Update: The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced on August 6, 2021 that it would extend the moratorium on student loan payments through January 31, 2022. Borrowers will not be required to make payments and will not accrue interest on their debt during this grace period. The DOE said this would be the last extension of the forbearance period.
Millions of student borrowers have had a long break from monthly loan payments, but starting September 30, 2021, they may need to start repaying again. That’s when a forbearance period for federal educational loans that began in March, 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, is slated to end.
The postponement of loan payments was part of the $2.3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which among other things, originally suspended most federal student loan payments through September 30, 2020. That postponement period was then extended several more times.
Here’s a quick update on where things stand.
What happened to loans during the forbearance period?
As of July, 2021, about 43 million Americans had federal student loan debt totaling $1.7 trillion.
During the federal loan grace period, qualifying student loan borrowers have been able to skip making monthly payments, and their loans have not accrued interest. If you have federal student loans, you may be included in the zero-interest period. Good to know: Some federal loans, such as those that are part of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, a program that ended in 2010, are actually held by private banks, and are therefore not included.
What happens on September 30, 2021?
Although the Biden Administration could potentially extend the student loan pause beyond the end of September, 2021, it has not yet committed to doing so.
However, in early July 2021, the Department of Education recommended that the Biden Administration extend the forbearance period through January, 2022. Additionally, a group of Senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have urged the president to extend the deadline until the end of March 2022.
The decision to continue the student loan zero-interest period could also get a boost from an unexpected change at the federal level. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA), which operates one of the largest loan servicers for the U.S. Department of Education, said in July that it would not renew its contract with the government when it expires on December 14, 2021. This decision will require the movement of 8.5 million accounts to other loan servicers, which could give the federal government an additional reason to keep repayments on pause for a while longer.
Making a repayment plan
For now, borrowers should plan on making payments again in the fall. If you have managed to save money during the pandemic, consider paying off a portion of your loans before the zero-interest period ends. When you make payments on your debt during the zero-interest grace period, you’ll be paying down principal directly. Typically payments include interest. Making payments now could help you get paid off more quickly. If you have multiple student loans, you may also want to take advantage of the zero-interest period by paying off the loans that have the highest interest rate.
Either way, consider revisiting your budget. Maybe you’ve been putting the money that you would be spending on your student debt into savings, or maybe you’ve been spending it. Now’s the time to make sure your budget has room for your monthly student loan payments.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to make your payments due to unemployment or some other life circumstance, you should still consider making a plan to pay off your student debt. The Department of Education recommends reaching out to your loan servicer quickly to see if you can change your repayment plan, potentially lowering your monthly payments. You might also look into forbearance, consolidation, or deferment.
Check out the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency devoted to consumer financial help, for up-to-date information about student loans during the pandemic.