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If Your Student Loans Are in Default

Were you already behind on your student loan payments before the pandemic?

The good news is, the CARES Act didn’t just pause federal student loan payments. It also paused all collections and wage garnishments for federal student loans that are currently in default.21 And big news—President Biden announced with the latest student loan relief extension that borrowers in default or delinquency on their federal student loans will automatically be returned to good standing. The details are still being ironed out. But this change would mean that if you’re behind on your student loan payments, you’ll be considered “caught up.”

Yeah, that’s a nice relief—but don’t get too comfy.

Once student relief ends, you’ll still be expected to pay your student loans just like everybody else. And if you were in default before the pandemic, there’s a good chance you could end up defaulting again—which means you’d have to start dealing with debt collectors hounding you or money being taken straight out of your paycheck. Yikes.

Don’t wait until September rolls around to get things in order. Now’s your chance to get your budget ready to start paying on your student loans! Here’s what to do if your student loans were in default before the CARES Act.

If You’re in a Crisis

If your finances are crazy right now (you’ve lost a job, you’re expecting a baby, or you have an immediate family member in the hospital), focus on covering your Four Walls: food, utilities, shelter and transportation. And stockpile as much cash as possible to help you weather the storm. Remember, this is only for a little while. You’ll want to pick up the momentum and catch up on your student loans as soon as things go back to normal.

And if you’re still in crisis mode when student loan relief ends, contact your loan servicer and let them know why you can’t make your payments. They may suggest a student loan rehabilitation plan to let you make small payments on your student loans while you get back on your feet. You might also want to consider consolidating your student loans to avoid or get out of a default.

If you feel like you’re drowning in student loan debt with no way out, a financial coach can help! Get some direction with a free coaching consultation

If Your Income Is Stable

If you’ve got a stable income right now and you’ve got any extra money, use it to pay toward your student loans while there’s currently no interest and no debt collectors breathing down your neck. Right now, your student loans may be on pause like everyone else. But as soon as that ends, you run the risk of falling behind again.

The more you can throw at your student loans now, the sooner you’ll be out of debt—and the sooner you can stop worrying about them. Waiting until September (when the interest rate kicks back up) will only extend the length of your loan and keep you in debt longer.

Student Loan Rehabilitation

If you’ve defaulted on your student loans, student loan rehabilitation can help you get back on your feet. This is a federal program designed to help you keep your Four Walls covered while you slow way down on your student loan payments.

You’ll likely need to show proof of your income and expenses to qualify for student loan rehabilitation. And depending on your situation, your loan servicer will decide your monthly payment. (Your payment could drop to as low as $5 a month if you’re really struggling financially.)22

To rehabilitate a defaulted Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan:

  • You must agree in writing to make nine monthly payments (as determined by your loan holder) for 10 consecutive months.

To rehabilitate a Perkins Loan:

  • You must make a full monthly payment (as determined by your loan holder) each month for nine consecutive months.

Once you complete the rehabilitation payment plan, your student loan will no longer be in default. But keep in mind, you can only rehabilitate a defaulted loan one time.

And while student loan rehabilitation can help you if you’re in a pinch, it isn’t meant to be a long-term solution. This is just one way to get caught up if you’ve fallen behind on your student loan payments.