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.

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.