The imminent decision to suspend student loans worries borrowers

PResident Biden’s student loan payment break is set to end in less than two weeks, but borrowers are wondering if the break will be extended for a seventh time. The pause, which first came into effect in March 2020, is scheduled to end on August 31. Although there is some evidence that the break will see another extension, this is the closest the break will end without being extended again. Many borrowers feel ill-prepared for the prospect of resuming payments on such short notice.

“I don’t think if I had to pay off my student loans, I would have been able to eat. I’ve been working, not just paycheck to paycheck, but borrowing money and using credit to pay for basic survival needs,” said Victoria Loe, who attended several colleges. of Virginia, at TIME. “I haven’t quite grasped the fact that this is something I’m going to have to start paying for. I have worked for minimum wage for a few years.

Read more: What we know so far about President Biden’s plan to forgive student loans

In June, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said borrowers would be given “adequate notice” of any loan repayment decisions. In July, Biden said he would share his decision on whether or not to extend the hiatus by the end of August.

“My rent just went up, but I got a new job, so I was really hoping that with a raise I could start paying off all those debts, saving money and working improving my financial situation,” says Loe. “But if I have extra payments of a few hundred dollars coming in every month, all those goals and intentions that I have are going to fly out the window.”

The student loan payment pause, an initiative of COVID-19 Emergency Relief and Federal Student Aid, began under the Trump administration to ease the financial burden at the start of the pandemic. The pause suspended federal student loan payments administered by the Department of Education, allowed 0% interest accrual on loans, and halted collection of delinquent loans.

“The student loan repayment break program allowed me to explore more career areas after graduating in a field that was difficult to get a good paying job,” Emily Archer, graduate in health and nutrition from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s University Without Walls (UWW) Program, says TIME.

UWW is designed to help non-traditional students complete their education. The program allowed Archer to save money by working and taking classes online simultaneously. Archer hopes to work in community health and is currently employed with an AmeriCorps program that helps her repay her loans. Archer shares that she owes about $15,000 in loans and her AmeriCorps Education Award is $4,500.

“I think student loans and paying for college was a major factor in finding an Americorp program that worked with my degree,” Archer says. “The downside is that these programs pay very little in terms of stipends, but at least I will be able to work to improve local communities.”

The student loan payment suspension was enacted under the CARES Act, which requires loan service providers to give borrowers a minimum of six notices beginning at least two months before payments resume. In early August, the Department of Education told loan service providers not to send such notices, The Wall Street Journal reported, indicating that payments were unlikely to start anytime soon.

The president is now facing pressure from Democratic lawmakers and voters to extend the pause and expand other student loan forgiveness measures. Some think Biden’s student loan policies — or lack thereof — could play a role in the upcoming election.

Since Biden took office, he has forgiven $32 billion in student loans. This relief primarily focused on borrowers who attended schools that misled students about financial information, borrowers with disabilities, and those enrolled in the Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Republicans and Democrats remain divided on student loan pauses and forgiveness amid soaring inflation and a possible recession. Biden supported canceling $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower during his presidential campaign, but rejected canceling $50,000 per borrower, a figure some Democrats have been calling for.

Higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz previously told TIME that if Biden chose to resume student loan payments just months before an election, it would be “political suicide.” “Apart from political considerations, there is no valid justification for a further extension of the payment pause and interest waiver,” Kantrowitz said.

Read more: How the student debt complex is crushing the next generation of Americans

On August 18, student loan service provider Nelnet emailed some of its borrowers saying their payments would be automatically debited on September 1. It’s unclear why this message was sent or how many people received it, but a few hours later Nelnet sent a follow-up email telling borrowers to disregard the message and that payments remain suspended. due to the pandemic.

“Earlier today, we sent you an email indicating that your student loan payment would automatically be taken from your bank account on September 1, 2022,” reads the clarification email from Nelnet. “Please disregard this email. It should not have been sent. We apologize for any confusion or concern this may have caused you.

The Nelnet emails highlight some of the confusion borrowers are experiencing due to poor communication and lack of information from government and lending service groups.

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