COVID-19 is dramatically altering finances for many of us. Millions are losing their jobs or seeing a significant reduction in hours. This makes it vital to find ways to drastically reduce your monthly bills and cover your most pressing needs. However, what are people carrying student loan debt supposed to do if they lose their income? Thankfully, the government is providing student loan relief programs to assist those in need.
If you have federal student loans, you can likely take advantage of the assistance. But there are caveats to know about the available options. Student loan debt relief is also not available to all borrowers.
If you have student loans and need assistance during this time and need to know if you qualify for assistance, this guide will help you create a plan of attack.
What Happens to Student Loan Payments?
One of the first pieces of assistance the government extended was waiving interest on federal student loans.
That relief expanded with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) on March 27, 2020.
Here are the critical components for student loan borrowers in the CARES Act:
- Automatic suspension of federal student loan payments for six months – until September 30, 2020
- Payments on auto-debit deactivated on April 10
- Deferred payments qualify if you’re working towards Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness
If you have federal student loans, this is a terrific benefit to help you cover more pressing needs. You don’t need to do anything to receive the student loan relief; it’s automatic.
To take advantage of the assistance, you must first determine if the federal government holds your student loans. To do that, you must go to StudentAid.gov to see a list of your loans.
You want to use the login information from your previous FAFSA. This page will list all of your loans. You may see loans listed as “Direct”, which do qualify.
However, if you see any Perkins or Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), those may not qualify. The federal government owns some, but not all, of those loans, so those may not be eligible for assistance.
Non-Federally Held Perkins Loans
Do you have a non-federally owned Perkins loan? If so, you can still qualify for some student loan relief. Loan servicers can extend borrowers three months of forbearance, though interest still accrues.
This forbearance is not automatic. You must call your servicer to provide notice of any novel coronavirus impacts and request it.
If you need an extension beyond that, you will need to complete any required paperwork.
One point to remember is this relief will count against your three-year forbearance limit.
Non-Federally Held FFEL Loans
If you have a non-federally held FFEL loan, you may not qualify for assistance under the student loan relief programs.
These issuers have the option to offer suspensions to holders, but they are not obligated to do anything.
Waiver of Student Loan Interest
Providing student loan interest relief was a vital first step in assisting borrowers on March 20. If you have a federally held loan, your interest rate is set to 0 percent until September 30. 2020.
If you have non-federally held loans (aka private loans), you may not receive this benefit. If in doubt, call your loan servicer.
For those with federal student loans, you do not have to make payments and will not accrue interest through September.
Do I need to Apply to Suspend Payments or Interest?
No, you do not need to apply to suspend student loan payments or interest – IF you have federal student loans. It’s automatic.
However, if you have private loans, don’t just stop making payments. If you can’t pay your bills, contact your loan servicer and ask what, if any, student loan relief programs they’re offering due to coronavirus.
Should I Pay to Suspend Payments?
No! If a service contacts you claiming to help you suspend payments, it’s a scam.
The government suspended payments for all federal student loans until September 30, 2020, and you don’t need to pay anything to qualify.
How Does this Impact Public Student Loan Forgiveness?
Are you currently working to achieve 120 qualifying PSLF payments? A fantastic feature of the CARES Act is that it allows the suspension period to count as six payments.
You won’t lose your qualification through the suspension. Just make sure not to refinance your student loans as you will lose that privilege.
Do I qualify if My Loans are in Default or Delinquent?
If you are currently in default or delinquent on student loan payments, you can still benefit from student loan relief services.
When the government set rates at 0 percent, it also extended the automatic suspension of payments for those in arrears.
This provision applies to anyone more than 31 days delinquent as of March 13, 2020. Additionally, the CARES Act suspends all collection actions on federally held student loans.
Will College Students Get Stimulus Checks?
Economic impact stimulus checks were a key provision of the CARES Act to provide direct assistance to Americans. Parents won’t receive cash for any children over 17.
Additionally, if your parent claims you as a dependent, you won’t qualify to receive funds. Even if you file your own taxes, you may not be eligible.
Not all is lost though, as colleges are receiving $6 billion in emergency assistance. You may receive funds from your school to cover necessities.
There is no set practice to receive funds, so contact your school to learn what’s needed to receive funds.
Do I Qualify if I Have Private Loans?
While all Federally held student loans are in suspension until September 30, 2020, that’s not the case for private loans.
Each lender is following its own set of practices during this time, much like COVID-19 rent and mortgage relief.
If you have not lost your income and can make payments, you may want to consider refinancing your private student loans.
Rates are lowering, and it can help you save money on interest. Credible is an excellent choice to refinance your loans.
The platform lets you compare up to 14 lenders at once to find the best fit for your needs.
If you have lost income, you want to contact your private student loan servicer to see what student loan relief programs they can extend to you.
Our friends at The College Investor has an extensive list of private lenders and what each one is doing for borrowers. If in doubt, contact the servicer to see how they can help.
First Steps to Take
There is a lot of information to consume surrounding student loan debt relief and coronavirus. Here are some first steps to take if you feel overwhelmed.
Contact Your Servicer if You Have Questions
If you’re ever in doubt of if you qualify for assistance, or how it impacts your loan repayment, contact the loan servicer. Don’t ignore the situation; instead, deal with it directly.
Prepare yourself for extended wait times if you call. If your lender allows secure messages through their site, you may want to select that route.
Many lenders also have questions to frequently asked questions on their site that may answer your questions.
Decide if You Want to Continue to Make Payments
Although payments are in suspension, you can still make payments. Doing so is only wise if you’re still employed, and it won’t put your finances in jeopardy.
If you have private loans, you may want to apply payments towards those first. Keep in mind that the pandemic appears to be a long-term ordeal, so do this with caution.
You generally only want to look at this if you have private student loans. If you’re working towards federal student loan forgiveness through PSLF, don’t refinance as you will lose that benefit.
Talk to Your Employer
If you have loans that do not qualify for any of the available coronavirus student loan relief programs, speak with your employer.
As a part of the CARES Act, employers receive temporary tax relief if they contribute up to $5,250 toward employees’ student loan payments.
This provision is in place through the end of 2020 and can apply to any student loan debt. Ask your human resources department how your employer may provide help.
Create a Plan
As with any significant economic downturn, those with a plan weather the storm better than most.
If you don’t know how you’re going to manage your federal student loan payment after the suspension, start researching your options like forbearance.
Do you have high-interest debt, and still have your income? If so, you may want to consider applying money for student loan payments towards that debt.
What is the health of your emergency fund? Do you have one? If you don’t have one, or it’s not healthy, open an emergency fund at Chime.
Chime has no minimum balance requirements. It also rounds up any purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference into your savings account – up to $500 per year.
Have you lost your job? Learn what you need to do to apply for unemployment insurance benefits to help keep you afloat.
Do you have private student loans? Research how refinancing them may save you money. Credible is a good platform to do this in just a few minutes.
This situation demands action. Look at your glaring areas of need and start making plans to know who you’re going to manage.
Student loans are a perfect example of how things will change throughout this pandemic. Private lenders may change what they offer, and other federal assistance programs may become available through the federal government.
Keep an eye on the news to see what’s available, and act as needed to help improve your situation.
There is a significant amount of information to decipher relative to student loan relief programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have any questions about your loans, contact your lender to see what’s available.
Don’t ignore the situation. Debt is an emergency, and given the current state of affairs, it’s even more crucial to manage.
We will make it through this virus. Those who plan their way through this storm will land on the other side on both feet.
If you have more questions about student loans or any other financial issues related to the pandemic, please let us know below.
How has the coronavirus impacted your student loans? What are you doing to manage your monthly bills currently? What is one area of your finances you need to improve right now?
*Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by, and debit card issued by, The Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC.