Student loan debt is a reality for millions of Americans, with the average borrower owing over $28,000 in student loans. But what happens to that debt when the borrower passes away? It’s not something most people want to think about, but it’s important to understand how student loans are handled.

In this article, we’ll explore what happens to both federal and private student loans when the borrower dies. We’ll also discuss how co-signers and spouses may be affected by outstanding debt. Finally, we’ll provide tips on how borrowers can plan ahead and prepare for end-of-life expenses related to their student loans.

Private Student Loans and Your Estate

Unlike federal student loans, which are discharged upon the borrower’s death, private student loans do not have a standard policy for handling outstanding balances after death. Instead, each lender has its own policies regarding what happens when a borrower dies.

Some private lenders will discharge or waive the current balance of the loan after a borrower’s death. For example, Sallie Mae offers this option for its smart option student loans if the primary borrower dies or becomes permanently disabled.

On the other hand, some private lenders include provisions in their agreements that allow them to automatically put a loan into default if the co-signer dies — even if payments are being made consistently by the primary borrower. This means that they can demand payment of the full balance immediately from either party involved in signing up for these types of debts.

It is important to note that each lender may have different policies and procedures for handling private student loans when a borrower passes away. It is recommended that the borrower’s family or executor of the estate contact the lender as soon as possible to discuss the situation and determine the best course of action.

Do Private Student Loans Die With You?

As mentioned earlier, some private lenders offer forgiveness options while others might require immediate repayment upon notification of an account holder’s passing. It happens regardless of whether payments were made regularly beforehand. In addition, there could be community property laws at play depending on where one resides; thus, it’s best to consult with legal counsel.

When a borrower with private student loans passes away, the loans will typically become due and payable immediately, unless there is a provision in the loan agreement that states otherwise. If the loans are not paid off or discharged, the lender may go after the borrower’s estate to collect the remaining balance. 

Here are some steps that borrowers and their families can take to manage private student loans after a borrower’s death: 

Notify the lender

It is important to notify the lender as soon as possible after a borrower’s death. The lender will likely require a death certificate and other documentation to begin the process of managing the loans.

Check the loan agreement

Review the loan agreement to determine if there are any provisions for the discharge of the loans upon the borrower’s death. 

Check for cosigners

If the borrower had a cosigner on the loan, the cosigner may become responsible for repaying the loan in full after the borrower’s death. 

Review estate assets

Determine if the estate has sufficient assets to repay the loans. If not, the lender may not be able to collect the full amount.

Consider negotiating with the lender

It may be possible to negotiate a repayment plan with the lender or request a discharge of the loans if certain requirements are met.

Planning Ahead: Managing the Impact of a Loved One’s Passing on Their Outstanding Student Loans

It is never easy losing someone close, but planning ahead can help ease financial burdens during difficult times, especially concerning college-related debts like tuition fees, which often come with high interest rates. 

With that said, here are some tips:

  • Communication. It is imperative for the borrower to communicate their wishes regarding the repayment of their student loans with their family members and/or executors of their estate. This can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Review loan documents. Review the loan documents to determine if the loans have any provisions for discharge upon the borrower’s death, or if they must be repaid by the estate.
  • Evaluate estate assets. Evaluate the assets of the estate to determine if there are sufficient funds to repay the loans. This may involve working with a financial advisor or estate planner.
  • Consider life insurance. Life insurance can be a useful tool in paying off outstanding student loans after a borrower’s death. It is important to ensure that the policy is designated to pay off the loans.
  • Investigate loan forgiveness options. Certain loan forgiveness options may be available for federal student loans after the borrower’s death. Investigate these options and determine if they are applicable.
  • Seek legal advice. This is to understand the specific laws and regulations regarding the repayment of outstanding student loans after a borrower’s death.


While federal student loans are typically discharged upon the borrower’s death, private student loans may require repayment from the borrower’s estate or cosigner. Therefore, it is crucial to plan ahead to minimize the financial impact.

Seeking legal and financial advice and exploring options such as loan forgiveness, life insurance, and estate planning would help significantly.


Q: What happens if I die with unpaid federal or private student loan debt?

A: If you die with unpaid federal student loan debt, the debt will typically be discharged and your estate will not be responsible for repayment. Private student loans, however, may not be discharged upon your death, and your estate may be responsible for repayment. In some cases, private student loan lenders may also pursue cosigners for repayment.

Q: How does inheriting someone else’s debt work?

A: Inheriting someone else’s debt can be a complicated process, as it depends on several factors such as the type of debt, the amount owed, and the laws in the state where the debtor lived. Generally, if the debt is secured by collateral, the lender may repossess the collateral if the debt is not repaid. With unsecured debt, the estate may be responsible for repayment.

Q: What are loan forgiveness options?

A: Loan forgiveness options refer to programs that allow borrowers to have all or a portion of their student loans forgiven, or canceled, in exchange for meeting certain criteria. For federal student loans, some examples are Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), Teacher Loan Forgiveness, and Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans.


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