UNITED STATES NEWS

Here’s how to prepare to start paying back your student loans when the pandemic payment freeze ends

Jun 26, 2023, 9:10 AM | Updated: Jun 30, 2023, 4:06 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — An estimated 43 million borrowers who could have seen their student loan balances decreased or erased will now resume their original payments in the fall, following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Biden administration’s debt forgiveness plan.

Student loan interest will start accruing on September 1 and payments will re-start in October, when a three-year pandemic pause on federal student loan payments will end.

The conservative-leaning court ruled that the Biden administration overstepped its authority in trying to cancel or reduce student loan debt. The White House plan would have forgiven $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those with incomes below $125,000 a year or households that earn less than $250,000. It would have erased an additional $10,000 for those who received federal Pell Grants to attend college.

Here’s what to know to prepare for the resumption of payments.

HOW SHOULD I GET READY FOR STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS TO RESTART?

Betsy Mayotte, President of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors, encourages people not to make any payments until the pause has officially ended. Instead, she says, put what you would have paid into a savings account.

“Then you’ve maintained the habit of making the payment, but (you’re) earning a little bit of interest as well,” she said. “There’s no reason to send that money to the student loans until the last minute of the 0% interest rate.”

Mayotte recommends borrowers use the loan-simulator tool at StudentAid.gov or the one on TISLA’s website to find a payment plan that best fits their needs. The calculators tell you what your monthly payment would be under each available plan, as well as your long-term costs.

“I really want to emphasize the long-term,” Mayotte said.

Sometimes, when borrowers are in a financial bind, they’ll choose the option with the lowest monthly payment, which can cost more over the life of the loan, Mayotte said. Rather than “setting it and forgetting it,” she encourages borrowers to reevaluate when their financial situation improves.

WHAT’S AN INCOME-DRIVEN REPAYMENT PLAN?

An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based on your income and family size. It takes into account different expenses in your budget, and most federal student loans are eligible for at least one of these types of plans.

Generally, your payment amount under an income-driven repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income. If your income is low enough, your payment could be as low as $0 per month.

If you’d like to repay your federal student loans under an income-driven plan, the first step is to fill out an application through the Federal Student Aid website.

TALK TO AN ADVISER

Fran Gonzales, 27, who is based in Texas, works as a supervisor for a financial institution. She holds $32,000 in public student loans and $40,000 in private student loans. During the payment pause on her public loans, Gonzales said she was able to pay off her credit card debt, buy a new car, and pay down two years’ worth of private loans while saving money. Her private student loan payment has been $500 a month, and her public student loan payment will be $350 per month when it restarts.

Gonzales recommends that anyone with student loans speak with a mentor or financial advisor to educate themselves about their options, as well as making sure they’re in an income-driven repayment plan.

The Federal Student Aid website can help direct you to counselors, as well as organizations like the Student Borrower Protection Center and the Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

“I was the first in my family to go to college, and I could have saved money with grants and scholarships had I known someone who knew about college,” she said. “I could have gone to community college or lived in cheaper housing … It’s a huge financial decision.”

Gonzales received her degree in business marketing and says she was “horrible with finances” until she began working as a loan officer herself.

Both Gonzales’s mother, who works in retail, and her father, who works for the airport, encouraged her to pursue higher education, she said. For her part, Gonzales now tries to inform others with student loans about what they’re taking on and what their choices are.

“Anyone young I cross paths with, I try to educate them.”

CAN I SET UP A PAYMENT PLAN FOR MY STUDENT LOANS?

Yes — payment plans are always available. Even so, some advocates encourage borrowers to wait for a couple more months, since there’s no financial penalty for nonpayment during the pause on payments and interest accrual.

Katherine Welbeck of the Student Borrower Protection Center recommends logging on to your account and making sure you know the name of your servicer, your due date and whether you’re enrolled in the best income-driven repayment plan.

WHAT IF I CAN’T PAY?

Hours after the Supreme Court decision, President Joe Biden announced a risk of default and it won’t hurt their credit scores. But details of this plan have yet to be released.

If you’re in a short-term financial bind, according to Mayotte, you may qualify for deferment or forbearance — allowing you to temporarily suspend payment.

To determine whether deferment or forbearance are good options for you, you can contact your loan servicer. One thing to note: interest still accrues during deferment or forbearance. Both can also impact potential loan forgiveness options. Depending on the conditions of your deferment or forbearance, it may make sense to continue paying the interest during the payment suspension.

HOW CAN I REDUCE COSTS WHEN PAYING OFF MY STUDENT LOANS?

— If you sign up for automatic payments, the servicer takes a quarter of a percent off your interest rate, according to Mayotte.

— Income-driven repayment plans aren’t right for everyone. That said, if you know you will eventually qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, it makes sense to make the lowest monthly payments possible, as the remainder of your debt will be cancelled once that decade of payments is complete.

— Reevaluate your monthly student loan repayment during tax season, when you already have all your financial information in front of you. “Can you afford to increase it? Or do you need to decrease it?” Mayotte said.

— Break up payments into whatever ways work best for you. You could consider two installments per month, instead of one large monthly sum.

ARE STUDENT LOANS FORGIVEN AFTER 10 YEARS?

If you’ve worked for a government agency or a nonprofit, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program offers cancellation after 10 years of regular payments, and some income-driven repayment plans cancel the remainder of a borrower’s debt after 20 to 25 years.

Borrowers should make sure they’re signed up for the best possible income-driven repayment plan to qualify for these programs.

Borrowers who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges may also apply for borrower defense and receive relief.

These programs won’t be affected by the Supreme Court ruling.

IS THERE ANY CHANCE FOR ANOTHER LOAN FORGIVENESS ATTEMPT?

Biden’s administration plans to pursue student debt cancellation with a different legal justification than the one struck down by the Supreme Court. The White House hopes to provide relief instead by using the Higher Education Act, a broad federal law that governs the student loan program. Exactly who would be eligible and how much would be canceled will be decided through a federal rule-making process. But that process can take months, or even longer, so this attempt at cancellation won’t come quickly.

WAIT, CAN HE DO THAT?

Biden’s new legal justification for broad debt cancellation takes the same approach long proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and borrower advocates. It uses a provision of the Higher Education Act allowing the Education Secretary to “compromise, waive or release” student loans. It’s the same basis the Biden administration used last year to forgive $6 billion in loans for borrowers who were deceived by their colleges.

The details of the new forgiveness will be negotiated through a federal rulemaking process the administration launched on Friday. The process, which can take many months, allows the Education Department to write or change federal regulation that carries the weight of law.

But there’s no guarantee the plan could survive another legal challenge. The Higher Education Act has been used to cancel student deb,t but never at this scale. Education lawyers for the Trump administration concluded in 2021 that the education secretary “does not have statutory authority to provide blanket or mass cancellation” under the act.

___

The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

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Here’s how to prepare to start paying back your student loans when the pandemic payment freeze ends