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.

A Message from President and CEO, Mike MacPherson Regarding Lobby Reopenings

June 9, 2020

Dear Members,

It was more than two and a half months ago that I shared with you the details of Freedom’s plans and efforts to keep our employees and members safe during the initial COVID-19 outbreak.  During that time, we announced closures of our lobbies, focused branch access to drive-thrus only, and ensured the optimal performance of all digital and virtual platforms.

I want to thank you once again for your patience, understanding and flexibility through these challenging times.  We are now actively finalizing steps necessary to begin gradually reopening Freedom branch lobbies, safely and effectively.

Beginning June 22nd, our Swan Creek branch in Havre de Grace, and our Park Avenue branch in Bel Air, will be available by appointment only.  Our Fountain Green and Forest Lakes branches will open similarly on June 29th, or shortly thereafter.

In addition, since now permissible, we are reopening drive thru service at our Edgewood location on June 15th, Monday through Friday from 9am-3pm.

As we implement new precautions to protect you and our staff, any changes required to this timeline will be communicated accordingly.  Branch hours, and other details will be posted to the Branch Locations page of our website.

As we begin to expand our in-branch services again, we have considered every aspect of the member experience, with your safety, and our employees’ safety, as our top priority.  Some of the changes you will see include:

  • All lobby access and hours of operation will be by appointment-only. A new appointment scheduler is being created for your use and will be accessible via our Homepage. We will notify you as soon as the appointment scheduler is ready and we begin taking appointments.
    • No walk-in traffic will be available during this initial opening phase. All walk-in traffic will be directed to use the drive-thrus.
    • Drive-thru service will still operate without appointments
  • In accordance with Harford County Government guidelines, masks or face coverings will be required at all times while inside the branches.
    • You may be asked to quickly pull down your mask to verify your identity
  • Freedom staff will also be wearing masks or face coverings during your visit
  • Hand sanitizing stations will be available in the lobbies. You may be asked to use the station prior to your in-branch appointment
  • Plexiglass guards have been set-up at our teller stations and Financial Services desks
  • Physical distancing protocols will be in place
  • Increased cleaning and sanitization in high-traffic areas will be in place throughout each day

I would like to personally thank you, not only for your patience and understanding, but also for all of the positive comments and outreach you have made to me during this unprecedented time.  I am truly heartened by the loyalty and commitment you have shown Freedom.

Sincerely,

CEO Signature

Michael MacPherson
President and CEO
Freedom Federal Credit Union

Freedom

If you’d have told me last year what 2020 would be like, I wouldn’t have believed you.  Yet here we are.  From the global impact of the pandemic to the global impact of the tragic events in Minneapolis, we have seen the best and worst in humankind.

Having lived in the 60’s, there is a disheartening familiarity to it at times and though I may have only been a young boy, I was nonetheless cognizant of those dramatic times.  Polio vaccines in school, the Vietnam War, civil unrest and so on.  Recent events have made me realize just how aware I was back then even though only nine.  It’s astonishing how sights, sounds and smells trigger memories long forgotten.  I recently awoke with a particular verse playing in my head from a song called “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan which goes:

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

I’m sure, as with all of us, our collective life experience informs who we are and guides us down life’s path.  No doubt they are the reason I wound up in a credit union that focuses on improving the lives and experiences of those we serve.  They also remind me that Freedom is not just our name; it is a symbol of our commitment to our community.

Our mission of people helping people requires we not be silent in troubled times.  It requires we stand united with all people against racism, hatred, intolerance, and injustice.  It requires that we stand, as an organization and as human beings, in support of equality, diversity, inclusion, and the well-being of our global community.

Mike

CEO Signature

Michael MacPherson
President and Chief Executive Officer
Freedom Federal Credit Union