Student loan borrowers are getting another extension of payment relief.
President Biden directed the Department of Education to extend the pause on student loan payments until Sept. 30, 2021, via executive order. The freeze, which applies only to federal student loans, began last March as part of the CARES Act. The extension is meant to give student loan borrowers a chance to use their money on other necessities like rent or groceries.
But should you stop paying? We asked eight certified financial planners how to handle student loan payments in the coming months. Though results were split, experts agree that whether you should continue paying or not primarily depends on your current financial situation.
Why some experts think you should keep paying
“This is an opportunity to pay down your loans faster, since everything you pay on the loan goes towards your principal.”
— Scott Hammel, certified financial planner at Atlas Wealth Advisors
“If you are able to pay then you should continue to pay down your debt. [Some] employers can continue to make [annual] contributions of up to $5,250 per employee toward student loan assistance. If you have a bonus arrangement set up, consider asking your employer to pay your bonus as a student loan repayment. By doing so, your bonus would not raise your gross taxable income.”
— Amie Agamata, certified financial planner at Northwestern Mutual
Why some experts think you should spend the money elsewhere
“During the global pandemic, we found two things to be true for everyday Americans: Cash and cash flow are king. Individuals and families with federally owned student loans should stop paying for one of two reasons. First, if there are more pressing financial needs for the household. Second, there is talk about loan forgiveness at some point in the future. Where this stands in the legislative agenda, and if it makes it into the agenda at all, remains to be seen. But if it does, and there is partial loan forgiveness, you don't want to pay down debt that may be forgiven later.”
— Brent Weiss, certified financial planner at Facet Wealth
“If a borrower has other debt at a higher interest rate than their student loan debt, then this student loan payment holiday is a good opportunity to pause student loan payments and instead put those funds toward the higher-interest debt.”
— David Tenerelli, certified financial planner at Strategic Financial Planning
How to deal with student loans
If you have student loan debt, here are a few ways to handle your payments:
- Set a budget: Once you know where your money is going, you can figure out where to cut back. This could include canceling subscriptions or ordering less takeout.
- Adjust monthly payments: The Department of Education offers options for students to adjust their payments based on their income. Learn more here.
- Consolidate your loans: This will make it easier to keep track of them (and may get you a better interest rate).
- Refinance: Interest rates are at all-time lows, including student loan interest rates. Refinancing your loan to a lower rate saves you money over time. Keep in mind you’ll need a solid income and higher credit score to qualify.
- Make extra payments: If you’re able, pay off more this month — because interest rates are 0% the entire payment will go toward the principal of your loan, reducing it much faster.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko