If you get into trouble, major credit card companies offer hardship programs that can temporarily reduce or eliminate payments and penalties until you've recovered.
All federal and many private student loans offer deferment options that can temporarily postpone your payments and interest while you're in hardship, unemployed, attending school or doing military service. Some loans also come with forbearance options that allow you to postpone payments in times of hardship while your interest accrues.
"There are a lot of great programs where, after a certain period of time, your student loan debt will be forgiven," says Paul A. Markowich, a Certified Financial Planner with Firstrust Financial Resources in Philadelphia.
Available through private companies and nonprofits, loan forgiveness programs pay off all or some of your student loan debt in exchange for service. For example, a company may pay up to $5,000 of your student loan on top of your regular salary if you agree to stay with the firm for at least three years.
If your company doesn't offer loan forgiveness, federal borrowers can have their loans dismissed after 25 years of consecutive payments (even if those payments are capped at zero in the income-based repayment plan). Take a public service job and the government will dismiss your federal loans after 10 years of consecutive payments.