Federal student loans have been on pause since the beginning of the pandemic last year, but they will start back up again on February 1, 2022. With an added monthly expense to have to budget around, CNBC Select gave some pointers on easing into the transition to monthly payments again, particularly in situations such as retirement where monthly budgeting is of the utmost importance.
One of the very first steps is to ensure that your preexisting loan provider is still who to make loan payments to. In the midst of the pandemic, many federal student loan providers chose to not renew their contracts, in which case another agency would have stepped in to take over.
“The first thing borrowers should look into is who their loan servicer currently is,” said Mary Jo Lambert-Terry, managing partner for Yrefy, a lender specializing in private student loans. “This info can be found on studentaid.gov. This piece is key, because it’s always good to reacquaint yourself with who you should send payments to and what the payment amount is.”
Once you have identified where to send payments, ensuring that the lender has the correct and updated address is the next step. This can all be done through the same website; simply go to your profile and update your new information, or go directly through your loan provider’s site.
Once you’ve gotten the basics out of the way, it’s time to take a look at monthly payment amounts. Figuring out the minimum monthly payments and whether they fit into your current budget is a must. If the payments are something that can be fit easily into your current monthly budget, you might want to consider enrolling in auto-pay.
If, however, because life circumstances have changed and the monthly minimum payment amount is now too high, there are options; one such option is to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan that bases minimum monthly payments on your income for the month. It’s also important to check your enrollment in auto-pay, as this may no longer be a good fit for your payment schedule and financial needs. Either way, if payments are an issue, reach out to your student loan servicer to discuss options with them.
There are also options within repayment plans that you should acquaint yourself with that vary from fixed monthly payments to extended repayment plans, and several varieties between. The studentaid.gov website has a comprehensive list of the options, and as you restructure your new monthly budget to accommodate student loan repayments, it’s important to know those options.
Finally, there are options to the loan itself if you find yourself swimming in debts or have higher interest rates than desired. If you have multiple loans that you pay monthly, consolidation could be a viable option.
“If you have multiple loans and want to get it down to one single payment, there are federal consolidation programs available,” Lambert-Terry said. “So if you have graduate loans and undergraduate loans, you can do a consolidation federally, and it will lower your monthly payment and extend your term, and you won’t have a prepayment fee for paying off the loan early.”
Alternatively, if you are currently locked into a higher interest rate, it is possible to refinance a federal loan. Borrowers should be aware, however, that refinancing makes your loan a private one and therefore means that it won’t have the federal student loan protections; these include the ability to pause payments for a variety of reasons, such as starting school or becoming unemployed.
“Be proactive and take a look at what your options are right now,” Lambert-Terry cautioned. “We encourage people to look at this right now because the closer to January 31, 2022 we get, the busier servicers will be.”
For more news, information, and strategy, visit the Retirement Income Channel.