Student loan payments start again in May – here’s how to prepare
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Since March 2020, federal student loan payments have been on hold for millions of borrowers in the United States. But that temporary forbearance period (which President Biden extended in December 2021) is scheduled to end on May 1, 2022 — barring an additional extension or alternative student loan relief measures. If you have federal student loans, take steps now to prepare for when student loan payments resume in the not-so-distant future.
What benefits do federal student loan borrowers have during the coronavirus pandemic?
The CARES Act and subsequent extensions have provided several relief measures to help federal student loan borrowers cope during the coronavirus pandemic. For most borrowers, the three most meaningful student loan benefits are:
- Eligible borrowers don’t have to make payments on federal student loans or defaulted FFEL Program loans through May 1, 2022.
- Interest is temporarily suspended on eligible federal student loans and defaulted FFEL Program loans through May 1, 2022.
- Collection efforts on defaulted federal student loans and defaulted FFEL Program loans are temporarily on hold.
The most recent 90-day extension provides federal borrowers with even more time to recover financially from pandemic-related hardship. They can use the money that would’ve gone toward student loan payments to cover essential expenses, pay off debt, build their emergency fund or even pay down more principal on their student loans with 0 percent student loan interest rates.
Private student loan borrowers aren’t entitled to any government-mandated relief at the moment. The same goes for certain federal student loan borrowers with older loans that are held by private companies.
Yet this doesn’t mean that private lenders aren’t willing to offer hardship assistance. If you can’t afford to repay your private student loans right now due to COVID-19 challenges, you should give your lender a call to ask whether temporary relief measures are available.
How to prepare for the end of federal student loan forbearance
It’s smart to start taking steps now to prepare both financially and mentally for when your monthly student loan payments resume. Below are four ideas you may want to consider.
1. Continue making payments
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted household budgets across the country. Yet if you can still afford to make your student loan payments before the federal payment suspension ends, it could be a great way to repay your debt faster and save money.
Kat Tretina, certified student loan counselor, explains why making manual payments on your federal student loans during this time could benefit you. “Due to the CARES Act, the interest rate on federal loans is set at 0 percent, so any payments you make will go toward the principal rather than interest charges,” she says. “Making payments now will reduce how much interest accrues later on.”
If you’re wondering how much these interest-free payments might save you, both in repayment time and money, a student loan calculator can help you crunch the numbers.
2. Pay yourself
Another option you might consider is making student loan payments to yourself while monthly payments to your student loan servicer are on hold. Even if you can’t afford to pay yourself a full student loan payment, you might be able to make a partial payment and tuck those funds into a high-yield savings account.
Once normal payments resume (or are about to resume), you can consider two options. First, you could make a lump-sum payment to your servicer before the interest-free period expires on your loan. Alternatively, you might opt to keep the cash you saved in an emergency fund or use it to provide some extra cushion in case you have trouble keeping up with your monthly payments down the road.
However, keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different. If you owe high-interest debt or hold private student loans, you might want to consider making some different money moves while your federal student payments are on hold.
3. Apply for other types of help
Coronavirus relief measures aren’t the only way to get help with your federal student loans. The Department of Education offers other types of assistance to eligible student loan borrowers under normal circumstances.
For example, once this automatic forbearance period ends, you can apply to put your federal student loans into deferment status if you need to temporarily reduce or postpone your payments. Keep in mind, however, that interest may continue to accrue on your loans even while your payments are on hold.
Applying for an income-driven repayment plan is another option you might want to consider. If you qualify, your monthly payment will adjust according to your income and family size, and you could have your remaining balance discharged after 20 to 25 years of payments.
4. Consider if refinancing is right for you
Finally, you may want to see if refinancing your federal student loan would benefit you financially. Student loan refinancing might help you save money over the length of your repayment or lower your monthly payment size.
Of course, it’s important to think carefully about whether refinancing is a good fit for you — especially if you owe federal student loan debt. Should you decide to refinance, you’ll lose federal benefits like access to income-driven repayment plans and eligibility for loan forgiveness.
FAQ about coronavirus student loan forbearance
Who can take advantage of administrative forbearance?
If the Department of Education owns your loan or if you have a defaulted FFEL Program loan, you should be eligible for the administrative forbearance benefits. Student loan servicers placed eligible student loans into automatic administrative forbearance. You can call your servicer if you have questions.
When do federal benefits expire?
Federally mandated administrative forbearance will expire on May 1, 2022. So unless there’s another extension or act of Congress, regular federal student loan repayment (including automatic payments) will resume after May 1, 2022.
Will student loan forbearance be extended again?
President Biden’s decision to extend the forbearance another 90 days was an about-face for the administration. Just days before the announcement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had confirmed that payments would resume on Feb. 1, 2022.
After the back and forth with the most recent extension, it’s hard to say whether the administration will call for another one. With inflation and new coronavirus variants impacting the economy, there’s a lot of uncertainty. However, it’s expected that the president will continue to receive calls from members of his party to provide more relief for student loan borrowers, whether in the form of continued forbearance or widespread forgiveness.