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Last week a news article was written about a single mom having a wage garnishment for her student loan payments. While this is no doubt a difficult situation, she should not have gotten to this point.

While it might sound uncaring, if you are in default on your student loans, it is your fault because you should have used the flexible payment options available to you.

Avoid Forbearance

The first step toward defaulting on your loans is allowing your loans to go into forbearance. Forbearance is a temporary waiver in your payments. It is designed to get you past a short term financial setback without going into default.

Forbearance is not just a “Get out of payments free” card. It will show on your credit report and lower your credit score.

When you fall behind you can request a forbearance, but your lender may not always approve the request. If they do not accept the request, the next step would be a default.

Delinquent and Default

If you are one day past due on your loans, you are delinquent. Default begins when you are 270 (for FFEL, but may vary by loan type) days behind; almost nine months.

There are significant ramification to defaulting on your student loans. You lose all repayment options, the ability to receive student aid in the future and most of all your loan becomes due in full immediately.

With the loan being due in full your wages can be garnished, your tax refund can be taken, and you can be taken to court.

How do You Avoid Default

With the negatives of default being so steep, it is crucial to not get to this point. Now, this is where vital information starts.

With student loans, there are no good reasons to enter forbearance and even fewer ever to default. If you are struggling to make your student loan payments, you need to know your options.

First, call your lender. When you contact them, they will offer the basic payment plans. These include the ten-year payment plan, graduated plan, 20-year plan, and even a graduated 20-year payment. These options may help. Going from a ten year to a 20-year payout can give you some relief.

If the 20-year plan is still more than you can afford, you need to apply for an income-driven repayment plan. These plans offer payments based on your income and family size. As your family grows, your payments may go down. On these plans, your payment can even go as low as $0 with no adverse consequences.

Income-driven repayments are calculated by exempting a portion of your income from student loan repayments. The amount of income exempted depends on your family size and includes unborn children. Payments are then a percentage of your remaining income.

The real problem comes from your lender. Often your lender will not offer these repayments plans. Since they do not know your income, it is your responsibility to request income driven repayments and verify you qualify.

In almost every case using the income-driven repayments would solve any problem with payments people are having.

For those that cannot afford the income-driven repayment options, your real problem isn’t your student loans but your other spending.