Student Loans

Millions of Americans grapple with student loan debt, including one in seven San Franciscans.  Recently, student borrowers began repaying student loans after more than three years of a COVID-related payment pause.  This page includes information and resources for borrowers seeking guidance and relief to manage their student debt.

For those restarting repayment of their loans, check out our latest webinar and this fact sheet from the Student Borrower Protection Center for important information and steps to take:

The U.S. Department of Education is exploring an alternative path to debt relief for as many working and middle-class borrowers as possible, using the Secretary’s authority under the Higher Education Act.  Currently, borrowers who have already applied for student debt forgiveness are still responsible for making payments on their loans.  The best way to stay informed about the Department of Education’s continued efforts to cancel student loans is to subscribe for updates from them by visiting this link.

Yes, the good news is that options exist to make your student loan payments more affordable! Income-driven repayment plans are based on your income and your family size. If you are not making much money – and especially if you have lost your job or experienced a decrease in income– you can even lower your payments to ZERO.

Find out more and enroll in an income-driven repayment plan here.

The SAVE plan is a new type of Income Driven Repayment (IDR) plan that was introduced by the Biden Administration.  SAVE bases monthly payments on a borrower’s income and family size.  Some new features of this plan may make it the most affordable option for student borrowers to select:

  • Required payments on undergraduate loans drop from 10% to 5% of the borrower’s discretionary income.
  • The threshold for discretionary income has increased from 150% to 225% of the federal poverty line. 
  • Monthly interest not covered by the borrower’s payment on the SAVE plan will not be charged, meaning borrowers who pay what they owe on this plan will no longer see their loans grow due to unpaid interest.
  • Forgives any remaining balance after just 10 years in repayment for loans with original balances of $12,000 or less.  Every $1,000 over the $12,000 mark adds an extra year of required payments, up to 20-25 years, depending on the level of education you borrowed for.

For more information on the SAVE plan and other IDR plan options, visit Federal Student Aid’s website.

Note, although the SAVE plan has many exciting features, it may not be the most affordable option for you and your unique situation.  The best way to identify the best option is to use Federal Student Aid’s Loan Simulator to compare your options.

The Office of Federal Student Aid has a Loan Simulator tool which helps you to calculate student loan payments and choose a loan repayment option that best meets your needs and goals.  You can use it to decide whether to consolidate your student loans and which repayment plan is the best option for you.

Access the tool here.

For student borrowers entering repayment for the first time after the COVID-19 payment pause, the Office of Federal Student Aid offers guidance on what to expect and important actions to take.  You’ll need to update your contact information with them, choose a plan that makes sense for your finances and goals, explore the option to enroll in auto pay, and begin making payments. 

Access step by step guidance, FAQs, and get support here.

Fresh Start is a one-time temporary program from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) that offers special benefits for borrowers with defaulted federal student loans.

Fresh Start automatically gives you some benefits, such as restoring access to federal student aid (loans and grants). But you need to act to claim the full benefits of Fresh Start and get out of default. Sign up for Fresh Start for free using one of three free methods to sign up: Online, Phone, or Mail. 

Learn about Fresh Start and get instructions on how to sign up here.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced it would conduct a one-time adjustment of Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) payment counters to address past inaccuracies.  This will help many borrowers with IDR plans to get closer to forgiveness on the remainder of their loans.  The first group of eligible borrowers were informed by ED on July 14, 2023, that they have loans that qualified for forgiveness. No further action is required from these borrowers to get this forgiveness. ED will continue to identify and notify borrowers who reach the necessary forgiveness threshold of 240 or 300 months’ worth of qualifying payments, depending on the repayment plan and type of loan. They will send these notifications out every two months until 2024, at which point all borrowers who are not yet eligible for forgiveness will have their payment counts updated. Your student loan servicer(s) will notify you directly after your forgiveness is processed. Make sure to keep your contact information up to date with your servicer and on

The PSLF Program helps student loan borrowers working in nonprofit or government jobs by forgiving the remaining balance on your loans after you have made 10 years of qualifying payments (120 total monthly payments). Check out our Public Service Loan Forgiveness resources here.

In order to qualify for PSLF, there are several requirements that you must meet:

  • Be employed full-time by a nonprofit or federal/state/local/tribal government during the time you make each qualifying monthly payment
  • Have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal loans into a Direct Loan)
  • Repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan
  • Make 120 qualifying payments

To protect the most vulnerable borrowers, the Department of Education has created a temporary “on-ramp” to protect borrowers from the harshest consequences of late, missed, or partial payments for up to 12 months. It is currently slated to run from October 1, 2023 to September 30, 2024.

While payments will be due and interest will accrue during this period, interest will not capitalize (be added to the principal) at the end of the on-ramp period. Additionally, borrowers will not be reported to credit bureaus, be considered in default, or referred to collection agencies for late, missed, or partial payments during the on-ramp period. Future monthly bills for borrowers not enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan will be automatically adjusted to reflect the accrued interest during those months.​​​​​​​

Borrowers who can pay should do so, but this on-ramp period gives borrowers who cannot make payments right away the necessary time to adjust, enabling them to ultimately make their monthly payments and meet their financial obligations on their loans. Borrowers do not need to take any action to qualify for this on-ramp.

You can log into the Department of Education ( using your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. This is a username and password that is unique to each borrower. Not sure if you have an FSA ID? If you haven’t logged into the Department of Education’s website since May 2015, you probably don’t have an FSA ID. But don’t worry – you can easily create one. And if you forgot your username or password, don’t worry – there are options to recover your account information – on most log-in pages, look for links that say something like “Forgot My Username” or “Forgot My Password”.

Talking to a financial coach is a great place to start. Our Smart Money Coaching program provides free, confidential, one-on-one financial guidance – including help with student loan repayment. The program is available to anyone living, working or receiving services in San Francisco, regardless of citizenship status. Our coaches are fluent in Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin, with additional translation services as requested. 

For more assistance with student loan debt problems, including default, income-driven repayment, disability discharge and other issues, you can also get help from Free Consumer Rights Legal Clinics offered by Bay Area Legal Aid, or call them at 800-551-5554.

Millions of Americans are struggling to repay student loan debt. The National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project is a resource for borrowers, their families, and advocates representing student loan borrowers.

Smart Money Coaching has helped thousands of people to address their unique financial challenges and goals, including reducing debt, establishing and improving their credit score, opening a low-fee bank account, and increasing their savings.

Our coaches come from our communities and have similar lived experiences as the people they serve. They trust that their clients are the best judges of their own financial situations and needs. Coaches won’t tell you how to spend your money, and instead will empower you to make informed decisions. Coaches are trained by experts, make referrals to trusted community partners, and can escalate issues to City leadership if needed.

Read more about how Smart Money Coaching creates meaningful and life-changing financial outcomes for our community in a recent report highlighting the five most important lessons we’ve learned since the program launched.

In certain situations, you can have your federal student loans forgiven, canceled, or discharged.  That means, you won’t have to pay back some or all of your loan(s).  The most common way people apply to have their student loans forgiven is through Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  If you are a teacher, government employee, working for a nonprofit, or a medical professional, you may qualify for loan forgiveness. 

Additionally, you may qualify to have your loans discharged based on the actions of your school, for example if your school has closed or if they misled you. 

Borrowers with a disability may also qualify to have their loans forgiven.

Visit Federal Student Aid’s website for complete list of pathways to receive student loan forgiveness.