While some form of student loan forgiveness is on the Biden presidency’s agenda, it remains to be seen exactly how much will be forgiven. Biden has expressed support for canceling up to $10,000 in student loans for qualified borrowers, while Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have urged the President to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt.
Proponents of student loan cancellation argue that forgiving federal student loans is possible through executive order and that doing so would boost the economy and provide relief for millions of struggling Americans.
But nothing in life is certain, so you shouldn’t just sit around and wait for your loans to be forgiven. Let’s talk about what you can do in the meantime.
1. Remember that student loan payments and interest are paused until at least September
As part of the CARES act passed in March of 2020, federal student loans entered administrative forbearance due to the coronavirus pandemic. In January of 2021, these emergency relief measures were extended until at least September 30, 2021. During administrative forbearance, payments on student loans are paused, loans do not accumulate interest, and collections have been stopped on defaulted loans.
2. Decide whether or not you want to make payments during the suspension
Whether or not you plan to save or pay off your student loans depends on your particular situation. If you’ve been affected financially by the pandemic, the pause in payments is likely a welcome relief. Instead of worrying about making monthly student loan payments, you can focus your finances on building up a safety net, paying off other high-interest debt, or affording necessary expenses.
On the other hand, if you’ve been able to weather the pandemic relatively unscathed when it comes to your finances, you might want to consider using this opportunity to pay down your debt faster while the loans are at a 0% interest rate. That said, there’s no guarantee that some form of student loan forgiveness won’t be implemented in the future, so think carefully before funneling your savings into your student loans. Depending on your rates, investing extra funds may also generate a better return than paying off loans early.
3. Ask for a refund if you’ve already made payments and are now struggling financially
One thing many borrowers may not be aware of is that it’s possible to receive a refund for any payments made after March of 2020 on qualifying federal student loans. If you’ve been negatively affected by the pandemic and could use the extra funds for emergency expenses, you can contact your lender in order to receive a refund on any payments made after administrative forbearance went into effect.
4. Consider applying for an income-driven repayment plan
In many cases, individuals with student loans opt for a standard repayment plan without fully understanding their options. The standard repayment plan, which spreads student loan payments out in equal installments over the course of ten years, can result in prohibitively expensive monthly payments for graduates with outsized debt burdens.
Some borrowers may be able to lower their monthly payments by signing up for an income-driven repayment plan. These plans base your monthly loan payment on your income, allowing borrowers with low incomes to make smaller payments each month on their loans. Income-driven repayment plans include the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE), the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE), the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR), and the Income Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR).
Depending on the plan, income-driven plans allow you to pay 10%, 15%, or 20% of your discretionary income toward student loans each month. (Biden has proposed lowering payments to 5%). Your discretionary income is based on the money you have leftover after 1.5 times the federal poverty guidelines for your location has been subtracted from your adjusted gross income. After 20 years of payments on an income-driven plan, the remaining balance on your student loans will be forgiven.
5. See if you qualify for existing debt forgiveness policies
While President Biden has yet to enact the sweeping student debt cancellation that would affect millions of borrowers, there are still a few ways you may be able to qualify for student loan forgiveness or discharge.
Most notably, Biden has recently canceled student loans for borrowers with a total and permanent disability. This means that if you meet the qualifications for permanent disability, you may be eligible for a discharge of your federal student loans.
Biden has also expanded the number of borrowers who qualify for student loan forgiveness through Closed School discharge and Borrower’s Defense discharge policies. If you have student loans from a school that closed while you were enrolled or soon after you withdrew, you may be able to have all of your federal student loans discharged. Similarly, if the institution you attended engaged in misleading or fraudulent practices, some or all of your student loans may be able to be discharged.
Finally, Biden has plans to expand Public Service Loan Forgiveness to additional borrowers. Under the current rules, borrowers may be eligible for forgiveness after ten years of qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a government or nonprofit employer. However, only a little over 1% of applicants have been approved for PSLF since the program’s start. Biden has proposed relaxing the requirements for PSLF in order to make it easier to qualify.
6. Consider different strategies for federal and private student loans
Federal student loans are issued by the government, while private student loans are issued by lenders like banks and credit unions. So far, the conversation surrounding potential student debt forgiveness has been focused solely on federal student loans. This is because federal student loan debt can be canceled through an executive order from the President or through legislation.
In contrast, private student loans are more difficult for the government to cancel. While some lenders have offered to pause payments on private student loans during the pandemic, private student loans also don’t qualify for administrative forbearance.
If you’re struggling to manage debt from private student loans, refinancing your loans may help you to lower your interest rate and pay off your loans faster.
7. Don’t ignore your student debt
Administrative forbearance on student loans lasts until at least September and may be extended further. That said, just because payments are paused doesn’t mean you should ignore your student debt. Instead, you should come up with an intentional plan for how you want to manage your debt during and after the payment suspension.
For some people, that may mean pausing monthly payments for the duration of the suspension, then applying for an income-driven repayment plan when monthly payments resume. For others, the 0% interest rates may represent a chance to pay off your debt faster.
Whatever strategy you decide to adopt when it comes to your student loans, it’s important to understand the pros and cons and be intentional about your decision. If you opt to pause payments or apply for an income-driven plan, you should know that it may take longer to pay off your loans, and you may end up paying more in interest over time.
If you decide to take advantage of the low interest rates in order to pay down debt faster, it’s important to be aware that some amount of debt may be forgiven in the future.
8. Make your voice heard
Struggling with student debt and frustrated with your current options? Politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer are encouraging Americans to make their voices heard. Here are a few ways to share your opinions on student debt cancellation with President Biden:
- By email – You can email the White House using this form.
- By phone – You can reach them by phone at 202-456-1111.
- By letter – You can mail a letter to:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
You can also contact local representatives, Senators, and members of Congress about student debt cancellation.
Student debt cancellation has again made headlines in recent weeks as individuals, organizations, and elected officials urge President Biden to consider enacting sweeping student debt cancellation measures. While the Biden administration has not committed to the more expansive proposals favored by politicians like Warren and Schumer, it also hasn’t ruled them out.
If you have opinions about student debt cancellation, you should consider contacting your elected officials in order to make your voice heard.