I have been paying down my federal parent student loans during the pandemic and haven’t missed a payment. I currently owe about $100,000 for two children to attend college.
I am also retired with income coming from my pension, savings and Social Security. Should I not have been paying these loans during the pandemic and wait until Oct. 1 to pay? Should I still pay? Postpone payment? I hope there is some cancelation.
It’s tough to say whether in retrospect you should have stopped paying these loans. When federal student loans were placed in automatic forbearance — meaning payments and interest were suspended — it was March 13, 2020, which now seems like a lifetime ago. It was the beginning of a very dark chapter that had no end in sight.
You made the best decisions you could with the information you had. I’m guessing you kept making payments because you want to be rid of that debt as soon as possible, but now with talk of forgiveness, you’re kicking yourself.
I think you made the right call to keep making payments, provided that you don’t have interest-accruing debt. Over the past 14 months, your payments have gone 100% toward the principal.
But if you still regret this decision, this is one of the rare times in life where you get a do-over. You can request a refund for any federal student loan payment that’s in forbearance by contacting your loan servicer. If you don’t believe me, check out the Coronavirus and Forbearance Information page on the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.
Asking for a refund could be a good option if you have other high-interest debt, like a credit card balance. You could put those loan payments toward the interest-accruing debt first and then resume paying off the student loans. But I don’t think student loan forgiveness should be a major factor in your decision-making here.
Yes, President Joe Biden has supported canceling $10,000 of federal loans per borrower. But he has yet to get on board with proposals for forgiving up to $50,000 of debt, as a handful of progressive Democrats have called for. Even the $10,000 isn’t close to reality.
I certainly wouldn’t bank on $50,000 of forgiveness, which is essentially what you’d need to wipe your slate clean. But if you’re more optimistic than I am, the best solution is simply to stop making payments for the next five months to see how things shake out.
I wouldn’t spend that money or invest it, though. Put it in a bank account so that it’s safe. If Sept. 30 comes and goes without forgiveness in sight, then you can make those five months of payments in a lump sum before interest starts accruing again.
You don’t say whether making these loan payments is a strain on your retirement budget. If you struggle to make payments, you need to have two conversations.
The first is with your student loan servicer. Depending on your income, you may be able to lower your monthly payments through an income-contingent repayment plan. You’d need to consolidate your Federal Parent PLUS loans into a Federal Direct Consolidation loan first.
But the bigger conversation you need to have is with your kids. You took on this debt to finance their education. So if they’re in a position to help you out with payments, please ask them. If your kids are still in school, be honest with them about how much debt you have. They may not be able to give you money for payments right now, but at least you can put it on their radar that you expect them to chip in once they graduate.
Maybe a degree of student loan forgiveness will happen someday. But for now, you need to plan as if it’s never going to be a reality.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].