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Student Loans Student Loan Repayment

When Do Student Loans Expire?

Repaying student loans can take years, and you may wonder if there’s an expiration date for the debt. Federal student loans never expire since there’s no time limit on how long the government can try to collect if you default. You may, however, be able to get some of your federal student loan debt forgiven after enough time has passed. 

Private student loans operate under different rules. While private student debt doesn’t go away, there are limits on how long your lender may try to collect. We’ll walk you through how student loan expiration works and what you can expect. 

When do student loans expire? 

Student loan expiration means that enough time has passed that a lender can no longer sue you for the debt. This rule applies to private student loans only; federal student loans have no such restrictions on debt collection. 

Each state’s statute of limitations determines how much time needs to pass and when the clock starts ticking on your debt. Student loan expiration is different from loan repayment. When you take out a student loan, your lender sets your repayment term. 

Federal loans have a standard 10-year repayment term, with the option to choose a longer term under an income-driven repayment plan. Private student loans can have repayment terms ranging from 10 to 25 years. 

When do federal student loans expire?

Federal student loans have no expiration date where the statute of limitations is concerned. The federal government can continue efforts to collect on defaulted student debt indefinitely unless a borrower qualifies for loan forgiveness or discharge. 

Loan forgiveness and loan discharge can cancel some of your federal education debt. These situations could make you eligible to have some of your federal loan debt forgiven or discharged:

  • Qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
  • Working as a teacher in an eligible school
  • Becoming totally and permanently disabled
  • Declaring bankruptcy
  • Completing your repayment term under an income-driven repayment plan

Income-driven repayment plans include SAVE, Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR). Here’s an overview of federal student loan repayment terms and forgiveness windows.

PlanTerms and forgiveness
Standard Repayment Plan10 years for Direct Loans and Family Federal Education (FFEL) Loans
10 to 30 years for consolidation loans
Income-Driven Repayment20 years for SAVE Plan if you have undergraduate loans; 25 years if you have graduate or professional loans
20 years for PAYE
20 years for IBR (after July 1, 2014)
25 years for IBR (before July 1, 2014)
25 years for ICR
Loan Forgiveness Programs120 qualifying payments for PSLF
5 years for Teacher Loan Forgiveness (when work requirements are met)

There’s no set time frame for seeking discharge if you become totally and permanently disabled or file bankruptcy. The same applies if you’re seeking loan discharge because your school misled you or you incurred loans as a victim of forgery. 

When do private student loans expire?

Private student loans typically have repayment terms of 10 to 25 years. Assuming you’re making all your payments, the loan will expire when the balance is paid in full at the end of your loan term. 

Federal student loan expiration policies don’t extend to private loans. Private student loan lenders are not required to offer loan forgiveness, discharge programs, or income-driven repayment options. 

If you find that your private student loan payments have become unmanageable, there are a couple of options:

Refinancing private student loans means taking out a new loan to pay off your existing loans. Doing so could reduce your interest rate, lower your monthly payment, and/or change your loan repayment term. Consolidating loans also means combining them into a single loan, though it doesn’t guarantee a lower rate. 

Comparing student loan refinancing rates can give you a better idea of what you might save on interest and what your new monthly payments may look like. 

Is there a statute of limitations on student loan debt?

The statute of limitations on debt determines how long a lender or debt collector has to sue someone over an unpaid debt. Invoking the statute of limitations doesn’t mean the debt goes away; it just means you can’t be taken to court over it. 

Each state determines how long the statute of limitations is and when it begins. Some states start counting down from the date of your last payment, while others use the date of your first missed payment. Typically, debt becomes uncollectible after three to six years but some states allow creditors a longer window. 

The statute of limitations applies only to private student loans. If you default on a private loan, your lender could sue you to recover the remaining balance. Depending on where you live, the financial impacts of a creditor lawsuit can include:

  • Wage garnishments
  • Bank account levies
  • Liens placed against your property

A creditor lawsuit can also damage your credit, making it difficult to obtain new student loans. Negative items, including lawsuit judgments, can stay on your credit reports for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.

What happens if I default on my student loans? 

Student loan default happens after you miss one or more loan payments. For federal loans, you’re considered to be in default once 270 days have passed with no payment. Private student loan lenders can set their own policies for determining when you’re in default. 

Defaulting on a student loan can have some negative consequences. Here’s what you can expect if you default on federal loans:

  • Tax refund offsets
  • Acceleration of your loan, meaning the entire balance becomes payable in full immediately
  • Ineligibility for additional federal student aid
  • Wage garnishments
  • Property liens
  • Withholding of your transcript
  • Damage to your credit scores

Private student loan lenders can’t offset your tax refunds, but they can sue you for the debt. As mentioned, that could lead to wage garnishments, bank account levies, or liens, not to mention a negative impact on your credit score. 

If you’re in danger of defaulting on federal student loans, it’s best to reach out to your loan servicer to discuss your options. If you’ve already defaulted on federal loans, you may be able to get back on track by consolidating your loans or enrolling in the Fresh Start program. Fresh Start temporarily replaces the federal loan rehabilitation program until September 30, 2024.

If you’ve defaulted on private student loans, you can contact your lender for help. They may be able to offer you:

  • Loan rehabilitation
  • Payment plans
  • Refinancing

You may also consider negotiating a settlement if your loans have been turned over to a debt collector. Settling allows you to pay less than what’s owed and end collection efforts. You may, however, have to report the forgiven debt as taxable income to the IRS. 

Ask the expert

Catherine Valega


Student loans should be taken with the full understanding of how you will be repaying them and for how long. There are plenty of options for paying for college—and if you do not fully comprehend what you’re getting yourself into with your loans, do not accept the money. Save, work, go to community college, etc. I’ve seen grandparents take out Plus loans for grandchildren and then get Social Security wages garnished due to nonpayment. Federal loans basically never die until you do, although they often come with more favorable terms than private loans. Private loans can often be renegotiated; however, their interest rates tend to be higher than federal loans.

Strategies for student loan repayment 

Student loan default is a situation that’s best to avoid. With that in mind, here are a few tips for managing your loans. 

  • Enroll in autopay to avoid missed payments and get a rate discount if your loan servicer or lender offers one. 
  • Look into income-driven repayment for federal loans if your payments are straining your budget. 
  • Ask your loan servicer about forbearance or deferment options if you need to temporarily pause federal loan payments. 
  • Consider refinancing private student loans to lower your rate and payments. 
  • Stay in contact with your lender or loan servicer and reach out at the first signs of any difficulty in making your payments.