Managing student loan debt has become one of the biggest financial planning challenges for many. In the U.S., student loan debt rose to $1.51 trillion last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. So, if you or family members are dealing with the burden of budgeting every month for a student loan, you’re not alone.
Fortunately, numerous payment and planning solutions are available to help student borrowers. In addition, this year, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has provided substantial assistance for individuals holding federal student loans. It’s important to remember, though, that the CARES Act’s relief provisions are set to expire on December 31, 2020.
If you’re looking for a long-term solution for managing student debt, you’ll find a variety of considerations and options below to keep in mind.
Student Loan Relief Under the CARES Act
Interest and required payments on federal student loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education are currently suspended, without penalty, through December 31, 2020. On January 1, 2021, interest will start accruing again and borrowers will be responsible for making monthly payments. Auto-debit payments will automatically resume, if this feature was set up prior to payment suspension. If the required payments aren’t made, federal loan servicers may report delinquency for the period beginning January 1.
Income-driven repayment plans. The Department of Education offers several income-driven repayment plans that help you set an affordable monthly payment based on your income and family size. If you’re already on a payment plan but your financial situation has changed, you can update your information to see if you qualify for a new, lower payment amount. The plans are:
Deferment, Forbearance, and Cancellation
Although repaying your student loan may become difficult, ignoring your payments is the worst thing you can do. Instead, talk to your lender about possible solutions. Depending on your situation, you may be able to apply for a deferment, forbearance, or cancellation of your loan.
These programs are not automatic. You’ll need to fill out the appropriate application from your lender, attach documentation, and follow up on the application process. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that interest accrues for most borrowers on a general forbearance (unlike forbearance under the CARES Act).
With loan consolidation, you combine several student loans into one loan, sometimes at a lower interest rate, allowing you to write just one check each month. You need to apply, and different lenders have different rules about which loans qualify for consolidation. Generally, you can choose an extended repayment and/or graduated repayment plan in addition to a standard repayment plan.
Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
In addition to the repayment assistance programs described above, the federal government offers student loan forgiveness to qualified borrowers. Although the benefits can be substantial, you should carefully consider the potential long-term costs associated with changing you career path. Available programs include:
Refinancing may be a good option for lowering your monthly loan payments. But, to do so, you must already have a private loan or be willing to convert your federal loan to a private loan—and this could mean losing some benefits. A federal loan cannot be refinanced as a new federal loan with a lower interest rate. Be sure you understand the cons and pros of refinancing:
Need Additional Information?
For assistance in evaluating your options, please contact me. We’ll talk through these strategies for managing student debt and explore other planning solutions that can help you get on track to financial security.
This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.
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