As the coronavirus pandemic carries on and the economy recovers, some U.S. workers still face financial uncertainty.
For those struggling to keep up with their debt, there are relief options available from banks, lenders and the federal government. If you can’t pay your loans or soon won’t be able to, one of these programs may be able to help.
Federal student loans
In August, the U.S. Department of Education extended the federal student loan payment pause through Jan. 31, 2022. The pause was set to expire Sept. 30, 2021, and the administration has made it clear that this is the last extension. For an extra four months, federal student loan borrowers and borrowers with defaulted Federal Family Education Loan Program loans can take advantage of several relief measures
Interest waiver: Federal student loan interest rates will remain at 0% through the end of January. Borrowers don’t need to take any action to put this into place. However, check your student loan statements each month to ensure that interest isn’t charged on your federal loans through January.
Payment suspension: Federal student loan borrowers also have extended relief when it comes to monthly student loan payments. Payments on Direct Loans owned by the Department of Education are paused until Jan. 31. This payment suspension is also automatic.
This suspension does not make your student loan debt disappear, but it does allow you to save on monthly payments through January. If you’re working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you will continue to receive credit during the suspension period if you work full time for a qualifying employer.
Borrowers can also choose to continue making payments during this temporary deferment. If you continue regularly scheduled student loan payments, the entire payment will be applied to your principal balance, which helps you pay down the debt faster.
If you use automatic payments, these may have been automatically suspended at the start of the deferment period. Contact your servicer to start automatic payments again.
Suspended collections activities: Collections activities for federal student loans have been paused since March 2020, and defaulted loans from the Federal Family Education Loan Program were added to the list of eligible loans in March 2021. Borrowers who have defaulted on FFEL loans since March 13, 2020, will have their seized wages and tax returns automatically restored, have their defaulted accounts set to good standing and have refunds offered on voluntary payments made since that date until Jan. 31.
Private student loans
Private student loan debt isn’t covered under the presidential action — there are no government protections that require private lenders to waive interest or defer payments for borrowers.
However, your private lender might offer a hardship relief program or temporary student loan forbearance. For example, Earnest offers a short-term student loan forbearance for eligible borrowers upon request.
If you can’t pay your private student loans because the pandemic has affected your income, reach out to your lender immediately. Eligibility for hardship relief programs varies among lenders.
Many banks are stepping up to waive fees and help consumers stay on track with their loans despite losses in income. For example, Marcus by Goldman Sachs is letting customers defer payments on their personal loans for one month without accruing interest.
If you’re unsure if your lender is offering assistance on personal loans, contact it directly to ask. New programs may be announced on a rolling basis, so regularly check to see if help is available.
Home equity loans
Homeowners with home equity loans should reach out to their lenders if payments can’t be made on time. Some financial institutions are offering temporary deferment on home equity loans for those who are eligible.
For example, Bank of America is offering a three-month or longer payment deferment if your income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re struggling to stay on top of your home equity loan, call your lender to learn more about your options.
Other steps you could take
Talking with your lender as soon as possible is one of the most effective ways to get immediate payment relief during financial hardship. In addition to setting up payment deferment or forbearance, there are a few other steps you can take if you can’t pay your loans:
Apply for unemployment benefits: The March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act increases the total number of weeks that individuals can collect unemployment benefits to 79 weeks.
Cut discretionary spending: Review all of your nonessential spending, like dining out, shopping and streaming subscriptions. Find areas that can be cut from your monthly budget to free up money for loan payments.
Refinance your loans: If you have strong credit, you might be eligible for current low interest rates. Refinancing can help reduce your interest rate and lower your monthly payment.
Consider a coronavirus hardship loan: Available from some banks and credit unions, coronavirus hardship loans are short-term loans that typically have low or no interest. While the loan amounts aren’t very large, these loans do come with favorable terms for borrowers.
Regardless of what type of loan you’re struggling with, there’s a good chance that your lender has options that can relieve some of the financial pressure. The best move is to contact your lender if you won’t make the next loan payment.