Some states have reached deals with various servicers to help borrowers who've been affected by the coronavirus but who aren't covered by the federal student loan payment suspension. And if you live in a state that's not a party to such an agreement, most private student loan lenders offer payment help to borrowers who're facing a financial hardship due to the COVID-19 national emergency.
The payment pause for federal student loans applies to Federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs), but only FFELs that the U.S. Department of Education owns, not nondefaulted FFELs that other entities hold. (Borrowers with defaulted FFELs, including FFELs held by guaranty agencies, get a 0% interest rate and a pause on collection actions.) Borrowers with Perkins Loans held by entities other than the Department of Education and nondefaulted HEAL loans also aren't covered. Private student loan borrowers don't get relief either.
Because the suspension under federal law doesn't cover private student loans or nondefaulted commercially-held federal loans, some states are filling in this gap. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, all reached agreements with specific student loan servicers to offer forbearances of at least 90 days for private student loans and commercially-held federal loans. If you live in one of these states and have a participating servicer (check the links above to get information about the different state agreements), you might be eligible for this relief. As part of the agreements, servicers have also consented to waive late fees, temporarily stop negative credit reporting, and pause debt-collection lawsuits.
Don't just stop making your payments, though. You have to contact your student loan servicer to request help; explain your financial situation and how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted you.
Other states have temporarily suspended wage garnishment actions or suspended all collection actions on debts, including student loans. Check the official governor's website in your state to find out if your state has taken either of these or other steps to help student loan borrowers. Look for press releases, executive orders, and official proclamations related to COVID-19.
If you live in a state or have a servicer that isn't part of a student loan agreement, private student loan lenders typically offer assistance options, like short-term forbearances, fee waivers, lower interest rates, and interest-only payments. Contact your servicer to find out what alternatives the lender offers. Before you agree to a particular relief option, verify the terms, such as whether you'll have to pay fees and exactly how long the program lasts. Make sure you get this information in writing before you enroll in the program. Then, get confirmation that you're enrolled.
Also, be aware that if you have good credit, you might be able to refinance your loans with a new lender. If you can lower your current interest rate, you might be able to save a substantial amount of money. Your new lender might also offer more alternatives than your current lender if you eventually have trouble making the payments.
If you live in a state with relief options but have difficulty getting assistance from your servicer, contact your state Attorney General's office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also, your state could have a consumer protection office, department of banking, or student loan advocate (typically called an "ombudsman") who might be able to help you.