(AP) — The Biden administration announced Wednesday that federal student loan repayments would remain suspended until Aug. 31, extending a freeze that began in 2020 but was set to end after this month. The action is intended to help millions of borrowers get back on their feet before they have to pay again.
Here’s more on the decision:
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BORROWERS?
The extension gives Americans another four months to prepare for the restart of student loan repayments. Borrowers will not be asked to make payments until August 31 and interest rates will remain at 0% during this time. Under the new action, people who were in arrears before the pandemic will be automatically brought into good standing. This is a change from the previous policy, which required defaulting borrowers to make nine consecutive loan repayments and request an exit in the event of default. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the extra time will help his agency prepare borrowers for a “smooth transition to repayment.”
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
The moratorium applies to most federal student loan programs, including the Direct Loans Program, which provides subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. It does not apply to private loans issued by banks or schools. The latest federal data shows more than 43 million Americans have student loans totaling $1.6 trillion.
WHY IS IT EXTENDED?
The freeze has been extended several times as a reprieve for Americans facing financial hardship during the pandemic. Announcing the latest action, President Joe Biden said that while the country has seen economic growth, Americans are still recovering. He said the extension will help borrowers “continue to get back on their feet after two of the toughest years this country has ever seen.” It came amid growing fears that many borrowers could quickly fall behind if payments resumed in May. A note from the Federal Reserve last month warned that without more time, delinquency rates “could return from historic lows to previous highs.”
HOW DID THIS HELP?
Alisa Rizo of Colorado said the pause in payments paved the way for independence. After graduating from Colorado State University, Pueblo in 2018, she lives with her parents in Pueblo while she pays off $24,000 in student loans. The break allowed her to save money in hopes of living on her own, closer to her job in Colorado Springs. “It took a huge burden off me and gave me a lot of flexibility to save money,” said Rizo, who works at a nonprofit housing association.
Kristin McGuire of Covina, Calif., said the freeze gave her a break from her $50,000 student debt, allowed her to fix her credit and refinance her home with her husband. But she said the piecemeal extensions have brought their own stress. “We still have this huge balance looming over our heads, and we’re constantly hoping and praying for a reprieve,” said McGuire, executive director of Young Invincibles, which is among the groups calling for the cancellation of the debt as a more permanent solution. “We can get people back in good standing, but we’re setting them up to fail again when we have these inflated balances,” she said.
HOW LONG HAVE THE LOANS BEEN INTERRUPTED?
Federal student loans have been suspended for more than two years. In March 2020, the Trump administration gave borrowers the option to suspend payments for at least 60 days. Congress made it automatic soon after as part of a pandemic relief package. The moratorium was subsequently extended several times by Trump and Biden.
WILL THE GEL BE STILL EXTENDED?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not rule out a further extension when asked during a briefing on Wednesday. “We will continue to assess,” she said. “While of course the economy is in better shape than a year ago and we are experiencing a strong recovery, we also understand that there is a range of impacts that are lasting even longer due to the pandemic. “
WHAT ELSE IS DONE?
In addition to the loan suspension, the Biden administration has worked to revamp some programs that allow borrowers to erase their debts. The Ministry of Education has relaxed rules for a notoriously complex program known as civil service loan forgiveness and for another program which erases the student debt of Americans with disabilities. The agency approved $2 billion in debt forgiveness for people who were fraud by their collegesover $1 billion for students who attended the now defunct for-profit ITT Tech college, but left before graduating. Some Democrats have called for additional changes to the student loan system, including an overhaul of repayment plans that critics say are too complex and difficult to navigate.
WHAT ABOUT A WIDER LOAN REPAYMENT?
As the 2020 presidential candidate, Biden said he would “immediately cancel a minimum of $10,000 in student debt per person.” This does not happen. The White House has said Biden would sign legislation reversing up to that amount if passed by Congress, but it has resisted calls to wipe out the debt using executive branch action. Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have pressed Biden to write off $50,000 across the board, saying it would further boost the economy and address racial inequities in student debt. In a statement, those Democrats applauded the new extension but said it underscored the need for “swift executive action” to cancel the debt. Asked about it on Wednesday, PSAki said Biden “didn’t rule out” the possibility, but didn’t have any further updates.
WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING ABOUT THE PAUSE?
Borrower advocacy groups welcomed the extension, but many said it was not enough. The NAACP has urged Biden to forgive student borrowers at least $50,000. “With each repayment extension, you make the case for it being canceled more and more,” the group said. The Center for Responsible Lending made the same request, saying that while the latest action will give some borrowers a fresh start, “their debts remain the same.” Democrats in Congress applauded the break, while Republicans called it a drain on taxpayers. Senator Richard Burr, a leading Republican on the Senate Education Committee, said the administration “wants to have its cake and eat it too: They want to brag about America’s return to normal after the pandemic, but also want to continue to expand emergency relief policies.”
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