Student loans are a hot topic right now! The Biden Administration has announced the final extension of the student loan repayment pause through December 31, 2022, as well as an opportunity for low- and moderate-income borrowers to apply for up to $20,000 in Federal student loan forgiveness. Additionally, recent changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program make it easier for government workers, nonprofit employees, and educators to get their student loans entirely forgiven, but only until October 31, 2022!
There are lots of excellent resources available to help borrowers figure out how to take advantage of these programs. However, there are also scammers, bad actors, and misinformation out there! Here are our top recommendations for where to get accurate information and free help with your student loans.
Our #1 pick: StudentAid.gov
It may not come as a surprise, but the best source for information about Federal student loans is… the Federal government. Studentaid.gov is the U.S. Department of Education’s portal for all things related to paying for college — from FAFSA to scholarships and student loans. If you want to know whether you qualify for up to $20,000 in student loan debt relief and get updates about when and how to apply, check out https://studentaid.gov/debt-relief-announcement/one-time-cancellation.
All loan recipients should have an account on StudentAid.gov; if you haven’t logged in for a while or don’t remember your account details, this is a good place to start. You should also have an account with your loan servicer (the company who tracks your loan balance and sends you a bill each month). Your servicer is the place to go for questions about the status of your loan, want to change your payment preferences, or get a copy of your 1098-E tax form. Your student loan servicer may also change from time to time, even though the loans themselves stay the same.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
StudentAid.gov is also a top resource for information about the recent changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The “limited PSLF waiver” refers to the time-limited changes to PSLF program rules that allow borrowers to receive credit for past periods of repayment that would otherwise not qualify for PSLF. This opportunity ends on Oct. 31, 2022.
You must apply for PSLF through StudentAid.gov, although the process is still notoriously complicated and difficult (even with the recent improvements!). The U.S. Department of Education has put together some frequently asked questions and important steps you need to take to make sure you have completed the appropriate actions before October 31, 2022. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has created guides for specific public service employment such as military servicemembers, first responders, and teachers that can be found on their PSLF homepage. They also have a ten-minute video on what PSLF is and how to qualify for the limited waiver opportunity.
The Student Borrower Protection Center also offers clear explanations of how to determine whether your employment qualifies for PSLF and whether your current student loans qualify for forgiveness through this program (and what to do if they don’t). Their video guides for navigating PSLF are especially good. They also have a recorded webinar that highlights updates to the PSLF program, guidance on how to navigate the new process, and Q&A.
Compare Repayment Plans
If you anticipate having a loan balance that you will continue paying down in 2023, take time now to make sure that you are in a repayment plan that you can afford. Even if your loans were in default prior to the COVID-19 payment pause, the Fresh Start program means that you will now have the opportunity to get back on track with a payment you can afford.
There are many different repayment plans available to all borrowers that offer higher or lower monthly payments and shorter or longer repayment periods. Depending on your income level, you may qualify for an Income Driven Repayment (IDR) plan with monthly payments as low as $0 and loan forgiveness for any remaining balance at the end of your repayment term.
Explore different loan repayment options with the Loan Simulator tool on StudentAid.gov or with this PDF handout from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB’s Repay Student Debt tool also offers excellent resources for finding a repayment strategy that fits your financial situation. Whether you are struggling to keep up with your payments or want to explore options for paying off your student debt more quickly, the CFPB gives you tools to stay on top of your debt repayment strategy.
credit counseling and legal help
If you continue to have trouble avoiding default on your student loans once required payments begin again in 2023, you could work with a professional debt counselor to review your options. If you choose to go this route, seek out a reputable non-profit credit counseling agency where you can receive many services for free or at a reduced cost, such as Credit Counseling of Arkansas (CCOA) or GreenPath Financial Wellness.
The National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project is a resource for borrowers, their families, and advocates representing student loan borrowers. This site has information about applying for cancellations and managing repayment, but their most helpful and unique offering is in supporting individuals with student debt collections issues.
Beware of Scams
You might be contacted by a company saying they will help you get loan discharge, forgiveness, cancellation, or debt relief for a fee. You never have to pay for help with your federal student aid. Make sure you work only with the U.S. Dep’t of Education and our loan servicers, and never reveal your personal information or account password to anyone. Legitimate emails to borrowers come from email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. You can report scam attempts to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-382-4357 or by visiting reportfraud.ftc.gov.