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 Jan. 31, 2022, meaning all payments will resume on Feb. 1.
The U.S. Department of Education has extended the payment pause multiple times but has stated that Jan. 31 will be the definitive end of this period.
Payments resume on Feb. 1, 2022
Millions of borrowers are currently taking advantage of the administrative forbearance period initiated by the CARES Act in March 2020, with an estimated 35 million borrowers qualifying for relief. 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 Jan. 31, 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 in the final months of the year 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 August 2021. The Department of Education stated in a press conference that this extension of the payment pause was necessary to help federal servicers transition millions of borrowers back to making their regular payments, as well as to help borrowers avoid delinquency or default.
“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment.”
What to do if you can’t afford student loans after payments resume
Even after the coronavirus-related relief expires, federal student loan borrowers have additional relief options available if they have trouble making monthly payments.
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 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.
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.