With high unemployment levels and many employers cutting work hours, lots of college grads are now struggling to meet their student loan payments. Thankfully, the federal government has passed legislation to ease this burden. Unfortunately, though, many borrowers are confused about the terms and conditions of these changes.
Here’s what you need to know about the changes to student loan debt during the coronavirus pandemic.
All federal student loan payments are automatically suspended for six months
As part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) signed into law on March 27 all federal student loan payments are suspended, interest-free, through Sept. 30, 2020. If borrowers continue making payments, the full amount will be applied to the principal of the loan. The suspension applies to all federal student loans owned by the Department of Education as well as some Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) and some Perkins loans. Students do not have to take any action or pay any fees for the suspension to take effect.
Additionally, during the suspension period, the CARES Act does not allow student loan servicers to report to the credit bureaus borrower nonpayments as missed payments. Therefore, the suspension should not have a negative effect on borrowers’ credit scores.
If you’re not sure whether your student loan is federally owned, you can look it up on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website. Be sure to have your FSA ID handy so you can sign in and look up your loans. You can also call your loan servicer directly to clear up any confusion.
Here is the contact information for federal student loan servicers:
- CornerStone: 1-800-663-1662
- FedLoan Servicing (PHEAA): 1-800-699-2908
- Granite State — GSMR: 1-888-556-0022
- Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.: 1-800-236-4300
- HESC/Edfinancial: 1-855-337-6884
- MOHELA: 1-888-866-4352
- Navient: 1-800-722-1300
- Nelnet: 1-888-486-4722
- OSLA Servicing: 1-866-264-9762
- ECSI: 1-866-313-3793
Suspended payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness and loan rehabilitation.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program allowing borrowers to have their student loans forgiven, tax-free, with the stipulation that they work in the public sector and make 120 qualifying monthly payments. A disruption of these 120 payments can disqualify a borrower from the program.
According to the CARES Act, suspended payments will be treated as regular payments toward PSLF. This ensures that borrowers who have been working toward these programs will not lose the progress they’ve made toward loan forgiveness.
The same rule applies to individuals participating in student loan rehabilitation, during which borrowers with defaulted student loans must make nine out of 10 consecutive monthly payments to pull their loans out of default. The U.S. Department of Education will consider the six-month suspension on payments as if regular payments were made toward rehabilitation.
Some states and private lenders are offering student loan aid for struggling borrowers.
If your student loan is not federally owned and you are struggling to meet your payments, there may still be options available, such as loan deferment or forbearance. If you are in need of such assistance, contact your lender directly to discuss your options.
Consider an income-driven repayment plan.
If you have an FFEL that is ineligible for suspension, you can lower your monthly payments by enrolling in an income-based repayment plan, which adjusts your monthly student loan payment amount according to your discretionary income. Other lenders offer similar plans, often referred to as income-driven repayment plans. If your salary was cut as a result of COVID-19, or you are currently unemployed, these plans can provide relief by making your monthly payments more manageable.
Employers can contribute toward employees’ student loan debt for temporary tax relief
The federal government offered temporary tax relief for employers contributing up to $5,350 toward their employees’ student loan payments. This benefit is in effect until Jan. 1, 2021 and it can be used for any kind of student debt, whether federal or private.
If you don’t qualify for the student loan payment suspension, you can try speaking with the human resources department at your workplace to find out how they can help you with your student loan debt at this time.