What to do if you can’t pay your loans during the coronavirus pandemic

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As the coronavirus pandemic carries on and the economy recovers, some U.S. workers still face financial uncertainty. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) national unemployment rate sat at 6.1 percent in April 2021 — a significant drop from the high of 14.8 percent in April 2020 — payroll employment was down 5.5 percent in March 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic employment peak in February 2020, according to an April 2 release by BLS Commissioner William W. Beach.

For those facing financial issues, there are relief options available from banks, lenders and the federal government. If you can’t pay your loans or soon won’t be able to, one of these programs may be able to help.

Federal student loans

In March, President Joe Biden issued an executive action to continue federal student loan payment and interest relief through Sept. 30. The new action includes some benefits from the original coronavirus relief program, though not all. It expands the program to include borrowers in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program who have defaulted since March 13, 2020, automatically returning seized wages and tax returns and restoring defaulted accounts to good standing, as well as offering refunds on voluntary payments made since that date.

Interest waiver

Federal student loan interest rates will remain at 0 percent through the end of September. Borrowers don’t need to take any action to put this into place. However, check your student loan statements each month to ensure that interest isn’t charged on your federal loans through September.

Payment suspension

Federal student loan borrowers also have extended relief when it comes to monthly student loan payments. Payments on Direct Loans owned by the Department of Education are paused until Sept. 30. This payment suspension is also automatic.

This suspension does not make your student loan debt disappear, but it does allow you to save on monthly payments through Sept. 30. Contact your loan servicer to find out if you’re eligible for loan forbearance or deferment. To find out which servicer issues your loans, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1 (800) 433-3243.

If you’re working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you will continue to receive credit during the suspension period if you work full time for a qualifying employer.

Borrowers can also choose to continue making payments during this temporary deferment. If you want to continue your regularly scheduled student loan payments, your entire payment will be applied to your principal balance, which helps you pay your debt down faster.

If you use automatic payments, these may have been automatically suspended at the start of the deferment period. Contact your servicer if you’d like to start automatic payments again.

Private student loans

Private student loan debt isn’t covered under the presidential action — there are no government protections that require private lenders to waive interest or defer payments for borrowers.

However, your private lender might offer a hardship relief program or temporary student loan forbearance. For example, Earnest offers a short-term student loan forbearance for eligible borrowers upon request.

If you can’t pay your private student loans because the pandemic has affected your income, reach out to your lender immediately. Keep in mind that eligibility for hardship relief programs varies among lenders.

Personal loans

Many banks are stepping up to waive fees and help consumers stay on track with their loans despite losses in income. For example, Marcus by Goldman Sachs is letting customers defer payments on their personal loans for one month without accruing interest.

If you’re unsure if your lender is offering assistance on personal loans, contact it directly to ask. New programs may be announced on a rolling basis, so regularly check to see if help is available.

Home equity loans

Homeowners with home equity loans should reach out to their lenders if payments can’t be made on time. Some financial institutions are offering temporary deferment on home equity loans for those who are eligible.

For example, Bank of America is offering a three-month or longer payment deferment if your income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re struggling to stay on top of your home equity loan, call your lender to learn more about your options.

List of lenders providing loan relief

This is not an exhaustive list. Contact your lender for details about hardship assistance programs it offers.

  • Bank of America: Payment deferral on home loans is available upon request.
  • Discover: Hardship assistance may be available for personal loan and student loan customers who call a representative.
  • Fifth Third Bank: Mortgage customers can request up to 180 days of payment forbearance with no late fees, and up to an additional 180 days by using an online portal or calling a representative at (877) 366-5520.
  • LightStream: Personal loan customers may defer monthly payments through an online form or by calling an installment loan relief representative at (800) 828-7959.
  • Marcus by Goldman Sachs: Marcus’ customer assistance program allows borrowers to use an online form to postpone loan payments for one month with no interest.
  • PNC: The bank is offering temporary hardship relief for qualified customers with auto loans, personal loans, mortgages, home equity loans or lines of credit and student loans. Customers can use an online portal or call a representative.
  • SoFi: Student loan borrowers and personal loan borrowers may qualify for forbearance; both options are available through online portals. Home loan borrowers may qualify for hardship relief as well, though details are only available through an online portal or by calling representatives at (855) 622-3198.
  • TD Bank: The TD Cares program offers forbearance for eligible customers with mortgages or home equity loans or lines of credit. Customers can learn more by calling a representative at (800) 742-2651.
  • USAA: The bank is offering eligible members payment assistance programs on consumer loans and mortgages, which are available by calling (800) 531-8068.
  • U.S. Bank: Individuals with mortgages may qualify for payment suspension for up to 180 days with no late fees, and an additional 180-day extension if they request it through their online accounts or by calling (855) 698-7627.

Other steps you could take now if you can’t pay your loans

Talking with your lender as soon as possible is one of the most effective ways to get immediate payment relief during financial hardship. In addition to setting up payment deferment or forbearance, there are a few other steps you can take if you can’t pay your loans:

  • Apply for unemployment benefits: The March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act increases the total number of weeks that individuals can collect unemployment benefits to 79 weeks. It also provides an additional $300 weekly benefit for those who are unemployed through Sept. 6.
  • Cut discretionary spending: Review all of your nonessential spending, like dining out, shopping and streaming subscriptions. Find areas that you can cut from your monthly budget to free up money for loan payments.
  • Refinance your loans: If you have strong credit, you might be eligible for current low interest rates. Refinancing can help reduce your interest rate and lower your monthly payment.
  • Consider a coronavirus hardship loan: Available from some banks and credit unions, they’re short-term loans that typically have low or no interest. While the loan amounts aren’t very large, these loans do come with favorable terms for borrowers.

Regardless of what type of loan you’re struggling with, there’s a good chance your lender has options that can relieve some of the financial pressure. The best move is to contact your lender if you already know you won’t make your next loan payment.

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Written by
Jennifer Calonia
Contributing writer
Jennifer Calonia is an L.A.-based writer and editor. She's covered topics like debt, saving money and credit cards. You can find her work on Business Insider, Forbes and more.
Edited by
Associate loans editor