I'm a student, I swear! Why won't you believe me!?
May 30, 2012 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Grad school filter: How do I get my loans back into deferment as a masters-->PhD student?

I'm a PhD student who just got her masters. Once I applied to get the formal degree, my loans were taken out of deferment because both Citibank and Sallie Mae thought I had graduated. Since I'm enrolled for fall classes and even have a department grant to do research over the summer, I thought it would be obvious that I'm still in school and that I should still be eligible for deferment.

But when I called both companies (side rant: thanks for selling off all but one of my loans to Sallie Mae, Citibank, because dealing with two awful giant banks where you have to pull out your own teeth to get a human being on the phone is twice the fun), they gave me different answers as to why I can't go back into deferment.

Sallie Mae said, the clearinghouse (a big list of big schools that has info on their enrollments) says you're not a student, call your registrar.

Citibank said, you're out of deferment because it's the summer. I said, what the heck are you talking about, I wasn't out of deferment last summer OR ANY SUMMER when I was in undergrad. They said, ummm, summer!

My registrar said though I'm enrolled for the fall, I'm not technically enrolled during the summer AND there's no graduation date on my file. I called my department coordinator, who said to call financial aid, where I got a busy signal. I called the graduate school, who transferred me to someone who wasn't at their desk.

I'm just so frustrated and angry that I'm bursting into tears at regular intervals. Even though I could probably borrow the money or dip into my savings to pay through October (which is when the deferment form will go through if I send it in August), what about people who don't have that option? How have other PhD students not gone through this? What can I do not only to get myself out of this jam, but to help others in the future?
posted by petiteviolette to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Oh, that's really annoying.

I think that your best bet is to ask for a financial hardship deferment and then pop back into student deferment in the fall. I asked for a financial hardship deferment last year and it was really easy to get.
posted by k8t at 8:23 AM on May 30, 2012

You may well be out of deferment for the summer. If you've technically finished this degree and don't start the next until fall, it's not the same as when you go from being a freshman to a sophmore. This happened to me going from undergrad to grad school, even though I was technically in a combined program for my Master's. Some loans should still have a six-month grace period, but not PLUS loans. Either way, if you're not actually making very much money, you *can* get out of it for hardship, but there may be a limit on how many times you can take that, I don't remember what it is.

The deferment for getting back into school should *not* take until October. They should process it automatically once you're back into the clearinghouse for fall. Sallie Mae did mine automatically at some point in August.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:29 AM on May 30, 2012

You technically are out of deferment for this summer term because you are switching careers. For a summer semester between two semesters of the same program you will remain in deferment.

Once you go back for the fall, you will go back into deferment. For now you will need to pay through August unless you have some form of grace priod.
posted by Think_Long at 8:50 AM on May 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies.

I don't want to use economic hardship unless I absolutely must, because there may be times worse than these in my future when I'll need it more.

But if I'd never applied for the master's degree to be sent to my house, I would have just been a doctoral student this whole time, and probably would have stayed in deferment (my program is weird and doesn't technically offer a masters except "en passant"). So basically my ego (wanting that piece of paper) just cost me $600. *headdesk*

gracedissolved: When I applied for deferment in 2010 when I started, it took them two months to put me in deferment that I had to pay, so I'm just anticipating the worst.
posted by petiteviolette at 8:58 AM on May 30, 2012

I think that your only choices here are to either pay for the next few months or do economic hardship deferment.

Also, with regards to paying, are you doing income-based repayment? It is possible that if you switch your loan repayment to income-based, you'll only have to pay a tiny bit (for me it was like $20 total), and then once school starts up again, go back into deferment.

Try the loan calculator to see what you'd pay. Here's one: http://www.finaid.org/calculators/loanpayments.phtml and the official government one: http://www.direct.ed.gov/calc.html

I'm assuming that these are not private loans.
posted by k8t at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2012

So basically my ego (wanting that piece of paper) just cost me $600.

Having a master's degree is a useful thing for your resume. I wouldn't beat yourself up about it.

Try e-mailing the people you need to talk to. If they aren't in the office it may be easier for them to deal with it that way or forward your query to the right person instead of making you talk to them. You can call them too, but don't just wait until they get to the phone—e-mail. Visiting in person might also be a good idea.
posted by grouse at 9:13 AM on May 30, 2012

How much will you be required to pay this summer? Depending on the loan, you may be able to get away with only paying the interest or part of the payment this summer until you get back into deferment. (This may be the income based payment plan...it's been a while for me).

Also, does deferment last for a certain amount of months AFTER graduating? For example, undergrad loan payments aren't due for 6 months after you receive your degree...could you possibly have that option as well, since your loans were technically (according to the banks) paying for your Masters? If they define your degree as completed in their paperwork, use that to your advantage if you can get that grace period!
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:19 AM on May 30, 2012

Please be aware that the economic hardship deferment can only be used for a maximum of 3 years for the entire life of the loan. If you use up time now, you won't be able to get it back later. Just something to take into consideration.

In order to get a school deferment, your school needs to provide proof to your loan servicers that you are attending at least part time. There is a school deferment form you can have the registrar's office fill out and you should be able to find a PDF copy of this form online easily. If you don't turn in the form until after school starts, then the deferment will be backdated to whenever you actually started school.

/used to work customer service for a student loan servicer
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2012

Response by poster: Lobster: When I tried to get this form for Sallie Mae recently, it said I didn't need to fill out out because my school is part of the clearinghouse (in fact, it wouldn't even grant me access to the PDF).

When I turned in deferment forms to Citibank in 2010 (which at the time was my only lender), it took 6-8 weeks for "processing," during which time I was billed as usual. It was incredibly frustrating and I don't look forward to going through the entire process over again.
posted by petiteviolette at 9:33 AM on May 30, 2012

I deferred with CitiBank earlier this year. They gave me a pass until my forms were clear. Talk to people on the phone, be polite, and you can usually get what you want.
posted by k8t at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2012

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