Student Loan Changes During COVID-19

Student Loan Relief

With unemployment levels rising and many employers cutting work hours, lots of college grads are now struggling to meet their student loan payments. Thankfully, the federal government has passed legislation to ease this burden. Unfortunately, though, many borrowers are confused about the terms and conditions of these changes.

Here’s all you need to know about the changes to student loan debt during the coronavirus pandemic.

All federal student loan payments are automatically suspended for six months

As part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) signed into law on March 27 all federal student loan payments are suspended, interest-free, through Sept. 30, 2020. If borrowers continue making payments, the full amount will be applied to the principal of the loan. The suspension applies to all federal student loans owned by the Department of Education as well as some Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) and some Perkins loans. Students do not have to take any action or pay any fees for the suspension to take effect.

Additionally, during the suspension period, the CARES Act does not allow student loan servicers to report to the credit bureaus borrower nonpayments as missed payments. Therefore, the suspension should not have a negative effect on borrowers’ credit scores.

If you’re not sure whether your student loan is federally owned, you can look it up on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website. Be sure to have your FSA ID handy so you can sign in and look up your loans. You can also call your loan servicer directly to clear up any confusion.

Here is the contact information for federal student loan servicers:

Suspended payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness and loan rehabilitation. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program allowing borrowers to have their student loans forgiven, tax-free, with the stipulation that they work in the public sector and make 120 qualifying monthly payments. A disruption of these 120 payments can disqualify a borrower from the program.

According to the CARES Act, suspended payments will be treated as regular payments toward PSLF. This ensures that borrowers who have been working toward these programs will not lose the progress they’ve made toward loan forgiveness.

The same rule applies to individuals participating in student loan rehabilitation, during which borrowers with defaulted student loans must make nine out of 10 consecutive monthly payments to pull their loans out of default. The U.S. Department of Education will consider the six-month suspension on payments as if regular payments were made toward rehabilitation.

Some states and private lenders are offering student loan aid for struggling borrowers.

If your student loan is not federally owned and you are struggling to meet your payments, there may still be options available, such as loan deferment or forbearance. If you are in need of such assistance, contact your lender directly to discuss your options.

Consider an income-driven repayment plan.

If you have an FFEL that is ineligible for suspension, you can lower your monthly payments by enrolling in an income-based repayment plan, which adjusts your monthly student loan payment amount according to your discretionary income. Other lenders offer similar plans, often referred to as income-driven repayment plans. If your salary was cut as a result of COVID-19, or you are currently unemployed, these plans can provide relief by making your monthly payments more manageable.

Employers can contribute toward employees’ student loan debt for temporary tax relief

The federal government offered temporary tax relief for employers contributing up to $5,350 toward their employees’ student loan payments. This benefit is in effect until Jan. 1, 2021 and it can be used for any kind of student debt, whether federal or private.

If you don’t qualify for the student loan payment suspension, you can try speaking with the human resources department at your workplace to find out how they can help you with your student loan debt at this time.

Seeking New Student Loans During the Pandemic

Students and families should start with savings, grants, scholarships, and federal student loans to pay for college. Students and families should evaluate all anticipated monthly loan payments, and how much the student expects to earn in the future, before considering a private student loan.

Freedom is now partnering with Sallie Mae to enable Freedom members access to student loan options that fit their specific educational needs.

Learn More about Freedom’s Student Loan Program.

Your Turn: Have you taken advantage of student loan debt relief offered during the coronavirus pandemic? Tell us about it on Facebook.

I Think Therefore I Am

July 17, 2020

I think thinking is good.  I think about thinking a lot; especially these days because there is so much more to think about.  I think we even think about things we never thought about before and think about what we’re going to need to think about in the future.  You think more about where to go, how to go, the known and unknown.  You think more about family and friends.  You may think more about strangers and what they’re thinking.  You may even think about how much thinking people are not doing these days.  You think about how they act rather than think because thinking takes too much effort.  I must say, however, I think there is some non-thinking that is actually good.

When you think about it, our brains are a marvelous thinking machine and I find myself thinking about how much thinking my thinking machine can take.  Which is why, I think, it’s good to take some time not to think, but not in the way most people aren’t thinking these days.  For example, if I go to the beach I see lots of people reading books or scrolling on phones and tablets.  Not me.  I took a book once and read only three chapters in a week.  I took a comic book for the entertainment value and minimal time it took.  Mostly though, I just sit and stare off.  Perhaps play some music, but it’s just background.  I sit and think of nothing.  I take in the wind and sounds and visual rhythms that pass before me, but I don’t think about them; they just are.  As I think about it now, I realize when I don’t think, sometimes I think the best. When you tune out the all the thoughts that constantly plague your mind, when you take a few moments to clear your head, it’s like a reboot to your entire system and when you tune back in, there are amazing ideas, a greater appreciation of things and a renewed focus on what needs to be done.

Of course, you don’t need to be on a beach.  You can do it anywhere.  Sometimes I take a few moments to get up from my desk and look out the window.  You just need to make time, for a few brief moments, at home, in your car, walking a trail, anywhere, to let it all go, breath deep, and don’t think.

Thinking is good, thinking is necessary most of the time, but not thinking for even just a little bit here and there, is a really good thing too.   I think.

 

Mike

Freedom Federal Credit Union Expands Field of Membership
to Include Baltimore County

July 2, 2020Welcome To Freedom

The Credit Union Was Approved by the National Credit Union Administration to Serve Residents and Businesses of Baltimore County

Freedom Federal Credit Union announced that they received approval from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) for their request to expand their field of membership.  Effective immediately, Freedom membership is now open to businesses and any individuals who live, work, worship, volunteer, attend school, or has family in Baltimore County.  Prior to NCUA approval, Freedom’s field of membership was focused solely on Harford County.

“This is a very exciting time for Freedom Federal Credit Union, our members, and residents of both Baltimore and Harford Counties, as a whole”, stated Mike MacPherson, President and CEO of Freedom. “With NCUA’s approval, we can now provide what we call the “Freedom Advantage”, our unique credit union service offering, to the greater Baltimore County communities. We will be able to better serve a larger group of Maryland consumers and businesses who have currently been underserved, and address their immediate and long-term savings and lending needs as only a credit union, like Freedom, can do”.

Freedom Federal Credit Union was founded in 1953 as MATCOM Federal Credit Union. The Credit Union started in Baltimore and later moved to Harford County in support of the Edgewood Arsenal, (which became part of Aberdeen Proving Ground). Freedom received their Harford County community charter in 1999 and changed their name to Freedom of Maryland Federal Credit Union in 2000.

The expansion into Baltimore County was a logical step in the Credit Union’s evolution.  Freedom already serves over 3,000 members that are Baltimore County residents and were able to join because of some affiliation with Harford County.

MacPherson continued: “We feel Freedom is an organization best qualified to meet the financial service needs of the expanded community. We’re financially strong, with full service, easily accessible locations, user-friendly tools for remote accessibility, and a wide range of products, services, and technology. Additionally, Freedom has always focused on our social responsibility, generously supporting the communities we serve.  We now have even more opportunity to do good in the community, for even more organizations, businesses, and people across both Baltimore and Harford Counties”.

“Strategic growth is vital to our long term strength and viability”, stated Mike Kaiser, Chairman of the Board for Freedom. The entire Board of Directors saw the wisdom and value in our expansion, not only for the organization, members and communities we currently serve, but also for our future members, and unanimously adopted the expanded field of membership”.

Kaiser continued: “Expanding our field of membership to Baltimore County will also allow us to provide cutting edge products and services to many more members.  As a full-service financial institution, Freedom has long catered, and is uniquely structured, to serve a wide variety of consumers, including those of low and modest means.  We believe that Freedom is positioned to provide the value of a local, community-focused, ‘people helping people’-centric financial institution, while we continue to adhere to the principles, mission, and values that we have developed over our more than 67 year history”.

As part of the expansion, Freedom will look at all options with respect to new, physical locations, in both Harford and Baltimore Counties, as well as how best to leverage technology for those who like and want to conduct business electronically and remotely, whenever and wherever it is convenient for them.


About Freedom Federal Credit Union

Freedom Federal Credit Union is a community-chartered federal credit union offering consumer financial services to those who live, work, volunteer, worship, attend school, or have family in Harford and Baltimore Counties. Additionally, Freedom offers a full-line of banking services for all businesses, associations, and other organizations that are based in Harford and Baltimore Counties. To learn more, visit freedomfcu.org.

Freedom Expands Field of Membership- CEO Letter

July 2, 2020

Dear Freedom Members,

I wanted to share some very exciting news with you, as soon as I could.

Late last year, Freedom began the process of requesting, with the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the governing agency that regulates credit unions, for the ability to expand our field of membership, in order to serve more residents within the state.  I am extremely excited to announce to you that the NCUA has approved our request. Effective immediately, in addition to Harford County, Freedom membership is now open to businesses and any individuals who live, work, worship, volunteer, attend school, or have family in Baltimore County.

Your Board of Directors have also unanimously approved this field of membership expansion. With NCUA’s approval, as well as Board approval, we can now provide what we call the “Freedom Advantage”, our unique credit union service offering, to the greater Baltimore County communities. We will be able to better serve a larger group of Maryland consumers and businesses, many of whom we have heard from directly, that have been underserved, and address their immediate and long-term savings and lending needs as only a credit union, like Freedom, can do.

We are excited to roll out our plans for welcoming Baltimore County residents to Freedom and communicating our value proposition. We are working hard to provide the best financial institution and structure we can to serve not only our new communities within Baltimore County, but all of Harford County as well.

Freedom is an organization best qualified to meet the financial service needs of both Harford and Baltimore Counties. We’re financially strong, with full-service, easily accessible locations and a wide range of financial products, services, and accessible, intuitive technology.

We have also put great focus on our social responsibility, supporting those same communities we serve.  In fact, we have made it our mission to be a trusted financial partner that does more than just banking, by creating a community support culture of people helping people that meets the needs of our members and the communities we serve. We now have even more opportunity to do good in the community, for even more organizations, businesses, and people across both Baltimore and Harford Counties.

I know this is a big change for us, and you may have some questions as a result of this announcement.  I want to take this opportunity to try and answer some of these for you now.

Why did Freedom want to expand its Field of Membership?

Making Freedom membership available to all those who live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Baltimore County was a logical step in our Credit Union’s evolution.  Nearly 3,000 current Freedom members are already Baltimore County residents and were able to join because of some affiliation with Harford County. We have heard directly from so many Baltimore County residents over the years that they wish they could join Freedom. With just a few credit unions and numerous big banks in Baltimore County, credit unions are few and far between, even though they represent a better financial choice for most consumers. And we know Freedom will provide Baltimore County the exact type of financial institution that so many have said they want.

How is this a good thing for current Freedom members?

Because of the way a credit union is structured, as a financial cooperative, the health and strength of the organization is strongly dependent on the membership being engaged and utilizing its products and services.  The more members that are an active part of the credit union and using its products and services, the better the ability to offer lower cost loan options, higher deposit rates, better technology and access, and more community support.   Our expansion into Baltimore County will allow Freedom to provide our unique financial offerings to more consumers that need them and provide a much needed financial alternative to the big banks.  In doing so, we will be able to increase our membership, and the ability to serve all our members, and our shared communities better.

With 32,000 members and growing, Freedom has been a strong financial partner to our members for over 67 years, and we look forward to being an even better partner with this expansion.

Does this mean we are taking away resources to support Harford County?

Absolutely not!  Our expansion into Baltimore County does not take anything away from our focus, commitment, and support to the Harford County community. On the contrary, our expansion will afford us greater resources to expand our support of Harford County residents, businesses, and organizations. We are, and have always been, a part of this great community, and will continue to serve it as we always have.

Will you be opening new branches in Baltimore County?

We will look at all our options with respect to new and future physical locations, in both Harford and Baltimore Counties, to best serve our expanded membership. We will also review how we already serve members, regardless of location, by leveraging technology for those who like and want to conduct business electronically and remotely, on their own schedule.  One of the biggest lessons we have learned during these past few months is that members are quite adept, and look for, newer technology to serve their banking needs. We will, therefore, consider all options to offer the best balance between physical locations and technology that best serves our membership.

We will continue to share information and details about this exciting news for Freedom Federal Credit Union and its membership, and where we go from here.  In the meantime, if you have family, friends, and/or coworkers who live, work, study, volunteer, have family, or worship in Baltimore County, please help us spread the news of who we are, and share with them the Freedom Advantage!

I want to thank all of you for your ongoing trust and confidence in Freedom. It is because of you that we are here, and will continue to be here, for many years to come. Our future is bright, and together, there’s no telling what we can accomplish.

Sincerely,

CEO Signature

Michael MacPherson
President and CEO
Freedom Federal Credit Union

#FreedomSpiritWeeks

A NEW Summer Contest Series

#FreedomSpiritWeeks

Presented by Freedom Federal Credit Union

Enter June 12 – August 6, 2020

WIN UP TO $250 DOLLARS!

Freedom is proud to present a new summer contest series called #FreedomSpiritWeeks.  Every Friday during the contest period Freedom will challenge the public to submit entries according to the week’s theme on social media.  Entrants will be placed into a weekly drawing to win a $50 eGift Card.  Weekly winners along with other selected finalists will then have an opportunity to compete for a $250 prize in a final showdown at the end of the contest.

Your entry could win you a $50 eGift Card, or the Grand Prize— $250 DOLLARS! 

WEEKLY THEMES

June 12 – June 18 : GRADS WEEK

Show us your 2020 Pride! Enter a photo of a 2020 Graduate!

June 19 – June 25 : TAG LOCAL WEEK

No Photos Required for this one, but they are highly encouraged.  Tag a local Harford or Baltimore County restaurant or business and tell us why they’re great!

June 26 – July 2 : CHALK IT UP WEEK

It’s a masterpiece showcase!  Show us your sidewalk chalk creations!

July 3 – July 9 : WHAT’S FOR DINNER WEEK

Share a picture of a delectable dish you’ve made, and if you’re feeling extra generous, share the recipe too!

July 10 – July 16 : PROJECT PRIDE WEEK

Time to brag about your summer home improvement projects!  Let’s see what you’ve been working on!  Brownie points for Before and After photos!*

*Brownie points are NOT actually real points, but they sound delicious.

July 17 – July 23 : BACK TO NATURE WEEK

There’s nothing like enjoying the wonderful outdoors in the summertime, especially while indoor attractions remain widely unavailable. Share the glory, the fun, the hikes, and the gardens.

July 24 – July 30 : MY PURFECT PET WEEK

We know you have a bunch of pawsitively purfect pet photos you are just itching to share.  And we are so ready to bask in the cuteness of your fur babies.

July 31 – August 6 : SPIRIT WEEK

Get creative! Submit a fun photo of you and your crew!  Be goofy, silly, or beautiful! It’s up to you!

HOW TO ENTER:

  1. Take a fun, creative picture according to the week’s theme
  2. Pick your preferred social channel
  3. Like or Follow Freedom’s page
  4. Post the picture in the comments on Freedom’s Contest Post or your own account using #FreedomSpiritWeeks
  5. Make sure your post is set to “public” and to tag Freedom
  6. Check Freedom’s Facebook page every Friday to see if you’re the winner and to try for the next challenge!

Members and non-members alike are welcome to enter. Enter each weekly contest up to 3 times, to maximize you chances of winning the weekly drawing and getting selected as a finalist for the Grand Prize. See our Contest Rules for full details.

HOW TO WIN A WEEKLY PRIZE:

  1. Submit up to 3 entries per week
  2. Submission are due by each Thursday at 11:59 pm during the contest period
  3. A winner will be selected by a Random Name Picker internet tool the following Friday morning

GRAND PRIZE INFO:

  1. Grand Prize Vote is scheduled to start 10:00 am on Thursday, August 13, 2020 and will run for 24 hours
  2. All 8 weekly winners are guaranteed to be finalists for the Grand Prize
  3. Additional finalists will be chosen by a panel of judges
  4. Finalists will compete to collect votes

HOW TO WIN THE GRAND PRIZE:

  1. Freedom will re-post the finalist photos on our Facebook Page on August 13th at 10:00 am
  2. Every Like/Love = 1 Vote
  3. If you’re a finalist…come prepared to like and share your re-posted photo! Collect as many likes and loves as you can in 24 hours!
  4. WILDCARD FACTOR: Freedom employees are voting internally too. Their votes will have you guessing until the very end!
  5. Have Fun!

@FreedomFCU
@FreedomFCU

@FreedomFedCU
@FreedomFedCU

@FreedomFedCU
@FreedomFedCU

House Passes HEROES Act

HEROES Act

The House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill on Friday, May 15, with a 208-199 vote. The more than 1,800-page legislation, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (Heroes Act), would provide another stimulus check to qualifying Americans, extend unemployment benefits, and provide relief to homeowners, among other economic stimuli.

The HEROES Act needs to be approved by the Senate before passing into law. However, the Senate will not be voting on the aid package until after the May 25 Memorial Day recess. In addition, Senate leadership has called the bill “dead on arrival” and many senators have threatened to oppose its passing.

Here’s what’s inside the proposed legislation:

1. Economic Impact Payments of up to $6,000 per household

The second round of stimulus checks included in the HEROES Act are structured similarly to the first payments, with individual tax filers phasing out of eligibility at $75,000-plus, and couples filing jointly phasing out at $150,000-plus.

The proposed second economic impact payment varies from its predecessor in two areas. Firstly, the latest stimulus checks will grant $1,200 for each dependent, regardless of age, for up to three dependents per household. Secondly, immigrants with taxpayer identification numbers will be included in the payments, unlike the first round.

2. Expanded and extended unemployment benefits 

While some states have made the first tentative steps toward reopening their economy, a record 33 million Americans are still out of work. The HEROES Act would provide relief to these individuals, offering expanded unemployment coverage of an extra $600 per week through January 2021. The bill also extends eligibility benefits for gig workers, independent contractors, part-time workers and the self-employed through March 2021.

3. Student loan forgiveness 

The original plans for a broad $30,000 in student loan forgiveness have been scrapped from the legislation, but the HEROES Act includes the following provisions for student loan relief:

  • $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness.
  • $10,000 in private student loan forgiveness.
  • An extension of the CARES Act suspension of payments, interest and collections on government-held federal student loans through September of 2021. These protections will also expand to include commercially-held Federal Family Education Loan federal student loans, as well as Perkins loans.
  • A modification to Public Service Loan Forgiveness that would allow payments made on previously-consolidated federal student loans to potentially count towards the 120 qualifying monthly payments required for the program.

The Democratic House leaders made a last-minute amendment to these provisions, restricting eligibility for student loan forgiveness to students who are “economically distressed.” The term has been defined as someone who, as of March 12, 2020, was delinquent or in default on their student loan, in economic hardship deferment or forbearance on their student loan, or in an income-driven repayment plan with a monthly payment amount of $0.

Rental and mortgage assistance

The HEROES Act will provide $100 billion of rental assistance for the country’s 40 million-plus renters. The funds will be distributed through an existing nationwide grant rental assistance program that would verify a tenant’s inability to pay rent and issue vouchers to cover the cost of rent and utilities. The legislation will also extend the moratorium on residential foreclosures and rental evictions for 12 months.

In addition, the HEROES Act also expands the protection for homeowners included in the CARES Act, providing an additional $75 billion for a homeowner assistance fund designed to prevent mortgage defaults and property foreclosures.

Hazard pay for essential workers

The HEROES Act would establish a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” to provide hazard pay to qualifying essential workers. The fund will furnish a $13 per hour pay premium on top of regular pay for “all hours worked in essential industries through the end of 2020.” The hazard pay caps at $25,000 for essential workers earning less than $200,000 per year, and at $5,000 for workers earning more than $200,000 per year.

Other provisions and benefits 

The HEROES Act includes several additional economic relief provisions, including:

  • Close to $1 trillion in direct financial relief for state, local and tribal governments.
  • $75 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing.
  • Increased spending on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • Debt-collection relief.

The Complete Guide to Prioritizing Bills During COVID-19

Prioritize your bills

If you are one of the millions of Americans on furlough thanks to the coronavirus, you may be scrambling to cover your bills. Let’s take a look at what Freedom’s financial experts are advising so you can make an informed decision about your finances going forward.

Triage your bills

Freedom recommends putting your most basic needs, including food and shelter, before any other bills now. Make sure you can feed your family before using your limited resources for loan payments or credit card bills. Similarly, your family needs a place to live, so mortgage or rent payments should be next on your list.

Housing costs

In early March, the Federal Housing Finance Agency offered payment forbearance to homeowners affected by COVID-19, allowing them to suspend mortgage payments up to 12 months. These loans account for approximately 66 percent of all home loans in America. They will eventually need to be covered, though conditions for repayment vary by lender.

Speak to your lender about your options before making a decision.

If you’re a renter, be open with your landlord. They may be willing to work with you.

Paying for transportation

Missing an auto loan payment can mean risking repossession of your vehicle. This should put car payments next on your list of financial priorities. If meeting that monthly payment is impossible right now, it’s best to communicate with your lender and come up with a plan that is mutually agreeable to both parties.

Household bills

Utility and service bills should be paid on time each month, but for workers on furlough due to the coronavirus pandemic, these expenses may not even make it to their list of priorities.

Most states have outlawed utility shutoffs for now. Also, many providers are willing to work with their clients. Visit the websites of your providers or reach out to them by phone to see what kind of relief and financial considerations they’re offering consumers.

Unsecured debt

Unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans and any other loan that is not tied to a large asset. Struggling Americans can place these loans at the bottom of their list of financial priorities for now. At the same time, borrowers should know that missing out on a monthly loan payment can have a long-term negative impact on a credit score.

Here, too, consumers are advised to communicate with their lenders about their current financial realities. Credit card companies and lenders are often willing to extend payment deadlines, lower the APR on a line of credit or a loan, waive a late fee or occasionally allow consumers to skip a payment without penalty.

Freedom Federal Credit Union is committed to putting our members first, not shareholders, and helping you achieve your financial goals. Learn more at freedomfcu.org or call us 800-440-4120 to see how we can help.

Your Turn: How are you prioritizing your bills during the pandemic? Share your tips with us on Facebook, LinkedIn,Twitter, or Instagram.

 

#HeroNurses

LET’s CELEBRATE our #heronurses, HARFORD COUNTY!

WIN A $50 eGIFT CARD FOR A HARFORD COUNTY NURSE

#HeroNurses ContestLook for our #HeroNurses Photo Contest on our social media pages starting May 6th, 2020 running until Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are a nurse or know a nurse who lives or works in Harford County…

1. POST a photo of a nurse (could be you!) in the comments on our Facebook or Twitter post
(Or use #HeroNurses and @FreedomFedCU on your public Instagram profile)

2. FOLLOW our social media page

3. SHARE our social media post

We will draw a winner Tuesday, May 12th, at about noon!

Visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to get started.
*Nurses may live and/or work in Harford County.  Nurses are welcome to enter themselves.