How long can you extend student loan payments?

Options are available with private lenders and the federal government. (iStock)

Student loan payments can often equate to hundreds of dollars per month, which can strain your budget and make it difficult to get approved for financing when you need it — even if you have a relatively good income.

The good news is that it’s possible to extend your student loan repayment term, either through a private lender or the federal government. Stretching out your payments will be easier on your budget but there are some potential pitfalls to watch out for.

If you're aiming to change your loan term, then you're going to want to refinance your student loans. Multi-lender marketplace Credible can walk you through the refinance process. Click here to find a lender today.

How long can I extend my student loans?

The standard repayment term on a federal student loan is 10 years. But if you’re having a hard time keeping up with your payments, you may be considering a longer schedule. If you have federal student loans, you have a few options through the U.S. Department of Education.

For starters, you can get on an income-driven repayment plan, which reduces your monthly payment based on your income and extends your repayment term to 20 or 25 years. Options include:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): 20 years for undergraduate loans; 25 years for graduate loans.
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE): 20 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR): 20 years for new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014; 25 years for borrowers before that date.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): 25 years.

Alternatively, you can consolidate your student loans with the direct loan consolidation program, which allows you to go as long as 30 years. Unfortunately, neither of those options give you the chance to score a lower interest rate. In fact, consolidation will increase your rate slightly.

Another option for federal loan borrowers, as well as college graduates with private student loans, is to refinance student loans to longer repayment terms with a private lender.

With this option, you may be able to extend your repayment term to up to 20 or 25 years, depending on the lender. What’s more, you may be able to get a lower interest rate than what you’re paying right now, saving you money compared with the alternative.

You can compare student loan refinancing rates from multiple lenders at once with Credible’s online marketplace without affecting your credit score. Credible can help you find a lender to help you change your loan term.

REFINANCE YOUR STUDENT LOANS NOW TO SAVE THOUSANDS

Pros and cons of refinancing to longer repayment terms

Pros

Taking on a longer repayment term will reduce your monthly payment. Some benefits of a lower payment include:

  • It puts less of a strain on your budget and gives you more cash flow for other important financial goals
  • Refinancing private student loans or even federal loans could allow you to get lower rates
  • It will reduce your debt-to-income ratio, which could make it easier to qualify for a mortgage loan

Head to Credible to view all of your options in one handy location and see if you can pay off your student loans faster or more efficiently by using this method.

Cons

That said, refinancing with a longer term isn’t for everyone. Here are some potential issues to keep in mind:

  • Extending your repayment term will give you lower payments but you’ll pay more in total interest charges over the life of the new loan
  • Depending on your credit situation, you may not be able to get a lower interest rate than what you have now
  • Refinancing federal student loans with a private lender will cause you to lose access to certain benefits, including student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans

Note that some of these pros and cons also apply to consolidating your loans with the federal government. The biggest difference is that you’re guaranteed to have a slightly higher rate — the Department of Education takes the weighted-average rate across all your loans and rounds it up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.

That said, you won’t lose access to federal benefits if you consolidate instead of refinancing.

WHAT ARE STUDENT LOAN REFINANCE RATES?

How to get the best refinance rates

If you believe refinancing might be for you, it’s critical that you shop around to find the best deal. Unlike the Department of Education, private lenders require a credit check and have a range of interest rates based on your creditworthiness.

They also have different criteria for determining your creditworthiness, so one lender may offer you a lower interest rate than others.

Private student loan companies allow you to get prequalified before you apply, which includes a soft credit check that won’t impact your credit score. But visiting multiple lenders’ websites can be time-consuming. Instead, use an online marketplace like Credible to check your rates from multiple lenders side by side without a hard credit check.

Also, you can use Credible’s student loan refinance calculator to get an idea of what your new payment would look like with a new loan term and how much interest you’ll pay in addition to your new monthly payments.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO REFINANCE A STUDENT LOAN?