What happens to student loans when you die?

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It’s true that in most cases, your student loans will get discharged when you die; the remaining balance on your loans will get forgiven, so no one in your family will become responsible for your debt when you’re gone. But there are some situations where this won’t happen. As with any type of debt, it’s important to be aware of what happens to your student loans in a worst-case scenario.

What happens to private student loans when you die?

Most private student loans may be discharged due to death as long as there is documentation of the death, usually a death certificate. However, it’s not a requirement for lenders to offer this discharge, so there’s a chance that you could run into a lender that doesn’t offer this option.

There could also be complications if you have a co-signer. Some companies will discharge a loan only if the primary borrower dies. Navient, for example, has a discharge in the event of the primary borrower’s death. But if a co-signer dies, the other surviving borrower might be responsible for continuing payments, depending on who was borrowing the loan. The same is true of SoFi. In some cases, it’s possible that co-signers will need to take on responsibility of the loan even if the primary borrower dies.

Some rules are murky depending on the loan you take out. For instance, if a parent borrows for a child and the child dies, the parent could be responsible for the payments. Sometimes, if the parent dies, the child is on the hook for those payments.

What happens to federal student loans when you die?

When you die, your federal student loans will be discharged. If your parent took out a parent PLUS loan and they die, or if you die, that loan will be discharged as well. This means that you won’t be responsible for those loans when a parent dies. In every instance, proof of death is required for this discharge to go through.

Frequently asked questions about student loan debt

Will my parents or spouse have to pay taxes on a discharged student loan?

No. Your surviving family members are not on the hook for taxes on discharged student loan balances.

Do I have to pay my parents’ student loans if they die?

If your parent took out a private student loan on your behalf and they die, there’s a chance that you could be responsible for paying it back. If it was a federal student loan, it will be discharged. If the loans were for your parents’ use, you’re not responsible for them and they will most likely get discharged.

Do I have to pay my spouse’s student loans if they die?

If you were a co-signer on your spouse’s loan, there’s a chance that you could be responsible for repaying it if they die. However, it depends on the loan. For federal student loans, the loan will be discharged in most cases. If you were a co-signer for their private student loan, you’ll need to contact the lender to see how to get out of paying the loan.

How do I report a death to a student loan servicer?

If you’ve gotten letters from a student loan servicer on behalf of someone who has passed away, you’ll need to contact that lender to report the death. Call the number on the letter and, if you have them handy, provide the account details so it’s easy for the customer service representative to find the account.

On the call, say that the person has passed away and give details of the death. The loan servicer representative will most likely request a copy of the death certificate by either mail or email.

Record details of your phone call, including who you spoke to and when you spoke to them. Make sure that you know the deadline of when you need to submit the paperwork and get a timeline for when you can expect a response about the discharge. Also ask what happens if it gets denied so you’re prepared for other options.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
Edited by
Student loans editor