in a situation that will produce income to make monthly loan payments.

For almost all loans, the grace period begins any time the student drops below "half time" enrollment. Half-time enrollment is generally defined as a student who is carrying at least half the minimum credits his or her educational institution considers full time. 

Note:  there are no prepayment penalties attached to Federal Student loans. If you are able, it will pay over the long term to save as much as you can prior to your mandatory repayment start date so that you will have the security of a few months financial safety net in the bank.

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