If you have fallen on hard times, and are struggling to make your student loan payments, deferring your loan payments can take some of the weight off your shoulders while you try to get back to a more stable financial position. If you are considering deferring your loans, here are the top things you should be aware of before sending a request to your loan servicers.

What Exactly Is a Deferment?

A deferment allows you to temporarily pause your monthly payments on federal student loans for a certain amount of time. If you have subsidized loans such as Federal Perkins loans, Direct Subsidized Loans, and Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, you will not have to worry about interest accruing on these loans while they are in deferment. However, if you have unsubsidized loans, then these will accrue interest during the deferment period. It is a good idea for individuals with unsubsidized loans to at least pay the interest down while they are in deferment, though it is not required.

Who Is Eligible?

Although you may think you are eligible, there are certain requirements that classify whether you qualify to put your loans in deferment. The circumstances that determine this include: during at least half-time enrollment in postsecondary school, during full-time enrollment in an approved graduate program, during enrollment in an approved rehabilitation training program if you are disabled, during a period of unemployment which is limited to three years, during active duty with the military, or within 13 months of when your active duty occurred, and during periods of economic hardship, as defined by federal regulations, which is also limited to three years according to Emily Guy Birken of Wise Bread. If you do not fit into one of these circumstances, then your option is to apply for a forbearance.

What Is a Forbearance?

There are some key differences between a forbearance and a deferment. While a deferment is granted in six-month increments, a forbearance is granted in 12-month increments. Deferments can be reapplied for and granted for as long as you qualify. Forbearance can only be granted three times during the life of the loan. Moreover, if your loans are in forbearance, then they will accrue interest, though you can pay the interest to keep the debt from ballooning.

There are two types of forbearance, mandatory and discretionary. In certain situations, the loan servicer has to grant mandatory forbearance. These circumstances include: during a medical or dental internship or residency program, during economic hardship where your total monthly student loan payment is 20 percent or more of your total monthly gross income, during service in a national service program, you are a teacher who is eligible for teacher loan forgiveness, you meet the eligibility requirements for the U.S. Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program, you are a National Guard member who has been activated by a governor, but who is not eligible for a military deferment. If you do not qualify for mandatory forbearance, then you will need to apply for discretionary forbearance, which is granted by your loan servicer at their discretion based on your situation.

Last Minute Thoughts

Be prepared beforehand for the paperwork that will be required to complete these processes. Typically, the process will take about ten business days to complete but can take up to thirty. During this time, you will need to continue making payments until you get approved. Once you do, make sure you keep copies of that notice and of any correspondence between you and the loan servicer. And finally, remember that this is a temporary solution. As soon as you can afford to start making payments, you should start paying your loans off again. At the very least, you should start taking on the interest until you can take on the full payment.