The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause economic uncertainty. To provide economic relief to student loan borrowers, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act temporarily paused payments on federal student loans through Sept. 30, 2020. On Aug. 8, 2020, and again on Dec. 4, 2020, at the direction of President Donald Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos extended the payment pause. And on Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden extended student loan forbearance until at least Sept. 30, 2021.
- Payments on federal student loans owned by the Department of Education (DOE) are suspended through Sept. 30, 2021.
- No interest will accrue on federal student loans through that date.
- You do not need to take any action to put your loans into forbearance or stop making payments.
Federal Student Loan Forbearance Extension: What It Means
The CARES Act put federal student loans into automatic administrative forbearance, set interest rates at 0%, and suspended collections on defaulted loans. The moratorium on interest and payments was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2020.
However, President Trump issued executive orders on Aug. 8, 2020, and Dec. 4, 2020, that continued these relief policies for federal loans owned by the DOE through Jan. 31, 2021. The DOE acted on the president's order and suspended payments and interest for eligible federal student loans with no action required on the part of borrowers.
On Jan. 20, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order extending loan forbearance through Sept. 30, 2021.
You have the option to voluntarily continue making loan payments during forbearance. If you make payments during the forbearance period, the entire payment will go to reducing the principal balance on your loan once any interest that accrued before March 13, 2020, is paid. Making payments now can help you reduce your loan balance faster since the full amount you pay will go toward reducing your loan balance.
Which Federal Student Loans Qualify?
The pause on payments, collections, and interest apply only to certain loans from the Department of Education:
- Direct loans, including defaulted and non-defaulted loans
- FFEL program loans, including defaulted and non-defaulted loans
- Federal Perkins loans, including defaulted and non-defaulted loans
- Defaulted HEAL loans
However, HEAL Loans that commercial lenders own are not eligible for this program, nor are Perkins loans owned by the school you attended.
On March 31, 2021, the DOE expanded its forbearance relief through Sept. 30, 2021, to include FFEL loans owned by private parties, retroactive to March 13, 2020. This means if the borrower made payments during the forbearance period they can request a refund. Also, any wages or tax refunds garnished by the loan owner will be returned to the borrower. The loans will be restored to good status and credit bureaus notified to remove any black marks for delinquency from your credit report.
You can find out which loans you have by logging into your Federal Student Aid account. Select the relevant loans from your dashboard and click on "View Details" to see if the DOE owns the loan. If it does, the servicer's name will start with DEPT OF ED.
In most cases, interest your loans accrued before March 13, 2020, will not capitalize. If you were already on a deferment or forbearance, interest accrued will capitalize after your forbearance ends, as will interest accrued if you were in your grace period.
What Are My Relief Options If I Don't Have Qualifying Loans?
If you do not have qualifying loans, your servicer is likely offering various forms of financial relief. Some of your options include:
- Requesting administrative forbearance directly with your loan servicer
- Determining if you qualify for economic hardship deferment or an unemployment deferment, as both options could result in interest on some loans being subsidized
- Refinancing student loans, although this option is best for private student loans as refinancing federal loans would mean giving up important borrower benefits
If you put non-DOE loans into forbearance, your loans will continue accruing interest. You will have a larger balance to repay once your payments resume.
How Will I Know When to Start Making Payments Again?
Your loan servicer should notify you via email or mail before you need to start making loan payments again. Also, you can log into your online account with your loan servicer at any time to see your loan status and to determine if you have a payment due.
However, several major loan servicers that work with the Department of Education have urged their borrowers to keep up-to-date on coronavirus relief by regularly visiting the Federal Student Aid’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page at StudentAid.gov/coronavirus.
This page provides updated details on the current policies that are in place. Also, the page is meant to be your primary source for announcements about your loans, including details about whether the payment moratorium will be extended or when loan payments will resume.
Loan servicers are companies that oversee your federal student loan repayment. You can find out who your loan servicer is by contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-433-3243 or by visiting the National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS).