With COVID-19 disrupting jobs, income, and the financial stability of millions of people in the U.S., many have found they’re struggling to keep up with student loan payments.
For borrowers with private student loans, figuring out how to get help may be more confusing. Private student loan forbearance and relief for coronavirus-related hardship are offered at each lender’s discretion.
One category of private loan holders will get government assistance. On March 31, 2021, the Department of Education announced it will grant a waiver on interest and payments through the end of September 2021 to anyone with a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL), extending back to March 13, 2020. Penalties and interest will be removed and anyone who made payments can ask for a refund. Defaulted loans will be restored to good status, credit bureaus notified to remove any black marks, and any wages or tax refunds garnished will be returned.
Here’s a look at other private student loan relief and coronavirus assistance borrowers might be able to claim.
Private Student Loan Lenders Offering Relief Options
The good news is that most private student lenders and servicers have emergency programs to assist borrowers through the current financial crisis.
Many borrowers can access emergency or disaster forbearance specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. These options may pause payments for at least one month and often more, depending on the lender’s guidelines and program.
Some private lenders offer other standard forbearance and deferment options on top of coronavirus forbearance. Hardship forbearance is a more common private student loan benefit that can help borrowers facing a job loss or drop in income. Some lenders also offer deferment for active-duty military service or for those re-enrolling in college.
Forbearance can increase your total student loan costs. Student loan interest will still accrue during forbearance on private student loans, which will need to be repaid after the forbearance period ends.
Other potential forms of private student loan assistance include modified payments or interest rates. Some lenders can provide a temporary interest rate discount or accept interest-only payments.
All of these coronavirus private student loan relief programs require borrowers to request or apply for this relief and meet eligibility requirements. Contact your lender or servicer directly to discuss your situation and ask what student loan relief you might be eligible for. Below, we’ve outlined the coronavirus student loan relief offered by some major private lenders.
In response to the pandemic, Ascent announced a new forbearance option for natural disasters or declared emergencies. Borrowers can choose to forbear payments for up to three months for reasons related to the pandemic. Ascent also offers four months of forbearance for temporary financial hardships. Contact Launch Servicing for help pausing payments.
Citibank states on its site that it is offering COVID-19 assistance. It doesn’t provide details on its forbearance options but directs borrowers to contact its servicer, Firstmark Services, at 1-888-538-7378 for help.
Citizens Bank offers three months of COVID-19 emergency loan forbearance, with the option to request two more three-month forbearance periods if you continue to experience financial hardship. To request forbearance, contact Citizens Bank’s student loan servicer, Firstmark Services, at 1-866-259-3767. Pandemic-specific forbearance won’t count toward the total forbearance limit on Citizens Bank student loans.
Borrowers unable to make monthly payments on College Ave student loans due to COVID-19 might be able to get a disaster forbearance. College Ave may also grant a hardship forbearance in three- or six-month increments (up to a 12-month limit). College Ave directs borrowers to call 1-844-803-0736 to request this type of assistance.
CommonBond’s natural disaster forbearance offers relief for borrowers during the coronavirus pandemic. CommonBond grants this forbearance on a month-to-month basis with no stated time limit. It also won’t count toward the lender’s limits on standard forbearance, and accrued interest is not capitalized (added to the loan’s principal). You can complete a forbearance request form on CommonBond’s site to apply.
Discover will work with qualified student loan borrowers to manage payments if they’re experiencing financial hardship. Eligible borrowers may postpone loan payments for up to 12 months during the term of their loan, but the 12 months can not be consecutive. Student loan borrowers can call 1-800-STUDENT (1-800-788-3368).
Earnest offers coronavirus student loan repayment assistance through a few options. Short-term coronavirus forbearance brings eligible loans current if you’re behind on payments and postpones payments for at least one month. Interest accrues during forbearance but won’t capitalize once it ends. Contact Earnest through the form on its site or by phone at 1-888-601-2801 to discuss your forbearance options.
Borrowers can request a three-month forbearance on Laurel Road student loans if their incomes are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the option to request a three-month extension. Interest accrues during forbearance but won’t capitalize. Contact Laurel Road’s servicer MOHELA at 1-877-292-6845.
For Navient private student loans, the servicer offers a short-term forbearance option that brings loan accounts current and pauses payments for at least one month. Interest accrues but doesn’t capitalize, and this short-term forbearance won’t count toward Navient’s general forbearance options. Navient also provides other options that can lower monthly payments, such as a temporary rate reduction, interest-only payments, or extended repayment. Contact Navient by phone at 1-888-272-5543 to discuss your options.
Several PNC hardship assistance programs can help its customers through COVID-related setbacks. This lender does not offer details of its student loan hardship assistance but directs PNC student loan borrowers to call 1-800-233-0557.
Sallie Mae does have assistance options available for borrowers having difficulties keeping up with payments. However, it doesn’t list any details, instead directing borrowers to reach out to Sallie Mae through online chat or by phone at 1-833-558-6577 (or 1-877-604-8834 if your account is past due).
You can apply to defer payments for 60 days (with an optional 30-day extension) through SoFi’s COVID-19 forbearance. Log into your account with MOHELA, SoFi’s servicer, and complete the forbearance request form.
SoFi also offers an Unemployment Protection Program that provides three months of forbearance at a time, up to 12 months, if you lose your job through no fault of your own.
Wells Fargo exited the student loan business in January 2021. All existing loans are now serviced by Firstmark Services, a division of Nelnet.
Will Deferred Student Loan Payments Negatively Impact Your Credit Score?
Making on-time payments is central to building and maintaining good credit. So you might wonder how taking a break from payments through deferment or forbearance will affect your credit.
Fortunately, a pause in payments due to a forbearance or deferral agreement won’t damage your credit. Your student loan account will remain listed on your credit report as open and in good standing.
And if you’re in danger of missing student loan payments, forbearance or deferment could protect your credit. Late payments or delinquencies will be reported and that can negatively impact your credit. Applying for forbearance or deferment can help you avoid missed payments and damage to your credit.
If you apply for private student loan forbearance, don’t stop making payments and risk missing a payment. Continue scheduled payments until your request is approved and you receive further details about the terms of the forbearance.
Should You Refinance Private Student Loans Right Now?
When experiencing significant financial hardship, reaching out to your current lender should be a first step. It can offer immediate relief and assistance for burdensome private student loans.
But if you’re more financially stable or dissatisfied with your current lender, another option to consider right now is refinancing private student loans. Current student loan rates are lower than they’ve been in recent years, which means that many borrowers could lower monthly payments and save on interest by refinancing.
This step also gives you a chance to reset your loan term and repayment schedule. Choosing a longer loan term can also lower your monthly payments.
Keep in mind that choosing a longer repayment will also mean it’ll take longer to pay off this debt and you might face higher total costs over the life of the loan.
Refinancing private student loans won’t be right for every borrower, however. If you’ve had a recent financial hardship, such as a drop in income or job loss, that could make it harder to qualify for a new loan. You’ll also need good credit or potentially a co-signer to get approved to refinance student loans and be offered favorable rates. If you’ve missed payments or had other issues with existing debt, this could hurt your chances of getting a good deal.
Refinancing your private student loans may be a good idea, but think twice before refinancing federal student loans. Refinancing federal student loans during COVID-19 will mean losing important benefits and protections, including coronavirus student loan relief, such as no payments and no interest through at least Sept. 30, 2021.
- Private student loan assistance is offered at the discretion of the lender, and options for forbearance, deferment, or other relief vary. Still, most lenders are extending coronavirus relief for private student loans, so reach out to yours to discuss options.
- Borrowers can request private student loan forbearance to pause payments. Forbearance won’t impact your credit, but interest will still accrue during this period of nonpayment.
- If you have a stable income and good credit, refinancing private student loans could be an option to lower interest rates and monthly payments.
- Borrowers who also have federal student debt can learn about coronavirus student loan relief to stay up to date.