Student loan borrowers not ready to resume payments, unaware of options: survey

More borrowers are worried about being able to make student loan payments this year than they were last year, according to a recent The College Investor survey.  (iStock)

A growing number of Americans with federal student debt feel financially unprepared to restart loan payments when they resume later this year, a recent survey said.  

Student loan payments are set to pick up again in October after a 42-month payment and interest rate pause, according to the Department of Education. Student loan interest will begin accumulating on September 1, 2023.

More than half (55%) of student loan borrowers said they don’t feel financially ready to resume payments in 2023, according to the College Investor survey. That marks a big jump from last year when only 29% of borrowers said they didn’t feel financially ready.

The results come even as 46% of student loan borrowers said their income rose. For 53% of borrowers, rising inflation and costs meant their monthly expenses have also increased since March 2020. Most respondents (57%) said they used their savings from not making student loan payments to cover essentials like food and housing costs. 

Additionally, 58% of borrowers don’t know their loan payment amount, according to the survey. 

“This highlights a big lack of communication between borrowers and the Department of Education and the various student loan servicers,” College Investor Founder Robert Farrington said. “It also is adding to student loan borrower anxiety.”

If you have private student loans, these do not fall under the current student loan payment pause, but you can find relief by refinancing to lower your monthly payments. Visit Credible to find your personalized interest rate without affecting your credit score. 

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Biden gives struggling borrowers some help

Shortly after the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, Biden announced a new avenue for outright forgiveness modeled on the Higher Education Act (HEA). HEA includes a provision that allows the Secretary of Education to compromise, waive or release federal student loans. 

But using the HEA to cancel student debt could be a much more lengthy process than the president’s previous attempt to use the HEROES Act. But it could eliminate about $441 billion in outstanding student debt. 

At the same time, the President announced plans for a 12-month “on-ramp” repayment program running from Oct. 1 to Sep. 30, 2024. Monthly payments and interest will accrue during this time, but borrowers that can’t pay can use the on-ramp to avoid hurting their credit.

Moreover, Biden encouraged borrowers to look at the several initiatives his administration has worked on as possible avenues toward forgiveness. Among the options available is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which can eliminate student loan debt for eligible government or nonprofit employees. 

The Department of Education also announced details of its income-driven repayment initiative, the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan. The plans could reduce borrowers’ monthly payments to zero dollars, cut monthly payments in half or save those that do make payments at least $1,000 a year, the White House said in a statement.

However, 41% of borrowers didn’t know if they qualified for any student loan forgiveness program, and 35% were unaware of the different repayment plan options for their student loans, the survey said.

“Of course, borrowers won’t feel financially ready when they don’t know what to expect and what their options are,” Farrington said. “It’s likely a big driver as to why 82% of student loan borrowers are worried about their loan payments.”

If you are interested in paying down your private student loan debt, a refinance could help you lower your interest rate and monthly payment. To see if this is the right option for you, contact Credible to speak to a student loan expert and get your questions answered.

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Here’s how you should get ready to resume payments

Borrowers should prioritize investigating the several repayment plans and expanded student loan forgiveness programs offered by the Department of Education. 

Beyond PSLF, borrowers should see if they can access Pell Grants or qualify for teacher loan forgiveness or firefighter loan forgiveness programs. Several states are expanding or have already expanded their student debt repayment programs to forgive loans in some instances.

Borrowers should also explore the several repayment plans the Education Department offers. The SAVE plan introduces some significant changes that can be advantageous for many struggling to make repayments, according to student loan expert Mark Kantrowitz.

“Although these changes might not sound as dramatic as all-out forgiveness, they are more narrowly targeted and could still have a significant impact on borrowers’ finances,” Kantrowitz told Barron’s in a recent article.

Borrowers with private student loans could still find relief by refinancing to lower their monthly payments. Visit Credible to find your personalized interest rate without affecting your credit score. 

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Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at moneyexpert@credible.com and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.

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