How to Use a Hardship Program for Debt

Are You Still Not Using a Hardship Program for Your Loans?
BY Erik J. Martin
Apr 14, 2022
Key Takeaways:
  • Debt hardship programs include forbearance, deferment, and modifications to your interest rate or payment.
  • You might also benefit from an IRS hardship program.
  • Qualifying events include job loss or hours reduction, illness or injury, and divorce or the death of your spouse.

Having trouble paying your bills? Feel like you are in over your head with debt? It may be time to pursue a debt/financial hardship program. These plans can help you get your financial footing when you face serious money problems.

Take the time to learn more about debt hardship programs, how to qualify, if you are a good candidate, and more.

What Is a Financial or Debt Hardship Program and How Does it Work? 

A financial hardship program is a plan provided by your creditor to give you a temporary break on your debt repayment. If you qualify for hardship help, your creditor may be able to offer options like forbearance, deferred payments, or modifications to your interest rate or payment amount.

“A financial or debt hardship program is a program a lender might offer its customers to help them with the timing of payments or other assistance,” explains Rhett Roberts, CEO of LoanPro, a lending core software, in Farmington, Utah.

Why should lenders/creditors offer debt hardship programs? Because they have an incentive to help their customers.

“Imagine you are a lender who gives out a loan. The borrower makes payments pretty consistently for a few months or even years. Then, when the loan is approximately halfway paid off, the payments start coming in late and for less than what is due. If it’s clear that the borrower is having difficulty paying and the lender does nothing, this creates both a frustrated lender and a frustrated consumer who does not feel the lender is helping them when they need aid,” Roberts explains. 

“Instead, if the lender reaches out to their customer and offers a financial hardship program to allow them to have reduced payments, skip payments, or other options, this helps both parties. For the lender, the upside is that this actually increases portfolio performance and brand loyalty with the consumer.”

Financial Hardship Program: 3 Types to Request

There are three main types of financial hardship assistance commonly available to eligible borrowers: forbearance, deferred payments, and modifications to your interest rate or payment.


A lender or creditor might agree to forbearance – letting you pause or reduce your payments for a limited time before resuming a regular payment schedule.

“This can help with temporary issues like a medical concern that keeps you from working while you recover,” says Roberts.

Deferred payments

In most cases, deferment allows you to stop making payments or reduce your payable amount for up to three years.

“No interest is accrued on loans during a deferment period because the lender picks up the interest payments,” notes Lyle Solomon, a financial expert and attorney with Oak View Law Group in Rocklin, California. 

“Deferment is regarded as a stopgap measure. If you believe you will be unable to resume payments in three years or less, you should look into other debt hardship program alternatives.”

Keep in mind that, with deferred payments, the deferred payments are not forgiven. They are added to your loan balance, and your loan may be reported as current to credit bureaus. 

“This is an ideal option to get over a one-time financial issue that won’t affect your ability to pay in the future,” adds Roberts.

Modifications to your interest rate or payment

A loan modification changes your existing loan by modifying the repayment term, interest rate, or other fine print.

“This could involve changing the type of loan, extending your repayment period, lowering your interest rate, reducing your monthly minimum payment required, or lowering your principal amount due,” Solomon says. “If you cannot make your current payments or have already fallen behind, a loan modification can help you in one of these ways.”

Debt-specific hardship programs

Forbearance, deferred payments, and loan modification are the three most common types of financial hardship programs available to eligible borrowers for many types of debt. But there are also particular strategies you can pursue depending on the kind of debt you have, including:

Hardship programs for credit card debt

Have you maxed out your credit cards? Your credit card company may offer forbearance, modified payment programs, fee waivers, or a decreased interest rate as hardship program options.

Hardship programs for mortgage debt

Your mortgage lender may offer mortgage modification, refinancing, or reverse mortgage options to help with your hardship.

Hardship programs for tax debt

If you have outstanding tax debt, your IRS hardship program choices may include an IRS offer in compromise, installment agreement, IRS forgiveness program, penalty and interest payments, innocent spouse relief, and tax settlement.

Hardship programs for student loan debt

When you have student loan debt, an income-based repayment plan, forbearance, deferment, student loan forgiveness, pay as you earn, and revised pay as you earn are among the hardship routes you can explore.

Good candidates for a financial hardship program

The best candidates for a debt hardship program are those with a genuine need for financial assistance who desire to pay off their debts. Legitimate scenarios that may qualify you for a hardship program include:

  • Unemployment

  • Major salary reduction

  • Medical emergency, illness, or injury

  • Divorce

  • Natural disaster

  • Death of a family wage earner

“You are more likely to be eligible if you face financial crisis due to one or more of these circumstances,” Solomon says. “Poor candidates are those in financial hardship due to overspending and money mismanagement. Among other criteria, creditors look at payment history and are less likely to offer a hardship plan to irresponsible consumers.”

Nevertheless, “most lenders are empathetic toward borrowers and would much rather get paid a little later or a little differently than see someone face bankruptcy or foreclosure,” Roberts points out.

Financial Hardship Program vs Debt Settlement

Financial hardship programs commonly lower or delay payments to get past temporary financial troubles. Debt settlement programs, on the other hand, aim to quickly pay off a comparatively larger portion of the loan to avoid long-term debt, per Roberts.

“In a debt hardship program, you typically request the issuing lender to cut down on your interest rate, permit deferred payments, or issue forbearance given your current financial conditions,” says Kevin Miles, a finance analyst with Loan Advisor[EM1] . 

“But in a debt settlement program, you pay a lump sum amount of the debt you owe instantly. In return, the creditor may allow a portion of your debt to be forgiven. The benefit is that you can pay off your debt quickly, while the downside is that it’s up to the creditor if they wish to accept your request or not.”

Next Steps

If you believe it’s time to pursue a financial hardship program, follow these recommended steps:

Examine your budget

Add your bills and other important expenses. Include less frequent payments, such as quarterly car insurance, and divide them into monthly installments. “This will give you an idea of how much money you will need to survive,” says Solomon. 

“When you add up all your monthly expenses, you’ll know how much you have available to spend. Subtract that amount from your income to see where you end up. You probably don’t need or qualify for a hardship plan if you make a profit or have extra cash. But if you are in financial difficulty, this may be the time to seek the assistance of a hardship plan.”

Contact your creditor

Don’t hide from the companies you owe money to. Instead, contact them when you notice a problem. “Call your creditor’s customer service number and explain that you cannot make your payments. Tell the representative you are looking for a hardship program. If there is a solution, the representative will most likely transfer you to a loss-mitigation or hardship department for more information,” Solomon adds.

Make your case

Inform the representative that you’ve reviewed your monthly budget and discovered that you couldn’t make payments without financial hardship. Prepare to substantiate your hardship claim with financial statements or other evidence.

Compare options

If you are deemed eligible, a representative will present you with one or more hardship program options, possibly including lowering your interest rate or waiving late fees. “Make sure the hardship program fits your budget and financial objectives. You don’t want to enter into an agreement without confirming that you can afford the bare minimum,” suggests Solomon. Also, inquire about debt hardship program alternatives you may want to pursue instead.

Follow the rules

Rules you may be required to follow include making a fixed payment per month for a set period and/or meeting with a credit counselor regularly. “Ensure that you meet all of the plan’s requirements. Failure to do so may result in the creditor discontinuing the hardship program, returning you to square one,” cautions Solomon.