Student loan debt can be devastating, especially if your post-college job isn’t as lucrative as all of the college brochures promised. If you’re having trouble paying monthly loan payments, you have options. Even if you absolutely cannot pay the loan, there are creative ways to protect your credit.

What Is Income-Based Repayment?

With this plan, the loan ends in 25 years and monthly payments can’t exceed 15% of discretionary income. With a pay-as-you-earn payment plan, monthly payments are only 10% of discretionary income and the loan falls off in 20 years. Discretionary income is your monthly income minus taxes and necessities.

What About Income-Contingent Repayment?

This plan ends the loan after 25 years. Payments can be as low as 20% of discretionary income. Since this plan is income-contingent, payments are deferred if discretionary income, as determined by the lender, is too low or nonexistent. Be sure to understand what income your lender considers discretionary.

Loan Forgiveness

Some payment plans automatically forgive loans after a certain number of years. People who work in public services (for the government or for nonprofits) can qualify for an especially early loan forgiveness in only one decade if they make 120 payments while working full time for the public service agency.

What Are Deferment Options?

If you cannot make a payment, look into the deferment¬†(also called forbearance) options of your loan. If you establish an arrangement with your lender, you can be excused from making payments for three to thirty-six months. Interest still accrues, but your credit won’t be penalized for missed payments.

What If You Have A Private Loan?

If you have a private loan (i.e. from a private lender) some of the government-sponsored repayment plans may not be an option. In this case, you need to carefully research the options your lender does provide. Call the lender, ask specific questions, and ask for a payment arrangement.