When Do I Need to Start Making Federal Student Loan Payments Again?

A Guide to When You'll Need to Begin Repaying Your Federal Student Loans

A student loan borrower checks her forbearance status.

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To provide economic relief to student loan borrowers, payments on federal student loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education are suspended through January 31, 2022.

Here's how the timeline has evolved. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act temporarily paused payments on federal student loans through September 30, 2020. On August 8, 2020, and again on December 4, 2020, President Donald Trump directed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to extend the payment pause.

On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden extended student loan forbearance until at least September 30, 2021. On August 6, 2021, the Department of Education announced that the final extension of the payment pause would go through January 31, 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • Payments on federal student loans owned by the Department of Education are suspended through January 31, 2022.
  • 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 did three things for federal student loans:

  • Put loans into automatic administrative forbearance
  • Set interest rates at 0%
  • Suspended collections on defaulted loans

The moratorium on interest and payments was set to expire on September 30, 2020.

President Trump issued executive orders on August 8, 2020, and December 4, 2020, that continued these relief policies for federal loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education through January 31, 2021. The Department 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 January 20, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order extending loan forbearance through September 30, 2021. A final extension was issued in August 2021, putting the payment pause in place until January 31, 2022.

You have the option to continue making loan payments during forbearance. If you choose to do so, the entire payment will go toward reducing the principal balance on your loan after any interest that accrued before March 13, 2020, is paid.

Making payments now can help you reduce your loan balance more quickly, 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 applies 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. Perkins loans owned by the school you attended are not paused either.

On March 31, 2021, the Department of Education expanded its forbearance relief through September 30, 2021, to include FFEL loans owned by private parties, retroactive to March 13, 2020, which means that if the borrower made payments during the forbearance period, they can request a refund.

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 will be 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 whether the Department of Education owns the loan. If it does, the servicer's name will start with "DEPT OF ED."

In most cases, interest that 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 may offer other forms of financial relief. Some of your options include:

  • Requesting administrative forbearance directly with your loan servicer
  • Determining whether you qualify for economic hardship deferment or an unemployment deferment (both options could result in interest on some loans being subsidized)
  • Refinancing student loans, though this option is best for private student loans (refinancing federal loans would mean giving up important borrower benefits)

If you put non-federal 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. You can log into your online account with your loan servicer at any time to see your loan status and to determine whether you have a payment due.

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 800-433-3243 or by visiting the National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS).

However, several major loan servicers that work with the Department of Education have urged their borrowers to keep current on coronavirus relief. You can do that 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. It also is meant to be your primary source for announcements about your loans. It will provide details on whether the payment moratorium will be extended and when loan payments will resume.