When do student loan payments start again?

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Since March 2020, federal student loan payments have been on pause — with no payments required, no interest charged and all collections activities on hold. However, this period of administrative forbearance is set to expire on May 1, 2022, meaning all payments will resume after that date.

The U.S. Department of Education has extended the payment pause multiple times. Previously, the forbearance period was set to end on Jan. 31, but the rise of the omicron variant prompted the department to extend the period an additional 90 days.

Payments resume after May 1, 2022

Millions of borrowers are currently taking advantage of the administrative forbearance period initiated by the CARES Act in March 2020. Eligible loans include all federally held student loans, plus privately held FFEL loans that are in default.

With the forbearance period set to expire on May 1, borrowers who have not been making payments need to prepare to resume paying their balances. The Department of Education has said that borrowers can expect information and resources about resuming payments leading up to this date and will receive a billing statement at least 21 days before the first payment is due.

In the meantime, you can visit the Federal Student Aid website and your loan servicer’s website to ensure that your contact details are up to date so that you’re informed when payments are set to resume.

Why was the student loan payment pause extended?

The payment pause has been extended a number of times, with the most recent extension announced in December 2021. The Department of Education stated in a press conference that this extension of the payment pause was necessary to assess the impact of the rise in the omicron variant and give federal servicers a bit more breathing room before resuming payments.

“This additional extension of the repayment pause will provide critical relief to borrowers who continue to face financial hardships as a result of the pandemic, and will allow our administration to assess the impacts of omicron on student borrowers,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We are committed to not only ensuring a smooth return to repayment, but also increasing accountability and stronger customer service from our loan servicers as borrowers prepare for repayment.”

What to do if you can’t afford student loans after payments resume

A Bankrate and BestColleges survey from December 2021 found that 75 percent of U.S. adults with federal student loans expected their finances to be negatively impacted once payments resumed, while 1 in 5 borrowers didn’t have a plan for their loan repayment.

However, even after the coronavirus-related relief expires, federal student loan borrowers have additional relief options available if they have trouble making monthly payments.

General forbearance

The current administrative forbearance period is automatically granted to all federal student loan borrowers. However, the federal government also offers general forbearance outside of this emergency relief. You may qualify for up to 12 months of forbearance at a time (up to three years total) if you are unable to pay your loans due to financial difficulties, medical expenses or changes in employment. For more details, you can contact your loan servicer.

Income-driven repayment plans

Income-driven repayment plans set your monthly payment based on a percentage of your discretionary income. Typically you’ll make between 20 and 25 years of eligible payments, and then the rest of your balance will be discharged. If your income is low enough, your payments could drop to $0. If you’re interested in applying, contact your loan servicer to see which plan best suits your needs.

Loan forgiveness options

Borrowers working in certain occupations may qualify for federal programs that forgive student loan balances after a number of years. For example, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program – which has loosened some of its eligibility requirements through Oct. 31, 2022 – forgives loans for people in eligible public service jobs after 10 years of payments on an income-driven repayment plan. Teacher Loan Forgiveness, on the other hand, requires five years of employment as a teacher in a high-need area in exchange for up to $17,500 in federal debt discharged.

Refinancing

While refinancing federal student loans will eliminate the options listed above, it could be a viable option if you took out your federal loan when interest rates were high. Private student loan lenders are currently offering extremely low interest rates, so refinancing into a different rate or term could help you lower your monthly payment.

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Written by
Hanneh Bareham
Student loans reporter
Hanneh Bareham specializes in everything related to student loans and helping you finance your next educational endeavor. She aims to help others reach their collegiate and financial goals through making student loans easier to understand.
Edited by
Student loans editor