If you're struggling to pay down your debt, you may find relief through loan-deferment or forgiveness programs. By Cameron Huddleston, Former Online Editor July 15, 2010 Defaulting on student loans is a bigger problem than federal government data suggest, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. An article published July 11 in The Chronicle reports that the government vastly undercounts the number of borrowers who fail to pay back their student debt.The last thing you want to do is default on your loans, which will hurt your credit score, make you ineligible for future federal student loans and may prompt the government to seize your wages (when you get a job) and tax refunds. Instead, explore the various loan-deferment and forgiveness programs. You'll have more options if you have a federal student loan. You're entitled to a deferment (temporary suspendions of payments) if you can't find a full-time job or experience economic hardship. FinAid.org has a calculator to help determine whether you'll qualify for deferment. If you're not earning enough to keep up with your student-loan payments, you may qualify for the relatively new Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan. The plan, which was introduced in July 2009, reduces the monthly payments for borrowers with high federal studen-loan debt relative to income. You pay nothing at all if your income is less than 150% of the poverty level. To qualify, you must have a Stafford, Grad PLUS or consolidation loan and your new monthly payments must be lower than the amount you would pay under a standard ten-year repayment plan for these loans. Visit Student Aid on the Web for more information about eligibility, monthly payment amounts for a range of incomes and a calculator that will help you determine whether you'll benefit from the program. Advertisement You might qualify for federal loan forgiveness if you work in a public-service job, work in an underserved area or work at a national service organization, such as AmeriCorps. See How to Shed Student Debt for more information about these options. If you have private student loans, speak to your lender about stretching out the loan term to lower your monthly payments. You'll pay more interest over the long term, but it will help now while you're struggling to make ends meet. Or shop around for the best terms you can find on a private-loan consolidation (compare programs at SimpleTuition.com). Consolidating also lets you stretch out the term of the loan, which may lower your monthly payments. Follow me on Twitter. Log on to Twitter at 8 p.m. ET July 21, when I'll be answering questions about saving for college during a #dealchat hosted by Natalie P. McNeal, of TheFrugalista.com. Type #dealchat in the Twitter search field to follow the conversation.