July 23, 2024
If you haven't made repayment arrangements yet, it's time to act Now

After more than three years of COVID-related reprieves, Sunday ushered in the resumption of federal student loan epayments. (Cue the groans from the millions who are impacted…)

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For those who have paid off student loans a long time ago, it may be hard to conjure up empathy, but please try to hold back on your judgment, so we can encourage tens of millions of borrowers to get back on track.

Where should I start?

Although most borrowers have been preparing for this moment, there are still those who need to act right now. If you haven’t heard from your loan servicer, get in touch with them immediately to confirm your personal information, loan amounts, interest rates and payment plans. Make sure that you have auto-debit enrollment to avoid missed payments and penalties.

What if I can’t afford payments?

Head to the Federal Student Aid website (studentaid.gov) and use the loan simulator. This easy-to-use tool allows you to calculate student loan payments and choose the repayment plan that best meets your needs. The repayment options include Income-Driven Repayment plans (IDR), the newest of which is called the “SAVE” (Saving on a Valuable Education) plan.

What’s the SAVE plan?

SAVE is a modification of the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans already available. Like its predecessors, SAVE helps borrowers with direct federal student loans that are in good standing, who are having financial difficulties.

Monthly payments for SAVE are based on the borrower’s monthly income and the size of the borrower’s family, a valuable feature for those who have had kids during the past few years.

SAVE also treats interest differently. If your regular payment isn’t enough to cover the interest owed at that time, the unpaid interest is automatically erased. Additionally, single borrowers who earn less than $15 per hour will not have to make ANY payments. If you previously enrolled in the REPAYE IDR plan, you will be automatically enrolled in the SAVE plan.

Can I qualify for loan forgiveness under SAVE?

Yes! Under SAVE, borrowers with original principal balances of $12,000 or less will receive forgiveness of any remaining balance after making 10 years of payments, with the maximum repayment period before forgiveness rising by one year for every additional $1,000 borrowed. If you work for a government or not-for-profit organization, you can still enroll in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

What if my budget is tight or I miss a payment?

Most borrowers have been combing through their budgets to free up even a few more dollars to direct towards their payments. If you are really tight, you may want to reduce your retirement (or other savings) contributions, to alleviate the cash flow burden. If possible, try to maintain any match that employers provide.

If you do miss a payment, don’t freak out

There will be a 12-month reprieve (aka a “temporary on-ramp”), during which if you miss a payment, the Department of Education will not report anything to credit agencies, preventing a hit to delinquent borrowers’ credit scores. The DOE will also not consider these loans delinquent, nor put them into default, or refer them to debt collection agencies. Importantly, interest will also continue to accrue on the missed payments.

Loan relief pitches

I’ve been inundated with loan relief pitches — are they worth it?

Probably not. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning, reminding borrowers that they don’t have to pay for help managing their student loans.

One BIG RED FLAG: if someone tries to charge you up front, before they’ve done anything. Another: the promise of QUICK loan forgiveness, which is a pipe dream! If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at [email protected]. Check her website at www.jillonmoney.com.