Looming Student Loan Pause Decision Has Borrowers Worried
President Biden’s student loan payment pause is set to end in less than two weeks but loan borrowers are wondering whether the pause will be extended for a seventh time. On Aug. 31, the pause that was in place since March 2020 will come to an end. Although there’s evidence that the pause will see another extension, it’s the closest the pause has come to an end date without being extended again. Many borrowers don’t feel prepared for the possibility of having to resume their payments so quickly.
“I don’t think if I had to pay my student loans I would have been able to eat. I’ve been operating, not just paycheck to paycheck, but I’m borrowing money and using credit to pay for basic survival needs,” Victoria Loe, who’s attended several different Virginia colleges, tells TIME. “I haven’t quite processed the fact that that’s something I’m going to have to start paying for. I’ve been working minimum wage for the past couple of years.”
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In June, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said that borrowers will receive “ample notice” on any decisions regarding loan payments. Biden indicated in July that he would make his final decision by August on the extension of the pause.
“My rent just went up but I got a new job, so I was really hoping that because I got a pay increase I could start paying off all those debts, actually saving money and working towards improving my financial standing,” Loe says. “But if I have extra few hundred dollar payments that come up every month, all of those goals and intentions that I have are going to fly out the window.”
To ease financial hardship at the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration initiated the student loan payment suspension. It was a COVID-19 emergency relief and Federal Student Aid initiative. This pause allowed federal student loans to be paid by the Department of Education at 0% interest and stopped the collection of defaulted loan amounts.
“The student loan repayment pause program has allowed me to explore more career areas after graduating with a degree in a field that is difficult to secure a well paying job,” Emily Archer, a graduate in health and nutrition studies from University of Massachusetts Amherst’s University Without Walls (UWW) program, tells TIME.
UWW was created to assist non-traditional students in completing their degree. Archer was able to work while simultaneously taking online classes. Archer is currently employed in AmeriCorps, which helps pay her loan debts. She hopes to become a community health worker. Archer shared that she has a $15,000 loan balance and her AmeriCorps Education award is $4,500.
“I do think student loans and paying for college were a major factor in making the decision to find an Americorp program that works with my degree,” Archer says. “The downside is that these programs pay very little in terms of stipends, but at least I will be able to work to improve local communities.”
The CARES Act mandates that student loan service providers give borrowers at most six notices, beginning two months before repayments resume. In early August, the Education Department told loan service providers not to send out those notices, The Wall Street Journal reported, indicating that payments probably won’t begin soon.
Democratic lawmakers as well as voters have been pressuring the President to expand and prolong the pause on student loan forgiveness. Some speculate that Biden’s student loan policies–or lack thereof–could play a role in the upcoming elections.
Since Biden took office, he’s canceled $32 billion in student loans. This relief was primarily focused on students who were misled about their finances, those with disabilities, and those who are enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
In the face of rising inflation and possible recession, Republicans and Democrats are still divided on student loan forgiveness and pauses. Biden supported cancelling $10,000 per student loan during his presidential campaign. However, Biden rejected the idea of cancelling $50,000 per borrower. This figure was something that some Democrats have advocated for.
Higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz previously told TIME that if Biden chose to have student loan payments resume just months before an election it would be “political suicide.” “Other than the political considerations, there is no valid justification for a further extension to the payment pause and interest waiver,” Kantrowitz said.
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Nelnet was a student loan provider that sent an email on Aug. 18 to borrowers, advising them that Sept. 1 would be the date their loans were due. It’s unclear why this message was sent or how many people received it, but hours later, Nelnet sent a follow-up email telling borrowers to disregard the message and that payments remain paused due to the pandemic.
“Earlier today we emailed you that your student loan payment would be automatically withdrawn from your bank account on September 1, 2022,” Nelnet’s clarification email read. “Please disregard that email. It shouldn’t have been sent. We apologize for any confusion or concern it may have caused you.”
Nelnet emails illustrate some of the confusion loan borrowers experience from miscommunications and a dearth of information from loan service agencies and administrations.
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