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The ongoing financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people scrambling to handle their monthly bills — including federal student loan payments. However, the good news is that federal student loan payments and interest have been paused by the CARES Act through at least Sept. 30, 2021.
Also keep in mind that current college students can still take out federal student loans to pay for school and might even be eligible for more aid depending on their financial situation.
Here’s what you should know about the effect of COVID-19 on federal student loans:
- How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected federal student loans?
- How does the CARES Act affect student loans?
- How to manage existing student loans
- Private student loans and the CARES Act
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected federal student loans?
The coronavirus has impacted federal student loans for both new and current federal student loan borrowers. If you are looking to take out federal student loans for school or already have federal student loans in repayment, here are some changes to be aware of:
For new federal student loans
If you’re in school or starting college during the 2021-2022 academic year, the process to apply for federal student loans has remained the same:
- Complete the FAFSA. You’ll provide your personal and financial information when you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you’re a dependent student, you’ll generally also need to include information from your parents.
- Accept your financial aid. After your school has reviewed your FAFSA information, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter detailing what federal student loans and other financial aid you’re eligible for. You can then decide which aid you’d like to accept.
- Gap Years and COVID19: What You Need to Know About Student Loans
- Federal vs. Private Student Loans: 5 Differences
For federal student loans in repayment
Payments and interest on federal student loans have been suspended through at least Sept. 30, 2021, by the CARES Act.
Note that eligible borrowers don’t need to do anything to apply for these benefits — servicers of federal student loans have automatically placed qualifying loans in administrative forbearance.
If you have any questions regarding your loans, be sure to contact your servicer.
While having your student loans in forbearance can take pressure off of your finances, keep in mind that it will also extend your repayment date.
If you’re wondering how long it’ll take to pay off your student loans, enter your current loan information into the calculator below to find out. You can use the slider to see how increasing your payments can change the payoff date.
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If you increase your payments by $ monthly on your $ loan at %, you will pay $ a month and pay off your loan by Jan 2021.
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How does the CARES Act affect student loans?
The CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020, outlined the automatic payment and interest suspension for current federal student loan borrowers.
Originally, this suspension was slated to last until Dec. 31, 2020, but it has since been extended twice — first to Jan. 31, 2021, and then to the current end-date of Sept. 30, 2021. It might still be extended in the future.
Here are the federal student loans that are eligible for these benefits under the CARES Act. Keep in mind that to qualify, the loans must be owned by the Department of Education, not a commercial lender as might be the case for certain types of loans.
- Defaulted and non-defaulted Direct Loans
- Defaulted and non-defaulted FFEL Program loans
- Defaulted FFEL Program loans managed by guaranty agencies
- Defaulted and non-defaulted Federal Perkins Loans
- Defaulted HEAL loans
How does the CARES Act affect interest capitalization?
If you were up to date on your loan payments before the CARES Act took effect, then the interest you accrued prior to March 13, 2020, won’t capitalize during the suspension period.
However, you might still have interest capitalize if:
- Your loans were in a type of deferment or forbearance where interest would have normally capitalized before the suspension
- Your loans were in a grace period before the suspension began
You can check with your servicer to see if any interest will capitalize on your loans once this emergency relief period ends.
How to manage existing student loans
If you have federal student loans in repayment, you don’t need to worry about filing anything to have your payments and interest suspended — your servicer will automatically apply these benefits to your loans.
However, in addition to the suspension, there are also other federal repayment options that might help you reduce or postpone your payments, including:
- Deferment: This allows you to temporarily postpone your loan payments. There are several situations that might qualify you for student loan deferment, such as financial hardship, unemployment, returning to school, undergoing cancer treatment, and more. Keep in mind that interest might continue to accrue in a deferment period, depending on the type of loan you have.
- Forbearance: This is another way to pause your payments for a short time. Unlike loans in deferment, loans will always continue to accrue interest while in forbearance. There are a few circumstances that might make you eligible for federal forbearance, including financial hardship, medical expenses, or changes to your employment. Servicers can also grant forbearances on a case-by-case basis.
- Income-driven repayment: Under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, your payment is based on your discretionary income. There are four IDR plans to choose from: Pay As You Earn, Revised Pay As You Earn, Income-Based Repayment, and Income-Contingent Repayment. Keep in mind that depending on the plan, you could have any remaining balance forgiven after 20 to 25 years of on-time payments.
- Graduated repayment plan: Under a graduated plan, your payments start low and increase every two years. This could be helpful if you expect your income to increase in the future.
- Extended repayment plan: If you sign up for an extended repayment plan, you could have up to 25 years to repay your loans, which will likely give you a lower payment. Just keep in mind that choosing a longer repayment term means you’ll pay more in interest over time.
- Federal consolidation: If you consolidate your federal student loans through a Direct Consolidation Loan, you can extend your repayment term up to 30 years. Unlike private student loan consolidation, federal consolidation doesn’t require a credit check. If you’re considering private vs. federal consolidation, keep in mind that while you’ll likely get a reduced monthly payment through federal consolidation, you won’t get a lower interest rate. However, you’ll still have access to all of your federal benefits and protections.
Private student loans and the CARES Act
Unfortunately, private student loans don’t qualify for CARES Act benefits. But you do have other options. For example, if you refinance your private student loans, you might be able to:
- Get a lower interest rate, which could save you money on interest and potentially help you pay off your loans faster
- Opt for a longer repayment period, which could reduce your monthly payment and lessen the strain on your budget
To qualify for refinancing, you’ll typically need good credit and verifiable income. While you might be able to refinance student loans with bad credit through certain lenders, you’ll likely end up with a higher interest rate compared to the rates offered to borrowers with good credit.
If you’re struggling to get approved for refinancing, consider applying with a cosigner. Even if you don’t need a cosigner to qualify, having one might get you a better rate than you’d get on your own.
If you decide to refinance your student loans, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.
|Lender||Fixed rates from (APR)||Variable rates from (APR)||Loan terms (years)||Loan amounts|
|4.54%+||N/A||10, 15, 20||$7,500 up to up to $200,000
(larger balances require special approval)
|2.15%+||1.87%+||5, 7, 10, 15, 20||$10,000 up to $250,000
(depending on degree)
|2.39%+<sup1||2.24%+1||5, 7, 10, 15, 20||$10,000 to $500,000
(depending on degree and loan type)
|2.99%+2||2.94%+2||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20||$5,000 to $300,000
(depending on degree type)
|2.16%+||2.11%+||5, 7, 10, 15, 20||$5,000 to $500,000|
|2.58%+3||2.39%+||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20||Minimum of $15,000|
|3.47%+4||2.42%+||5, 10, 15, 20||$5,000 - $250,000|
|2.74%+5||N/A||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20||Up to $300,000|
|3.05%+||3.05%+||7, 10, 15||$10,000 up to the total amount of qualified education debt|
|2.89%+||N/A||5, 8, 12, 15||$7,500 to $300,000|
|3.29%+||N/A||5, 10, 15||$7,500 up to $250,000
(depending on highest degree earned)
|2.74%+6||2.25%6||5, 7, 10, 15, 20||$5,000 up to the full balance of your qualified education loans|
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All APRs reflect autopay and loyalty discounts where available | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2College Ave Disclosures | 3 ELFI Disclosures | 4INvestEd Disclosures | 5ISL Education Lending Disclosures | 6SoFi Disclosures