If you run into problems and have trouble paying back your loan, contact your lenders. Programs are available to help keep you from defaulting. Here are a few of the more common ones.
A consolidation loan bundles your student loans into one loan, with one monthly payment and one interest rate. While it is possible to consolidate both government and private loans, it's not generally a good idea to consolidate government loans into a private loan. When you do, you give up access to government programs -- deferment or forgiveness -- you might need if you get into financial trouble down the road.
Loan deferment, which means payments are halted for a period of time, may be granted for specific reasons. For example, you can apply for an unemployment deferment, which stops payments until you have a job. But beware: Interest may continue to accrue, meaning the longer you defer, the more money you'll owe.
When you can't make payments but don't qualify for a deferment, you may be able to receive a forbearance, which would allow you to make reduced or no payments for up to 12 months. Interest will accrue during the period, so if you can make any payments at all, you'll be better off in the long run.
Forgiveness of government loans is sometimes possible if you work in certain fields, work for certain government or nonprofit agencies or serve with AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps. Get in touch with your lenders for more information about these options.