Should I Stop Paying My Student Loans Right Now?

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Team Clark has received a ton of questions through our Ask Clark service in recent days about how to handle student loans during the coronavirus pandemic.

As you may know, all federal student loan payments and interest have been suspended through September 30. Think of it as a pause button on your student loan and the payments that are normally due each month. This does not apply to private student loans.

However, many private student loan lenders are also now offering forbearance — if you reach out to them. More on that in a bit.

But what if you are in a position where you can still afford to pay on your loan over the next few months even though you aren’t required to? Money expert Clark Howard has some thoughts on that.

Should You Keep Paying on Your Student Loans Even if You Don’t Have To?

Clark says that for weeks, there were lots of rumors and speculation about what the government might do with regard to student loans in light of the pandemic. However, things are now much more defined.

“In the third stimulus statute, there are very clear provisions on student loans,” he says. “All federal loans that are in the hands of the U.S. Department of Education will have payments suspended for the next six months. Interest on all federal loans is suspended for the next six months.”

So if you have outstanding federal student loans, what do you need to do to have your payments paused until October?

“Nothing,” Clark says. “You don’t have to request it. You don’t have to fill out a form. You don’t have to prove need. Everyone with essentially all categories of federal student loans will have essentially a payment holiday for six months.”

But just because you’re not required to make payments for half a year doesn’t mean your debt is going away.

“This does not wipe out any portion of the balance,” Clark says. “But the balance you have will have no interest charged and you will automatically be considered to be on time.”

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If you were already in over your head with student loans, there is some additional relief.

“For people who are in default on student loans,” Clark says, “there will be no wage garnishments, no money taken from Social Security checks, no tax refunds will be seized. There is a time-out on those efforts that will resume again in October.”

Even if you can afford your monthly student loan payment for the foreseeable future, Clark says you should consider putting that money to other uses.

“There’s no downside to not making payments over the next six months, other than pushing out your payoff horizon. I would rather see you putting that cash aside for emergency savings. I would build up reserves because this is a no harm, no foul situation.”

Finally, Clark says it’s very important to remember that the six month pause only applies to federal student loans.

But there’s hope even if you have private student loans.

“It’s no walk in the park if you have private student loans and have lost your job,” Clark says. “But as a general rule most private student loan lenders are offering 90 days of forbearance. For 90 days, you will not be considered to be delinquent because we are in the midst of a national emergency.”

Clark says you should not just stop paying on your private student loan as you might with a federal loan. You need to call them and tell them that you need forbearance because of coronavirus.

What your particular lender is doing is something that should be explicitly stated when you visit your lender’s website or call them to ask for assistance.

Note that with private student loans, interest will still accrue during forbearance in most — if not all — cases.

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