On March 20, 2020, the Department of Education announced terms for student loan relief for tens of millions of borrowers in response to COVID-19.1 Here are answers to some questions about the new rules.
Does the relief apply to all student loan borrowers?
No. Only borrowers with outstanding federal student loans—not private student loans—are eligible. In addition, only federal student loans owned by the Department of Education are eligible. This includes Direct Loans (which includes PLUS Loans), as well as Federal Perkins Loans and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans held by the Department of Education. (Note: some FFEL Program loans are owned by commercial lenders, and some Perkins Loans are held by educational institutions. These loans are not eligible for relief at this time.)
What specific relief is being offered?
There are two parts to this relief:
Interest waiver: All borrowers with eligible federal student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days beginning March 13, 2020. The Department of Education may extend this period, depending on the status of the COVID-19 national emergency at the end of the 60-day period.
Suspension period: In addition, borrowers will have the option to temporarily suspend their student loan payments. This administrative forbearance period will last for at least 60 days from March 13, 2020. Again, the Department of Education may extend this period depending on the status of the COVID-19 national emergency after the 60-day period is up.
Will a borrower’s monthly payment go down because interest is being waived?
No. A borrower’s monthly payment will remain the same. During the period of no interest, the full amount of a borrower’s payment will be applied to outstanding principal after all the interest that accrued before March 13, 2020 is paid.
Is the 60-day suspension of student loan payments automatic?
No. Borrowers will have to proactively request a forbearance with their loan servicer. All federal loan servicers are required to grant an administrative forbearance to any borrower who requests one. If the 60-day period for an administrative forbearance is extended by the Department of Education, borrowers will be contacted by their loan servicer who will communicate information about any extension.
For borrowers who request a forbearance, loan servicers are responsible for cancelling any scheduled automatic debit payments. At the end of the forbearance period, borrowers will have to re-institute automatic debit payments; they will not automatically resume.