Maybe your monthly expenses are getting the best of you and you decide to skip just one student loan payment. The next month, you apply for a car loan and are denied. The reason: the car dealership checked your credit and your credit score dropped from the previous month.
Even worse, you decide to apply for a job with the federal government that will pay you enough that you won't have to worry so much every month about money. You aren't hired because you can't be delinquent 30 days on any kind of federal loan to qualify for a government position.
While penalties for missing even one payment are rather harsh, student loans have the most ways of any loan to postpone payment — if you speak with your loan servicer first — or to reduce your payment by going on an extended payment plan, graduated plan, or consolidated plan.
Further, if you're under forbearance or deferment and you don't make a payment, your credit is unharmed. This is because contractually you have several options for forbearance or deferment that you can qualify for based on your situation.
Here's a tip: If you've missed payments because you've forgotten to send the check, set up a direct payment between your servicer and your bank. You'll likely get a small discount on your interest rate as a bonus for signing up for your payments to come directly out of your checking account each month.
Regardless of whether it's from forgetting to send the check or not having the cash, you might occasionally miss a payment. But as long as you take action beforehand — by calling your servicer — you can keep your credit from taking a hit.