Written by C.P.A. & Financial Expert Ginita Wall, Co-founder of WIFE.org and originator of the acclaimed Second Saturday program (“What Women Need to Know About Divorce”)
Do you have student loan debt? You are not alone. According to The Institute for College Access & Success, nearly 70% of students graduate college with more than just a diploma. They also leave college with a hefty amount of debt. The average loan burden is $28,950 per student, and that number jumps dramatically for grad students.
If you are seeking a divorce, those student loan payments will likely become a lot more difficult to pay, especially if you suddenly find yourself trying to pay a home mortgage by yourself, your divorce attorney’s legal bills, or any other expenses that are sure to come up.
Here are a few important tips that can make paying your student loans a little easier after divorce.
1. Figure Out If Your Spouse Is on the Hook to Help Pay Your Loans
If you took out student loans while you were married, your debt may be part of your marital property. Depending on which state you live in, your spouse may be responsible for covering up to half of that debt. In other states, a judge will have more leeway to assign a portion of the debt to your spouse. Either way, that could mean big savings for you!
2. Negotiate with Your Spouse
You and your spouse can work out any type of divorce settlement you want as long as you both agree to it. If you don’t think you can afford to make your student loan payments by yourself, consider whether you can factor that debt into your divorce settlement negotiation. For example, maybe you can release your spouse from spousal support obligations in exchange for them paying off the loan, or ask them to make the loan payments in exchange for you giving up your interest in their 401(k). It is always a good idea to consult with a divorce attorney if you have legal questions before making any settlement deals with your spouse.
3. Work with Your Lender to Decrease Your Payments
All lenders realize that it is better to get a smaller loan payment rather than nothing at all. If divorce has left you without the means to make your payments, call the lender and see if you can switch to a different repayment plan. For example, you could try to switch from a 10-year repayment plan to a 15-year repayment plan. In the long run, you’ll end up paying more in interest, but at least in the short term, your payments will be lower. All federal loans and many private loans include income-based repayment plans, so if your income falls drastically, you should be able to get your federal student loan bills lowered.
4. Consolidate Your Loans
Consolidating your loans offers you several benefits. First, you can choose a different repayment plan and extend your repayment period, which can lower your monthly payments. Second, if you have any variable interest rate loans that have spiked in cost, you can roll that loan into a fixed-rate interest loan. Finally, paying one bill each month instead of several different loans makes your life just a little bit easier.
5. Ask for a Deferment
If at all possible, do not skip your student loan payments. If you miss payments, you’ll rack up big fines, and your credit score will take a hit. You could even find yourself hounded by collection agencies. If times get tough, call your lender and file for a deferment. This will allow you to suspend payments for a short time when you face financial distress. This can give you the breathing room you need to find a new place to live, get a job, and pay off your lawyer’s bills. Be aware that, depending on what type of loan you have, it may continue to accrue interest over the deferment period. Deferment should never be considered a long-term solution.
If money is tight after your divorce, the worst thing you can do is nothing. You always have options. When it comes to your student loans, that might mean negotiating with your spouse, changing your repayment plan, consolidating your loans, or filing for a short-term deferment. Maybe a combination of these options can give you some financial relief.
Want more guidance on how to prepare for your divorce? Sign up for the next Second Saturday Divorce Workshop near you!
This article was provided by the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE.org), creator of the Second Saturday Divorce Workshop. Founded in 1988, WIFE.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial education for women. Copyright © WIFE.org