While federal student loan borrowers have the benefit of zero required payments and zero interest charges on their student loans through Sept. 30, private student loans are not eligible for COVID-19 federal relief. When it comes to payment assistance, private student loan borrowers are in the hands of their lenders.
However, borrowers still have options for managing their private student loans if the coronavirus has led to a reduction in income. Here’s what to look for.
Are private student loan borrowers eligible for COVID-19 relief?
Because private student loans are owned by private lenders and not the federal government, they are not eligible for federal relief measures like the payment pause and interest waiver currently in place.
The one exception is privately owned Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) in default status, which are now included in the administrative forbearance. Borrowers with these loans are not required to make payments through Sept. 20, 2021, and interest charges and collections activities are on pause during that time.
Some private lenders have been offering their own COVID-19 hardship options. However, it is up to the borrower to investigate these programs, since they’re not automatically instated as the federal program was. “If a borrower has been impacted by COVID (or anything else for that matter), they should be diligent in their communication with the lender and propose relief in any number of ways; deferred payments, paused payments, lower payments, etc.,” says Matthew Carpenter, CEO of College Funding Services.
Strategies for making private student loan payments without coronavirus forbearance
There are a few ways in which private borrowers can manage their private loans even without the federal payment pause. Here are a few options that could lower your monthly payment or make payments easier.
In order to properly manage their loan balance, each borrower should start by confirming whether or not they have the best possible rates and repayment terms, says Carpenter. “If a student finds a better option to refinance their loan at a lower rate with another lender, they should bring this information to their current lender.”
If your current lender can’t offer you better rates, consider refinancing with a new company. By doing so, you may be able to get a lower interest rate or a longer repayment term, both of which can lower your monthly payments.
Pause federal student loan payments
If you have both private and federal student loans, you can take advantage of COVID-19 administrative forbearance and stop making payments on your federal loans. You can then reallocate the money you would be putting toward your federal loans and instead make payments on your private loans.
Ask about payment assistance
Reach out to your lender or servicer directly about ways to lower or pause your private student loan payments. The following lenders have coronavirus relief programs available, but the list is not inclusive of all lenders offering hardship options:
- Citizens Bank: Borrowers can receive forbearance for an initial three-month period, which may be renewed twice.
- CommonBond: Late fees are waived, and borrowers can postpone payments in one-month increments.
- Earnest: The short-term coronavirus forbearance program postpones eligible loan payments for at least one month. Interest won’t be capitalized at the end of forbearance.
- Laurel Road: Borrowers can apply for forbearance of three months, and then another three months if eligible.
- Navient: Short-term forbearance is available for at least one month.
Find state-specific relief
Several state attorneys have collaborated on statewide relief efforts with private lenders in an effort to help private student loan borrowers. In early 2020, the program was implemented in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Washington, D.C.
Borrowers in participating states can call their loan servicer or lender and request the following:
- Suspended debt collection for 90 days.
- Waived interest.
- 90-day forbearance period.
- Information on hardship assistance programs.
Restructure your budget
If you’re facing financial hardship due to the coronavirus, it may be time to revisit your budget in order to ensure that you can still make minimum payments on your student loans. Consider whether you can drop subscription services or cut back on takeout, or examine your current bank and internet service provider to see where you’re being charged unnecessary fees. To help track your earning and spending, you may want to try a budgeting app. Even small changes to your monthly spending can help you avoid defaulting on your loans.