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During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) temporarily paused federal student loan repayments. While this repayment pause was extended several times during the pandemic, it has now come to an end.

As a result, borrowers with federal student loans will need to start making payments again as soon as October 2023. While the ED strives to make the transition as smooth as possible, please prepare to face some challenges as repayment starts back up.

If you have federal student loans, here’s what you need to know about the end of the student loan repayment pause and what you can do next.

Student Loan Repayments Restart in October 2023: What Does That Mean for Me?

Student loan repayments will resume as soon as October 2023, however, student loan interest accrual restarted on September 1, 2023. This means that anyone who benefited from the payment pause will begin to feel an impact when their payments resume.

It’s important to take early action and prepare to make payments. Here are some things you should do right away:

  • Update your contact details on and your loan servicer’s official website. You can find your loan servicer here.
  • Start looking into repayment plans that work with your financial situation. For borrowers on a fixed or low income, this might be an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan like the new SAVE plan (more details below). These plans offer more flexibility and lower payment amounts than most other options.
  • If you enrolled in an IDR plan prior to the repayment pause, you can recertify your existing plan. You have the next six months or so to do this, but it’s best to act quickly. Depending on your household size and income, you may qualify for a lower payment amount.
  • Look into student loan forgiveness programs. These are available for some federal loan borrowers, such as those who’ve worked in public service or have a qualifying disability.

If you have not already done so, now’s a good time to review your finances and determine your ability to repay your loans. If you're not able, and do not find relief, you could incur late fees or default on your loans.

Understanding the CARES Act

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress allocated nearly $4 trillion to economic relief. Roughly $1.9 trillion of this came from the CARES Act, or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which Congress passed in March 2020.

The purpose of the CARES Act was to offset the economic impact of the global pandemic on individuals, families, small businesses, and various industries. Among other things, the CARES Act:

  • Offered fast economic relief in the form of $1,200 stimulus checks to eligible adults
  • Offered unemployment insurance benefits
  • Prevented the eviction of tenants or homeowners impacted by the pandemic
  • Put a payment pause on certain types of loans (e.g., mortgages)
  • Put a payment pause on certain types of loans (e.g., mortgages)

Regarding student loan relief, the CARES Act made it so student loans — specifically federal student loans — were eligible for a repayment and interest accrual pause and did not incur interest throughout that time. For borrowers who continued to make payments during the pause period, the full payment amount went directly toward the principal balance.

Most federal student loans qualify for these benefits under the CARES Act, including:

  • Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program Loans
  • Federal Perkins Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • Certain FFEL loans in default

Private student loans, or those not held by the U.S. Department of Education, were generally considered ineligible for the loan repayment pause or 0% interest rate.

Learn more about the CARES Act here

What if I can't make my student loan payments when they resume?

Consider SAVE Plan

In August 2023 Biden-Harris Administration established the SAVE Plan - an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. Its main purpose is to make it easier for borrowers with federal student loans to make their monthly payments. The SAVE Plan offers most borrowers lower monthly payments than any other IDR plan.

The way this new plan works is simple.

With the SAVE Plan, student loan borrowers no longer have to make monthly payments based on how much they owe. Instead, the plan uses the borrower’s income and household size to determine their monthly payment amount. As long as the borrower makes consistent payments, the remaining loan balance may be forgiven after a certain period.

Here are some of the key benefits of the SAVE Plan:

  • It adjusts the income exemption from 150% to 225% of the current federal poverty guideline. This can significantly lower your minimum monthly payment amount.
  • Individuals earning $32,800 or less will not have to make monthly payments. The same goes for families of four who earn $67,500 or less (depending on the state of residence).
  • Individuals earning $32,800 or less will not have to make monthly payments. The same goes for families of four who earn $67,500 or less (depending on the state of residence).
  • This plan will no longer include spousal income for individual borrowers who file a separate tax return. In other words, you might not need to include your spouse on your IDR application.

The SAVE Plan has additional benefits, which will be available in July 2024. These include the following:

  • Undergraduate loan payments will be reduced by 50% for qualifying borrowers.
  • Borrowers who owe no more than $12,000 in their original loans will have that amount forgiven after ten years of consecutive repayment.
  • Consolidating federal student loans are now eligible for student loan forgiveness.
  • You might be automatically put into an IDR plan if you’re at least 75 days late on your payments.
How to Sign up for the SAVE Plan

You can sign up for the SAVE Plan online using the application as you would for any income-driven repayment plan. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Log into your account to begin the application process.
  2. Review your personal and contact information and update it if needed.
  3. Look over the four IDR plans and choose the SAVE Repayment Plan. Review the eligibility requirements as well. Most federal student loans are eligible, but not all.
  4. Input your financial information and your spouse’s (if applicable). Verify your income using one of the three accepted means.
  5. Read and accept any disclosures and agreements through the U.S. Department of Education.

The application process takes around ten minutes. You can complete the entire application in one sitting, or you can save and return to it later. You can also use the Loan Simulator tool to determine if the SAVE Plan is right for you.

Think About Deferment and Forbearance

If you’re looking for help paying student loans, payment deferral or forbearance may be an option. Both options let you pause your payments temporarily as you get your finances in order. You may be eligible in certain cases, such as if you’re:

  • Currently enrolled in an academic program
  • On active duty in the military
  • In a graduate fellowship program
  • Undergoing cancer treatment or a similar health-related emergency

Keep in mind that deferral and forbearance come with their pros and cons. While payments may be paused, interest might still accrue during these periods. You could also delay eligibility for student loan forgiveness programs.

Keep in Mind the On-ramp Period

For borrowers who continue to face difficulty in making their payments, there is a temporary on-ramp period in effect until September 30, 2024. During this time, borrowers will not be reported as delinquent to credit agencies, and missed payments won't be forwarded to debt collectors who have the authority to garnish wages, withhold tax refunds, impact Social Security benefits, and more. You don't need to take any additional steps to access this relief; it's automatically applied. So, if you simply stop making payments, this relief will be in effect.

Student Loan Repayment Tips

If you need help paying student loans, or if you’re looking for student loan repayment tips, here are some to get you started:

  • Determine your new monthly payment. With the student loan payment restart, the first thing you should do is calculate your monthly payment. You can do this by logging into your loan servicer’s website or using the Loan Simulator feature.
  • Look into income-driven repayment plans. An IDR option like the SAVE Plan can make it easier to manage your payments while giving you some student loan relief.
  • Make extra or larger payments. If you can afford additional or higher payments, this can help you pay off your student loans faster.
  • Take advantage of student loan forgiveness. By making consistent payments every month, your loans may be forgiven after 20 to 25 years, depending on the loan type. Look into other official loan forgiveness, discharge, or cancelation programs. Each one will have its requirements but may be able to offer student loan relief.
  • Look into the Fresh Start initiative. If you default on your federal student loans, the Fresh Start initiative could get you back on track. Contact your loan service provider or the Department of Education to see if you qualify.
  • Improve your income. Some student loan repayment plans come with income restrictions. See if you can increase your income without affecting your plan. If you can, you’ll have some extra money for your payments.
  • Create or assess your budget. When dealing with any kind of debt, it’s wise to review your budget. This can reduce expenses, increase cash flow, and make it easier to pay off debt or save money. It can even help improve your financial wellness.
  • Set up automatic payments. Automatic payments help you stay on top of your bills and avoid late fees. Some loan servicers will even lower your interest rate when you do this.
  • Know your options if you default on your loans. Student loan delinquency is what happens when you miss a payment. It’s common, so it’s good to know your options if it happens to you. If you’re struggling with payments and need student loan relief, see if you qualify for forbearance or deferment. Or find another repayment plan that works better for you.
  • Look into the on-ramp transition period. As student loan payment restarts, borrowers may benefit from an on-ramp period from now through the end of September 2024. This period prevents service providers from reporting delinquencies to the credit bureaus, thereby protecting your credit. You’ll still be responsible for repayment, however.

Lowering Your Payment

Still not sure how to pay student loans back? Here are some options for lowering your monthly payment:

  • Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan: Setting up an IDR plan could lower your monthly payments. If you’re already on one, review it to see if you qualify for a smaller payment amount.
  • Refinancing: Student loan refinancing can lower your interest rate or reduce your monthly payment. However, it might extend your repayment period or make your loans ineligible for forgiveness. You’ll need to go through a private lender to refinance federal loans.
  • Consolidation: If you’re juggling multiple loans, consolidating them into one loan can make it easier to manage payments. You might also get a lower interest rate depending on your credit score and current rate. However, your loans might not be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.
  • Employer Assistance: Depending on where you work, your employer may be able to help by making tax-free contributions to your student loans. This could result in you paying less for your loans. Check with your company’s HR department to see if this is a possibility.

Stay on Top of Your Student Loan Repayment

Student loan repayments are resuming in October 2023, so now’s the time to take action if you have not already done so. If you’re seeking student loan relief or help paying your student loans, you may be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan like the SAVE Plan. You might also be able to lower your monthly payments through forbearance or deferment.

Consider your options carefully and start preparing to make payments again. You can learn more about the end of the student loan repayment pause here. Or find more student loan repayment tips here.