If you’re not sure what you’re going to do when federal student loan payments resume on May 1, 2022, you’re not alone. It’s been almost two years since Congress passed the CARES Act— a massive coronavirus aid package—and suspended payments to offer instant student loan relief. Millions of Americans have used the break for much-needed cash to cover essentials during the national emergency, or to pay off other debts.
Both former President Trump and President Biden extended the payment pause, but the Biden Administration announced the final extension in August and experts agree it’s unlikely it will be extended any further, according to Forbes.
Earnest surveyed private and federal student loan borrowers to find out how the pandemic payment freeze has affected their finances and what they’re planning to do next.
Where Are Most People Starting From?
We found that about a third of our survey respondents have a mix of both federal and private student loans. Just under two-thirds have relied exclusively on loans from the U.S. Department of Education, such as Perkins loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), and Direct Loans.
People’s current loan balances range widely from a few thousand dollars to over $190,000. About 59.4 percent of people said they have more than $30,000 in student loan debt, and nearly 39 percent are paying down loan balances totaling over $60,000.
Once the CARES Act’s deferment period expires, federal student loans will go back to whatever interest rates they were before the pandemic, even though current interest rates on new loans are at historic lows. More than a third of survey respondents reported feeling at least somewhat overwhelmed by the expiration of the payment suspension, and about 45 percent of people said they don’t have a plan in place to achieve their personal finance goals.
If you’re overwhelmed, take a breath—it’s normal. And, you have options. For starters, you can take a close look at your spending habits from the past two years and rework your budget to better meet your goals. You can see some of our new budgeting suggestions here.
The CARES Act and the student loan payment pause
Everyone we surveyed benefitted from the CARES Act’s administrative forbearance period, though people reported taking advantage of it in different ways:
- 35 percent of people continued to make payments during the suspension
- 22 percent said they invested the money they would have spent on student loan payments
- 36 percent of people said they worked toward paying off other debts
- 51 percent of respondents said they put their student loan money toward groceries and other essentials
The CARES Act and Refinancing
Interest rates for loans taken out today may be much lower for many people than the rates at which their federal loans were financed. So, many people are considering working with a private lender to refinance their federal debt, like this woman who refinanced her Federal student loans during the payment pause.
The vast majority of survey respondents said they are already planning to refinance their loans once the CARES Act expires or are considering doing so. About 44 percent said they aren’t sure yet, and 35 percent said they do not plan to refinance. Refinancing with a private lender means you’ll lose all debt relief protections the federal government offers to borrowers. Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, for example, help you lower your payments temporarily when you’re earning a lower salary. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) offers debt forgiveness for people in qualifying careers.
Refinancing your loans with a private student loan servicer like Earnest may lower your interest rates and your monthly payments and help you get out of debt faster.
If you’re curious, you can check your rate in 2 minutes without any impact to your credit score. You’ll be able to understand your potential savings before you make any decisions.
Here’s a list of benefits you get with Earnest:
- Low rates
- Set a new payoff date and get your ideal monthly payment
- Pick from 4 payment options
The CARES Act and Student Loan Forgiveness
During the 2020 election season, many Democrats campaigned on platforms promising to cancel student debt, which would provide instant forgiveness to millions of borrowers with tens of thousands of dollars of debt from higher education. Media coverage of such promises has made many people hesitant to refinance, concerned they might miss out if they refinance with a private lender:
Have discussions about potential student loan forgiveness in the media had an impact on your decision to refinance?
Yes, it’s making me want to postpone my plans to refinance: 40.58%
Yes, I no longer want to refinance my federal loans because of it:< 6.28%
However, the White House has made no executive orders to cancel debt, nor have any such bills made significant headway in the House or Senate.
Unless you work in a PSLF-qualifying career, it unfortunately seems like student debt cancellation is unlikely at least in the short-term. You can learn more about PSLF and other federal student aid programs at studentaid.gov.
The CARES Act helped millions of people stay afloat during the pandemic by offering nearly two years of relief from federal student loan payments. Now that the payment pause is ending, you may find it challenging to rearrange your budget to fit those payments back in.
If you’re struggling to figure it out, you’re not alone—most people are having to make significant changes to their finances to work student loans back in. There’s also help available if your payments are too high or you’re not able to start paying again. You can explore your options for income-based repayment plans, consolidation, and forbearance at studentaid.gov.
Refinancing with Earnest can also be a long-term solution to help you pay off your debt faster at a lower interest rate, with flexibility that goes beyond the industry standard for private lenders. Take two minutes today to check your rate.
AN UPDATED NOTE FOR BORROWERS WITH FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS: On Aug. 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education announced a final extension of the student loan payment pause until May 1, 2022. We want Earnest customers to explore all their options before applying to refinance their federal student loans. Refinancing a federal student loan with a private lender means you will no longer have access to benefits of your federal loans, including the temporary 0% interest rate and suspension of payments effective through May 1, 2022 on federally held loans, or any other relief measures implemented for federal loans to address the COVID-19 crisis. Please carefully review your current and potential benefits with your federal loan servicer before refinancing.
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