Coronavirus and Student Loans

How to Pause Monthly Payments With a Student Loan Forbearance

UPDATED Tuesday March 31st, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has just radically altered the value of Federal Student Loan Forbearances, making them not only much more valuable than ever before, but also AUTOMATIC.


Everyone with a Federal student loan just had their loans put into a special Forbearance, automatically, thanks to the passing of the Coronavirus CARES Act.

And the good news is that this Forbearance isn’t going to cost you anything; it won’t eat up your limited Forbearance time, your loan won’t accumulate interest, and you’ll even receive credit towards eventual loan forgiveness for all the payments you skip during this special Forbearance.

The Coronavirus CARES Act Federal Forbearance Program

Basically, it’s the best Forbearance program ever offered, and one that you automatically get to utilize without having to even contact your servicer. It doesn’t come with special qualifications like other Forberances either. EVERYONE is already on it.

For the full details on how this works, visit my Guide to the Coronavirus Student Loan Forbearance.

If you’re here looking for information about regular Forbearances during normal times, keep reading the rest of this Guide, which will walk you through the different types of Forbearances, their qualifications requirements, pros and cons, etc.

But Before I Explain Normal Forbearances…

I’ve been writing about student loans for over 10 years, and I want to give you one quick piece of advice; if you’re buried in student loan debt, then it may be time to pay an expert for assistance.

If you're truly struggling with student debt, then you should also consider paying a Student Loan Debt Relief Agency for help. Why? Because the people working at these companies deal with student loans all day, every day, and they're your best chance at figuring out how to get your loans back under control.

I've interviewed all sorts of debt relief agencies over the past 10 years, talking to all sorts of so-called "experts", and I can tell you that in all honesty I've only found two companies I trust to offer actual financial relief to people struggling with student loans.

For help with FEDERAL Student Loans: Call the Student Loan Relief Helpline at 1-888-906-3065. They will review your case, evaluate your options for switching repayment plans, consolidating your loans, or pursuing forgiveness benefits, then set you up to get rid of the debt as quickly as possible.

For help with PRIVATE Student Loans: Call McCarthy Law PLC at 1-877-317-0455. They will negotiate with your lender to settle your private loans for much less than you owe, then get you a new loan for the much lower, settled amount. NOTE: McCarthy Law can ONLY help with Private student loans.

If you do decide to call one of these companies and you have a bad experience with either of them, PLEASE make sure to come back and let me know about it in the Comments!

What is a Student Loan Forbearance?

Forbearances are relatively simple, and operate almost identically to deferments, meaning that your student loan is put on pause so you can temporarily stop making monthly payments.

However, unlike many of the deferment programs available this year, at the time of writing, forbearance does not prevent your loan from accumulating interest.

What’s that mean?

It means that even though your loan is put on pause, it will continue to accrue interest.

And that means that you’re going to end up owing more money when the forbearance ends, and that you’ll end up with bigger monthly payments once your forbearance period ends.

Meaning that you may come out of the forbearance in an even worse financial situation than you were in when you went into it!

Why Would You Want to Use a Forbearance?

Federal Student Loan Forbearances remain an excellent option for anyone struggling to repay their student loans.

In fact, student loan forbearances can be an economic life-saver, since they allow you to put your monthly student loan payments on pause.

Pausing your monthly payments lets you save up money, build a financial nest-egg, then restart your loans when you’re in a better position, and actually able to make those monthly payments.

Fortunately, the federal government has made forbearance programs more widely available than ever before, allowing many of those who’ve failed to qualify for a Federal Student Loan Deferment to get the help they need with a Forbearance.

What Types of Forbearances are Available?

There are two types of forbearances available to those with federally-funded student loans, called General Forbearances and Mandatory Forbearances.

There are some important distinctions between how each of these types of Forbearances operate.

Differences in General vs. Mandatory Forbearances includes:

  • How they’re applied for
  • How they’re approved
  • How long they can run

Let’s go through those details to make sure that you fully understand how they work, explain which type of Forbearance may be best for you, and how you can apply to each type of Forbearance.

General Student Loan Forbearances

General Forbearances have to be applied for, and your Federal Student Loan Servicing Company gets to choose whether or not to grant you a General Forbearance.

Because it isn’t automatically approved, these are often referred to as “Discretionary Forbearances” (as it’s up to your Servicers “discretion” whether or not you get to pause your loans).

Reasons to Request a General Forbearance:

  • Facing severe financial difficulties
  • Needing to redirect student loan payments to cover medical expenses (or simply being so sick that you just can’t deal with your student loans at all)
  • A change in employment (losing your job, getting a pay cut, changing industries, etc.)
  • Other reasons your Servicer offers (each Servicer has different rules)

Types of Loans Eligible for a General Forbearance:

  • Direct Loans
  • Federal Family Education (FFEL) Program Loans
  • Perkins Loans

Duration of a General Forbearance:

  • General Forbearances can only be made for up to 12 months at a time
  • If you’re still facing a hardship when your Forbearance ends, then you have to request another general Forbearance, and your Servicer has to approve it again
  • Currently, you’re only supposed to receive up to 3 years of payment pauses via General Forbearances, so make sure to only use them when you TRULY need them!

How to Apply for a General Forbearance

  • Contact your Student Loan Servicing Company to ask them for the paperwork required to apply for the type of Forbearance you want
  • They’ll provide you with whatever paperwork, forms and information is needed to process your request

Mandatory Student Loan Forbearances

Mandatory Forbearances also need to be applied for, but your Servicer can’t turn you down for them as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.

Each type of Mandatory Forbearance has different requirements, so we’re going to have to go through each type in detail, explaining who qualifies for them, etc.

Reasons to Request a Mandatory Forbearance

  • Participating in the AmeriCorps Program
  • Qualifying for the Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program
  • Serving as a Medical or Dental Intern, or Resident
  • Serving on National Guard Duty, after being activated by a Governor, but not being eligible for a military deferment
  • Facing an excessive Student Loan Debt Burden (defined as owing more than 20% of your total monthly gross income each month for student loan payments)
  • Qualifying for Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Types of Loans Eligible for a Mandatory Forbearance

  • Direct Loans
  • Federal Family Education (FFEL) Program Loans

Duration of  Mandatory Forbearance

  • Mandatory Forbearances can only be made for up to 12 months at a time
  • However, if you still continue to meet the eligibility requirements for the type of Mandatory Forbearance you received when your current Forbearance ends, then you can simply request another one

How to Apply for a Mandatory Forbearance

  • Contact your Student Loan Servicing Company to ask them for the paperwork required to apply for the type of Forbearance you want
  • They’ll provide you with whatever paperwork, forms and information is needed to process your request

How Do I Apply for a Student Loan Forbearance?

This part is relatively easy, except for the fact that there’s no single application, document, or process for requesting your forbearance.

The reason it’s not standardized or consolidated into a single process is that each lender has their own process for receiving requests, evaluating them and issuing approvals, and you’ll have to ask your lender to provide those details to you.

The good news is that getting those details is as easy taking a few minutes to make a phone call or shoot off an email, so there’s no valid reason not to do it right now.

Your lender should tell you exactly what process you need to follow, including what documentation (if any) will be required to process your request.

To prepare for this conversation, I’d recommend getting together your financial statements, like your paycheck stubs, taxes paperwork, and especially your papers showing how much your monthly student loan payments are, and having them ready in advance so that you can provide those numbers at initial contact.

Can I Avoid Interest Accrual During Forbearance?

In short, no.

No matter what type of forbearance you receive, the interest on your loan will continue to accumulate throughout the forbearance period.

This only time this hasn’t been true is during the current special forbearance period being offered by the coronavirus CARES Act, which DOES NOT allow interest to occur.

However, you can avoid having that interest recapitalized after your forbearance ends (which means added to your loan principal, which increases your monthly payments and the cost of your loan), by simply continuing to make monthly interest-only payments while you’re on forbearance.

Basically, even though your loan will be on pause with the forbearance, you can continue to make monthly payments for whatever interest is accumulating, and that will allow you to prevent the amount you owe from growing.

If you can afford to do this, then you need to do it, because failing to do so will mean higher monthly payments and more debt after the forbearance period has ended, and you definitely don’t want that.

When Can I Stop Making Payments?

This part is important – do not stop making your monthly student loan payments until your lender contacts you in writing to state that your forbearance request has been approved and granted.

If you stop making your payments before then, and your request isn’t approved, you’ll be delinquent as soon as a payment misses, and at risk of defaulting on your loan.

Once you’ve defaulted on a student loan, you’ll have a much harder time receiving any form of assistance, so don’t let that happen!

What if I Can’t Get a Forbearance?

If you’re not eligible to receive a forbearance, and you’ve already been turned down for a deferment, then it’s time to start considering changing your repayment plan, or requesting a loan modification.

The first thing to do when you think you’re going to have trouble making your monthly payment is to contact your lender, let them know, and ask them what options you have.

Some lenders will offer forgiveness, extensions, interest rate reductions or other loan modifications that could save you serious money simply because you’ve told them you need it, but none will do that if you haven’t asked.

Be honest with your lender, back up your requests for assistance with facts and documentation, and you just might be surprised at what you could receive in response.

What Other Federal Student Loan Relief Programs Should I Look Into?

Forbearances are just one of the many tools available to help you deal with Federal student debt.

And they’re not even one of the better ones, because some of the other assistance programs are way, way more powerful than a Forbearance.

I’ve spent the past 10 years writing over 100 Guides on about the many different ways to Get Help with Federal Student Loans, so make sure to look at my Guides on:

What Private Student Loan Relief Programs Should I Look Into?

If you have private student loans, then you’ll want to look at my advice on Getting Help with Private Student Debt, which you can find in the following Guides:

If you have any other questions about student loans, please feel free post them in the Comments section below.

I’ll do my best to get you a response within 24 hours!

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The more people who visit FSLD, the more time I can dedicate to writing up Guides like this one and helping borrowers like you.

Thank you for visiting, and thank you so much for your support!

Disclaimer:Information obtained from Forget Student Loan Debt is for educational purposes only. You should consult a licensed financial professional before making any financial decisions. This site receives some compensation through affiliate relationships. This site is not endorsed or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.


Tim's experience struggling with crushing student loan debt led him to create the website Forget Student Loan Debt in 2011, where he offers advice, tips and tricks for paying off student loans as quickly and affordably as possible.