Student Loans Are On Hold — Should You Pay Anyway?

Federal student loan payments are suspended interest-free into 2023. Here's how the government will time restart.
you-can-now-skip-2-student-loan-payments-should-you

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Find the latest

Payments are currently suspended, without interest, for most federal student loan borrowers until sometime in 2023. This policy does not apply to private student loans.

Unless the president orders forbearance to be extended once more, the repayment clock starts again 60 days after the department is allowed to implement the program or ongoing litigation is resolved, or 60 days after June 30, 2023 — whichever comes first.

Borrowers can still make payments to lower their debt during this period of suspended payments, called a forbearance. According to the latest federal data, a total of 500,000 borrowers (about 1.16% of all 42.9 million federal loan borrowers) continued making payments during the pause. Contact your servicer if you have further questions.

While the Biden administration has unveiled a broad cancellation plan for up to $20,000 in federal loan debt, any remaining debt will be waiting for you when repayment begins at the end of the forbearance, unless the policy changes again.

If your payments bring your federal loan balance below the amount of cancellation you qualify for — it's $10,000 for all borrowers who earn less than the income limits, and $20,000 if you have ever received a Pell Grant — the federal government will automatically refund the overpayment when it discharges your debt.

On the other hand, if you'll have a balance remaining, you may want to continue to take advantage of the 0% interest rate as long as you can. Every dollar you send goes straight toward the principal.

Here’s how to decide what to do next.

If you are seeking loan forgiveness

The automatic forbearance won’t undo your progress toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness or through other income-driven repayment loan forgiveness programs. As long as you are still working with a qualifying employer, months spent in forbearance will count. Under normal circumstances only full payments count.

So making payments during the automatic forbearance won't get you ahead on payments. You're in the same boat whether you pay or not.

You also won’t lose credit for the payments you already made. In fact, a newly announced review of all past federal student loan payments could actually increase your payment count toward forgiveness.

Once payments resume, you may want to review the new income-driven payment option that was unveiled in August as well. For many borrowers it will result in the smallest possible payment — and if you are on any kind of forgiveness track, that's your goal.

If you want to continue making payments

Borrowers might want to continue making payments on federal loans if they want to pay down their debt faster.

If you do continue making payments, you won't pay any new interest on your loans during the forbearance. This 0% interest rate will save you money overall, even though your payment won't be lower.

The full amount of your payment will be applied to the principal balance of your loan once all interest accrued prior to March 13, 2020, is paid.

Deciding whether to make a payment during this time will depend on your original repayment strategy:

  • Those sticking to a standard repayment timeline (typically 10 years) could consider making payments. You likely won't have much outstanding interest and additional payments can help you chip away at your principal during the break. To preserve your flexibility, we suggest opening a savings account and banking those monthly payments, then making a lump-sum payment against your highest-interest loan when repayment begins.

  • Borrowers enrolled in income-driven repayment or planning to do so shouldn't bother making payments now if the ultimate plan is to pay until the loans are forgiven — usually 20 or 25 years. If you want to pay off your loans sooner, then paying now could help you lower the total interest you owe on top of your principal.

  • Borrowers seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness do not need to make payments until forbearance ends sometime in 2023. The months of automatic forbearance will count toward the 120 payments needed for forgiveness.

Contact your loan servicer with any questions about continuing or restarting payments during the forbearance period.

If you have FFELP Loans

If you have Federal Family Education Loan Program debt (FFELP), you are entitled to receive the no-interest forbearance — and debt cancellation — only if the government owns the loans. This won’t be most FFEL borrowers; most of the loans from the now-defunct program are commercially held.

You can find out who owns your loans by logging in to studentaid.gov using your FSA ID.

Both types of FFELP loans qualify for loan forgiveness programs — either PSLF or income-driven repayment — requiring that you consolidate your loan into a federal Direct Loan. Normally that would be a strike against seeking forgiveness, as it would cause unpaid interest to capitalize and wipe out any progress you'd made up to that point.

But neither of those downsides applies to borrowers who take advantage of the one-time IDR waiver that allows time in forbearance and some deferments to count toward income-driven loan forgiveness. Consolidate by May 1, 2023. This applies to both federal- and commercially-held FFELP loans.

You cannot consolidate into a Direct Loan if you already did a spousal consolidation — you can split your spousal consolidation loan up again if need be — or if you have active litigation or a legal judgment against you.

How to work with your servicer

If you want to restart payments during the automatic forbearance, contact your student loan servicer — it’s the private company that manages payment of your federal loans. But you don't have to do anything to get the forbearance or the 0% interest rate.

To find out which loan servicer is yours, log in to studentaid.gov with your FSA ID.

You can get in touch with all of the loan servicer contact centers by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.

For additional information visit studentaid.gov/announcements-events for forthcoming details.

Spot your saving opportunities
See your spending breakdown to show your top spending trends and where you can cut back.