Back in March 2020, Uncle Sam did you a favor and paused most student loan payments...without you even having to ask. That was only meant to last six months, but is being extended for a fourth time, now through January 31, 2022. Whether President Joe Biden will pass broader legislation around student loan cancellation is still TBD.
In the meantime, hit up your student loan servicers to get a refresher on how much (and who) you owe. And while you’re at it, double check that they have your most recent contact info on file so you don’t miss any important notices related to your loans. Oh, and you can still make payments on your federal student loans if you want (but there’s no penalty if you don’t).
Here’s how to game-out your next move.
Make sure your type of federal student loans qualify for administrative forbearance.
Decide whether you’ll pay your bill during the administrative forbearance period. If you do, your money will go 100% toward the loan principal, since interest won’t accrue during this time. Paying that down means you’ll have less to pay interest on later – so you could be out of debt sooner.
If you’re struggling to keep up with regular bills, your emergency fund could use some TLC, or you have higher-interest debt, you can use this extension to get ahead.
If you were on an income-driven repayment plan pre-pandemic, make sure it still works for your post-pandemic budget.
Sorry, this doesn’t apply to you. The Department of Education can’t legally tell private institutions to stop collecting your payments.
If you need help, call your lender or servicer to see if they offer assistance programs. You may also be able to get a lower payment by refinancing.
Help yourself to savings. Some ideas: negotiate for a better rate on your cable and phone bills, grocery-shop smarter, make small adjustments to lower your utility bills, and shave some money off your insurance premiums.
Federal student loan payments aren’t usually this flexible. But the pandemic has changed a lot. The Department of Ed and the White House are trying to help the more than 42 million Americans burdened by federal student loan debt. Take the help if you need it. And if you’re struggling with private student loans, call your lender or servicer to see if they’re willing to help. If not, look for ways to adjust your budget and make repayment more manageable.
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Skimm'd by: Ivana Pino, Casey Bond, Stacy Rapacon, and Elyse Steinhaus