New Q&A on Student Debt

What’s happening with my student loans, and when will I have to start making monthly payments again? Where can I get help, and how can I lower my payments? We’ve got answers to your questions about student loans and student debt.

A: The good news: you don’t need to make any payments on your federal student loans and your loans will not accrue interest until February 2022. However, the Department of Education has said that this will be the final extension of forbearance period – so you should be prepared for payments to re-start in February.

A: Unfortunately, private student loans don’t qualify for the Department of Education’s forbearance program. However, many private lenders are offering disaster or emergency forbearance – typically a short-term pause on payments that won’t count toward any existing forbearance limits. Interest will still accrue during all private loan forbearance periods. If you’re having trouble making payments, don’t wait – reach out to your lender today. Here is a list of relief available from many private lenders.

A: Yes, and now is the time to act – February will be here before you know it! This year has been financially tough on many people, but 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 during the pandemic – you can even lower your payments to ZERO.

A: 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.

A: 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.

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

Regardless of your situation, now is the right time to review your finances and reevaluate your payment plan – do this as soon as you can. Log back into your accounts, look at your monthly bill, and see if income-driven repayment is right for you.

A: If you work for government or a nonprofit you can have the remainder of your loans forgiven after ten years of payment through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Unfortunately, PSLF has had problems (and a lot of criticism) because too many eligible borrowers were disqualified due to unnecessarily complicated rules. The good news is that the Department of Education recently announced changes that will relax many rules retroactively for people who enroll in PSLF – meaning tens of thousands of borrowers could erase their debt!

Previously, payments were disqualified because they were late or for a slightly incorrect amount, because the borrower was in the wrong repayment plan, or because the borrower didn’t consolidate their old federal loans (known as Federal Family Education Loans, or FFEL) into federal Direct Loans. The changes announced by the Department of Education will correct for these problems – and correct them retroactively for old payments/loan plans.

Read more about these changes here.

To benefit from the temporary changes the department is making, borrowers who have not yet applied for PSLF must do so before Oct. 31, 2022. For borrowers with FFEL or Perkins loans, the department says they must consolidate those loans and submit a PSLF form. The Department of Education says it will post more information about its PSLF waiver at

A: The Department of Education recently announced that federal student loan borrowers who qualify for total and permanent disability will have their loans forgiven automatically. This means as much as $5.8 billion in relief for 323,000 borrowers!

The changes announced by the Department of Education simplify the process and provide for automatic forgiveness of student loans for borrowers who are receiving disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. The Department of Education will conduct a data match of those receiving Social Security disability payments to identify the eligible individuals with outstanding federal student loans. The next data match will occur in September with individuals receiving discharges within the following weeks. The Department of Education estimates that all those eligible for student loan forgiveness will receive the discharge before the end of 2021.

While it remains to be seen whether future recipients of Social Security disability will receive automatic student loan forgiveness, disabled borrowers who are not yet receiving social security disability payments may apply for those benefits with the possibility of also receiving federal student loan forgiveness. However, borrowers should be aware of unfortunately low success rates and stringent requirements that, in addition to the lengthy waiting period, may prevent many from ultimately receiving automatic student loan forgiveness.

Learn more about these changes to disability loan discharge here.

A: For more information, check out our Know Your Rights page. We’ve got more answers to your student debt questions, and you can also learn about important rights and resources for things like credit reports, debt collection, and reporting fraud. Plus, we provide specific COVID-19 financial resources – including accessing your stimulus checks and any tax credits that you qualify for.