Tips for the Return to Repayment After COVID-19 Relief Ends

Since March 13, 2020, payments have been paused and interest set to 0% on federal student loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education.

The payment pause and interest waiver will end 60 days after the U.S. Department of Education is permitted to implement the $10,000-$20,000 in One-Time Debt Relief or the litigation surrounding the One-Time Debt Relief has been resolved. If the One-Time Debt Relief has not been implemented and the litigation has not been resolved by June 30, 2023 – payments will resume 60 days after that. 

Here are some tips on preparing for loan payments to resume.
 

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Update your contact info with your loan servicer

Make sure your contact information is up to date in your profile on your loan servicer’s website. If your contact information is outdated, you could miss out on important information.

Set up and/or update your studentaid.gov account

Studentaid.gov is the U.S. Department of Education’s main website for federal student loans and your portal to access information about all of your federal student loans. You can use your studentaid.gov account to apply for repayment plans, consolidate your federal loans, explore repayment plans with the Loan Simulator, and use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Help Tool. You’ll be prompted to sign in with your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. If you don’t have an FSA ID, you should make one. If you haven’t logged into your studentaid.gov account recently, you should log in to make sure your contact information is up to date.

Get details on your upcoming payment

Your payment amount may have changed. Call your servicer or log in to its website to find out your upcoming payment amount and due date. Once the payment pause ends, your loan servicer will send you a billing statement. Your payment will be due no sooner than 21 days after your servicer sends the billing statement.

Restart your auto-debit

Even if you were on auto-debit before the start of the payment pause, you may still need to reenroll in auto-debit. Contact your loan servicer to restart auto-debit, sign up for auto-debit for the first time, or find out other easy ways to make a payment. Direct Loan borrowers who enroll in auto-debit receive a 0.25% interest rate reduction.

If you work in public service, make sure to take advantage of the One-Time Adjustment for PSLF

If you work for the government or nonprofit organization, learn about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, including the One-Time Adjustment for PSLF. For a limited time, borrowers with qualifying employment may receive credit towards PSLF for past repayment periods that would not otherwise count towards forgiveness. However, borrowers with loan types other than Direct Loans (i.e., FFEL or Perkins Loans) will need to consolidate those loans into the Direct Loan Program by May 1, 2023 to benefit.

Find out if you’re on the best repayment plan for you

Your situation may have changed during the pandemic. Now is a great time to think about whether you’re on the best repayment plan for you. The U.S. Department of Education offers a variety of repayment plans.  If you’re struggling, consider an income-driven repayment plan.

Income-driven plans calculate your payments based on your income and family size. Under an income-driven plan, payments may be as low as $0 per month. Income-driven plans also offer the possibility of loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years of qualifying payments and can provide valuable interest subsidies. Use the U.S. Department of Education’s Loan Simulator to explore your payment options.

Take action if you want to lower your monthly payment

After learning about your repayment options, you can apply for a specific repayment plan or ask to be placed in the income-driven plan that results in the lowest monthly payment.  

  • Can I get my income-driven payment amount recalculated based on a change in my financial circumstances? If you previously enrolled in an income-driven plan but experienced a loss of income or increase in family size, you may qualify for a new lower payment amount due to your changed financial circumstances.
  • How do I apply for an income-driven plan or ask for recalculation? You can apply for income-driven repayment or request recalculation of your monthly payment amount either online or by mail.
  • What is self-certification of income? Direct Loan borrowers can “self-certify” their income when applying for income-driven repayment or asking for recalculation, meaning that they can report their income without having to submit tax returns or alternative documentation of income. This will make it even easier to apply for income-driven repayment or request recalculation of your payment amount. This option will be available for six months after repayment resumes. 

Ways to Apply for Income-Driven Repayment or Request Recalculation

 

Online

Use or create your FSA ID to apply for income-driven repayment or request recalculation of your monthly payment on the U.S. Department of Education’s studentaid.gov website

Mail

Submit an Income-Driven Repayment Plan Application to your federal loan servicer to apply for income-driven repayment or request recalculation of your monthly payment amount.

  • When do I have to annually recertify my income and family size information? Borrowers who enroll in income-driven plans must recertify their income and family size information each year. However, if you enrolled in an income-driven plan before the start of the payment pause, you will not be asked to recertify until at least six months after repayment resumes.
  • Can I consolidate to lower my monthly payment? Consolidating your federal student loans may lower your monthly payment. However, you should consider the pros and cons of consolidation before deciding if consolidation is right for you. Because consolidation typically extends your repayment term, it usually increases your total loan costs.  

However, for FFEL Program Loans, there are a lot of reasons to consolidate, including:

  • to access more affordable income-driven repayment plans;
  • to pursue the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and the One-Time Adjustment for PSLF; and
  • to be eligible for the One-Time IDR Adjustment, which counts past time borrowers has been in repayment towards forgiveness under income-driven plans (IDR), even if they have never previously enrolled.

Parent PLUS loans must also be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan to access income-driven repayment and PSLF.

You can apply for consolidation at studentaid.gov.

As a last resort, ask your servicer for short-term relief

If you can’t find a repayment plan that works for you, you can request to temporarily pause or lower your payments through deferment or forbearance. Keep in mind that interest accrues on unsubsidized loans during deferment and on both subsidized and unsubsidized loans during forbearance and unpaid interest capitalizes. This means your balance and total loan cost will increase. Before requesting a deferment or forbearance from your loan servicer, use the Loan Simulator to learn how this short-term relief affects your loans and payments.

Enrolling in an income-driven plan is typically a better option than using deferment or forbearance. This is because most income-driven plans offer interest subsidies if your scheduled payment amount does not cover the interest that accrues on your loan. The REPAYE plan offers the most generous interest subsidies. Specifically, under REPAYE:

  • On subsidized loans, you do not have to pay the difference between your monthly payment amount and the interest that accrues for your first three consecutive years in REPAYE.
  • On subsidized loans after these first three years and on unsubsidized loans during all periods, you only have to pay half the difference between your monthly payment amount and the interest that accrues.

The U.S. Department of Education announced on August 24, 2022 that it intends to create a new, less expensive income-driven repayment plan in 2023 or 2024.

Understand what happens if you don’t repay your loan

If you miss a payment, your loan becomes delinquent. Once your loan is delinquent for 90 days or more, your loan servicer will report the delinquency to the three major national credit bureaus. Delinquency will harm your credit score, making it harder to get credit. Paying late also costs you money. Because interest continues to accrue on your loan each day, if you pay late, more of your payment will be used to pay your accrued interest and less will go towards reducing your principal balance.

Once your loan is 270 days past due, it goes into default. When you default on a federal student loan, your tax refund can be seized and part of your paycheck or Social Security benefits can be taken. The default status will further damage your credit score and you’ll also lose access to federal student aid.

Avoid scams

Student loan “debt relief” companies charge fees for helping student loan borrowers access federal loan debt relief programs. There is nothing these companies can do for you that you can’t do on your own for free!

Some of these companies are trying to take advantage of circumstances related to the pandemic and the One-Time Student Loan Debt Relief. They may even pretend to work with the U.S. Department of Education or a government agency. If anyone contacts you asking for your personal information (like your FSA ID and password), your bank account information, or money to help you access debt relief—it’s a scam.  

The application for the $10,000-$20,000 in One-Time Student Loan Debt Relief is free, and there is nothing third parties can do to speed up debt cancellation or get you more relief.

Only scammers will ask you to pay for student loan debt relief. You can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website to learn more about the other warning signs of a debt relief scam.

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief and Federal Student Aid: Learn how to prepare for loan payments to begin again. You can also find information about COVID-19 relief, impacts, and other resources.

U.S. Department of Education’s Returning to Repayment Fact Sheet: Quickly review key information to help prepare for student loan payments to restart.

U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 Relief: Income-Driven Repayment Plan Page: Learn about how the COVID-19 emergency relief has affected income-driven repayment and what to expect when loan payments begin again. 

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Prepare to Repay Page: Learn more about how to prepare for repayment and your options if you can’t afford your payments, including private loan payments.

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