How to Manage Your Federal Student Loans During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Learn what to do if you’re having trouble paying your federal student loans due to COVID-19.

The federal government is taking steps to help student loan borrowers during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the federal stimulus plan, most student loan payments are suspended until September 30, 2020, with no penalty, and interest won't accrue during this time. A presidential memorandum extended the suspension of federal student loan payments through December 31, 2020, and extends the interest waiver through this date, too.

If this temporary reprieve isn’t enough, you might be able to get a more permanent solution by requesting a deferment or forbearance, changing your repayment plan, or looking into whether you might qualify for loan forgiveness.

Federal Student Loan Payments Suspended During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, suspends payments on federal student loans held by the U.S. Department of Education for six months, until September 30, 2020. The president's directive extended this benefit through December 31, 2020.

Neither the CARES Act, nor the memorandum, however, provide for student loan forgiveness. So, the government won't make your student loan payments during this period—it's more like a pause in your repayment period.

No Interest Accrual

The CARES Act, as well as the memorandum, state that interest won't accrue on a loan for which payments were suspended. You also won't be charged late fees or penalties for nonpayment.

Which Loans Qualify for Relief

The CARES Act doesn't provide relief for borrowers who have FFEL-program loans or Perkins loans that aren't held by the U.S. Department of Education, nor does it provide any relief for private student loan borrowers. The memorandum doesn’t specify what student loans are covered. But it does state that it is an "extension" of existing CARES protections—not an expansion—so the same limitations on covered loans likely apply.

Collection Actions, Wage Garnishments, Treasury Offsets, Credit Reporting

The CARES Act also stops collection actions, wage garnishments, and Treasury offsets, and prohibits negative credit reporting during the payment suspension. (According to a class-action lawsuit, though, tax refund offsets and garnishments are allegedly still happening.)

The president’s memorandum doesn’t mention a prohibition on student loan debt collection, garnishments, or tax refund offsets. But on August 21, 2020, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education will fully implement the president’s executive memorandum on student loans by automatically pausing payments for federally-backed student loans and reducing interest rates to 0% until the end of the year. The Department also said it will continue the policy of halting collections on defaulted federally-held student debt, stopping wage garnishments, and discontinuing the seizure of tax refunds and Social Security benefits.

How Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Loan Rehabilitation Are Affected

Payments suspended under the CARES Act and memorandum will still count as qualifying payments for the purposes of student loan forgiveness programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Keep in mind that if you’re hoping to qualify for the PSLF program, you should complete and submit an Employment Certification Form to the Department of Education annually and whenever you change employers to make sure you’re on track to receive forgiveness. You can also use this tool to get assistance in filling out the required forgiveness forms. Also, borrowers in default will have their suspended payments count towards the months needed for loan rehabilitation.

What Happens If You Keep Making Payments

You can choose to continue to make your payments. Because the interest is set at 0% during this time, the full amount of the payments will go toward paying down the principal that’s due on the loan. So, making payments during the suspension is a good opportunity to reduce your overall student loan balance, if you can afford to keep paying.

Long-Term Options for Managing Your Debt

If you’re worried about making your federal student loan payments beyond the suspension, consider applying for a deferment or forbearance, changing your repayment plan, or finding out whether you might qualify for loan forgiveness.

Applying for a Deferment

With a deferment, your loan payments are postponed for a set period of time—up to three years in the case of an economic hardship. No interest accrues on subsidized loans, including Federal Perkins Loans, Direct Subsidized Loans, Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, the subsidized portion of Direct Consolidation Loans, and the subsidized portion of FFEL Consolidation Loans.

Requesting a Forbearance

With a forbearance, your loan payments are postponed or reduced and interest normally continues to accrue. (But interest won’t get tacked on to your loan when the interest waiver is in effect.)

Changing Your Repayment Plan

You could also find out if you qualify for another repayment plan that will reduce your monthly payments. Income-driven repayment plans, like the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE), Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR), and Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan, are available for federal student loans. If you’re eligible, your monthly payment is based on 10-20% of your discretionary income, and the remaining balance is forgiven after you make 20-25 years of payments.

While many repayment options are available to federal student loan borrowers, the trick is figuring out which you can choose from and, of those, which is best for your situation. To find out which types of loans qualify for each of the repayment options, and learn about eligibility criteria, see the U.S. Department of Education’s website. To apply for a different repayment plan, go to, click on “Apply Now,” and then start the application by clicking on the button next to “Recalculate my monthly payment.”

Looking Into Student Loan Forgiveness

If you’re eligible, you can eliminate your federal student loans through a loan cancellation program, like PSLF or borrower defense to repayment. To qualify for a particular program, you'll have to meet specific criteria, take certain steps, and meet various conditions.

Getting Help With Your Federal Student Loans

To learn more about repayment options for federal student loans during the coronavirus national emergency, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid coronavirus website. You can also call your loan servicer. If you have a Federal Perkins Loan, contact your school.

To get assistance in dealing with your servicer or to get help understanding the different repayment, deferment, forbearance, and forgiveness options for federal student loans, consider consulting with a student loan attorney or debt negotiation attorney.

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