A student loan deferment is a period of time when you don't have to make payments on your federal student loans. Some deferments are automatic, while others must be requested, and you must meet certain economic or employment restrictions. If you have already left school and are having difficulty making your loan payments, contact your loan servicer to see if you qualify for a deferment and receive instructions on how to apply. In addition to the deferment options mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, your loan servicer may also offer alternative deferment programs.

In-School Deferment

In-school deferments are granted while you're attending a college, career or vocational school at least half-time, or while participating in a graduate fellowship program. In-school deferments are automatic and end six months after you leave the school or program, regardless of whether you have finished a degree or course of study.

Unemployment Deferment

If you're unemployed, you may qualify for a deferment of up to three years while you seek full-time employment. You may also qualify for this type of employment if you have a job, but work less than 30 hours per week. This type of deferment is not automatic, and you must submit an application to your loan servicer. The deferment period will end in three years or when you are no longer unemployed or underemployed, whichever comes sooner.

Economic Hardship Deferment

An economic hardship deferment is available to those who may not qualify for the unemployment deferment option, but are having significant financial difficulties. Those who qualify may be receiving public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid, or working full time but earning a federal poverty-level income. Peace Corps volunteers also qualify for economic hardship deferments. This type of deferment can last for up to three years or until the applicant’s financial situation changes, whichever comes first. To apply for an economic hardship deferment, you must contact your loan servicer.

Military Service Deferment

You may qualify for military service deferment while you're serving the country on active duty during a national emergency, war or other military operation. Qualifying service also extends to reserve and National Guard members called to active duty. Military service deferments do not have time limits, but deferments end six months after returning from duty. However, if you're in school when you are called to active duty, your deferment ends 13 months after you return from service, or when you re-enroll in school, whichever comes first. If you re-enroll in school at least half-time, you will qualify for the in-school deferment until you leave the school or graduate.