As much of the country goes into an extreme lockdown during the Coronavirus outbreak, the economy comes to a screeching halt, and social distancing is becoming not just a suggestion but a requirement, it's natural to panic.
The whole world might seem like it’s coming to an end, yet you still have bills, which include - but are certainly not limited to - your student loans.
If we can offer you any advice right now during these trying times where there is not necessarily an end in sight, it’s to pause your panic and start to make a plan that fits your life and needs.
If this gives you any peace of mind, you're not alone.
Around 45 million Americans are carrying about $1.5 trillion in student loan debt; many of which are facing the same dilemma of reconfiguring their plans to make sure they don’t default.
We’re all in this together, and panic only leads to more stress and weakened immune systems in a time when we desperately need them to be working for us.
So if you’re feeling yourself in a similar panic, here’s how you can make a plan to avoid defaulting on your loans during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash
How to adjust your federal student loan repayment plans during the Coronavirus outbreak
One of the worst ripple effects the Coronavirus has caused is a series of layoffs due to the inability to open storefronts, as well as the tightening of budgets because of the economy drop.
Several other factors are also causing businesses to have to make such hard decisions.
It’s estimated that 3 million Americans will be laid off by the time summer rolls around. To put this into perspective, during the Great Recession from December 2007 to early 2010, around 8.8 million jobs were lost, over the course of 18 months.
The hard to face fact is that if this happened to you, you’re not the first or the last to go through this type of hardship.
But there are ways to find a light in these bad situations.
As you’re sorting through these difficult decisions you’re being forced to make, you might want to know what on earth you should do about your student loan payment that doesn’t stop being due despite being out of a job, and despite the world being in a complete crisis.
Option 1: Switch to income-driven repayment
If you or your significant other still remain in a job, you can adjust for your payments to be switched to income-driven so you don’t totally halt your progress on paying off your loans.
Income-driven repayment plans are available if you have federal student loans, and they are calculated based on a specific formula that adjusts your monthly payments so that they can be easier to manage.
It’s not difficult to switch into this income-driven plan, especially as your circumstances might have just changed drastically.
During the Coronavirus outbreak, this might be a better option than complete deferment or forbearance, which we will discuss later in this article.
The reason being, some of the income-driven programs are renewable year after year and allow borrowers to pay as little as $0 if the net income for their household is less than 150% of the poverty limit for their family size.
Switching into an income-driven repayment plan for a long enough period of time could make you eligible to receive loan forgiveness, depending on what your circumstances are down the line.
If you’re interested in applying, you can receive more information here and apply directly online.
You can also check out: How to find out if you're eligible for student loan forgiveness
Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash
Option 2: If you’re already on an income-driven repayment plan, apply to get your payments recalculated
If you have already been utilizing an income-driven repayment plan to pay back your student loans, you can request a recalculation of your monthly payments at any time if your circumstances have changed.
For a situation in which you are facing a lost job, you can resubmit an application right now to get a lower payment that is based on your current income situation.
If this is an option for you, you should opt to recalculate your payments rather than apply for deferment or forbearance.
Staying in the program still makes you eligible for eventual student loan forgiveness if you were on track to receive it. Not to mention it allows you to avoid interest capitalization when leaving the program.
If you’re unfamiliar with interest capitalization, it’s when your unpaid interest is added to the principal balance of the loan. This does happen when you go into periods of deferment or forbearance, so taking advantage of the income-driven repayment plan is highly suggested by our team at College Life Today.
Option 3: Deferment and forbearance as a last resort
You can completely pause your payments on your student loans and remain in good standing during a time of economic hardship.
If you have federal student loans, you are in much better shape to do this than if you carry private student loans.
For federal student loans, you have a few years of economic hardship covered, versus a year or less for private loans.
Typically during a time of deferment and forbearance, interest still accrues on the loan.
However, during these special circumstances, President Trump has declared an interest freeze for federal student loans, which means they will not accrue interest in this period of deferment and forbearance.
This will help you down the line, but has little effect immediately.
The interest freeze is only available to those with federal student loans. However, private student loans and Perkins loans do not qualify for this.
Ultimately, deferment and forbearance are last resorts, and you should explore other options before settling for this one because it can drastically change your student loan repayment plans and put you way off schedule.
Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz
How to adjust your private student loan repayment plans during the Coronavirus outbreak
There are certainly fewer options for those with private student loans vs federal student loans during economic hardships.
Private loans do not offer an income-driven repayment program, and the deferment and forbearance options are much more rigid as far as timeframe and terms.
Some private student loan lenders can offer a temporary modification to reduce monthly payments during financial and economic hardship.
This choice is entirely up to the lender, and there’s not much regulation on them as far as which ones are more likely to and which ones are not.
Be cautious; it is not uncommon for a lender to offer a temporary payment adjustment, but to later on down the line increase the payment to make up for the loss.
Read the terms and fine print if you do take one of these options. The more aware you are of what you are taking on, the less likely you are to be surprised later on down the line.
Refinance your student loans
If you have been waiting to refinance your student loans to lower your monthly payments and make your student loan bill more manageable, now could be the best time.
The interest rate was just officially set to nearly 0% as of March 15, which includes credit cards, auto loans, and even your student loans.
If the only loans you hold are private student loans, then this could be a no brainer for you. Even if you were considering forbearance and deferment, refinancing with a new company that offers more flexible terms during forbearance and deferment periods could be a power move also.
With extremely low rates, this option could help you lower your payments and also set you up for future success when finances do turn around.
If you do hold federal loans and you are not confident about your income or your health in the next few months, and if you’re working towards student loan forgiveness, do not refinance your student loans.
Refinancing your federal student loans voids all the options that they make available to you, and if any of the above are a concern then you could put yourself in a tight situation and end up defaulting on your refinanced loans - which could be detrimental to your overall financial health.
We have an article that helps you decide if now is the right time to refinance your student loans
. Keep in mind that everyone's situation is unique and you should consider your financial health and goals first and foremost.
Watch the news carefully
If you're not confident about your options just yet, hold out on making your decision until President Trump makes a final decision on student loan payment suspension.
Chances are things could change as the Coronavirus crisis ramps up in the United States, so making any rash decisions could be a little too premature.
Until then, monthly payments for student loans will continue to be due, as well as any collections in relation to defaulted student loans - which could affect you, especially during this tax season.
You may not be aware, but tax refund interceptions are a common way for the government to intervene and collect your tax money without your approval.
Your decision should be one that's right for you, and should be carefully considered and tailored to your needs.
Don't forget to take care of yourself during this time, and make sure that your mental health
is in check so that you can make the most sound decision for your financial future.