Since the pandemic began, student loan repayment has been put on pause — providing relief to more than 40 million Americans in debt. The Biden administration is expected to decide on the payment pause and wide-scale debt cancellation before the moratorium expires Aug. 31. As borrowers anticipate making monthly payments again, Reset checks in with Yanely Espinal, director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance, to answer listeners’ questions about how to keep student debt under control.
[The following has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation, click the red ‘LISTEN’ button above.]
I’m a parent and I took out parent loans. One week into my daughter’s college experience, my husband died and I had to take everything on. I’m retiring in two years. I have to start paying back $800 a month. Do you have any suggestions on lowering the interest rate? — Jill, Oak Park
Yanely Espinal: I would not recommend using your retirement funds to pay this, because one of the big things that a lot of parents do when they take loans is they feel like they’ve now compromised their retirement. But the truth is your retirement funds are sheltered. That’s one of the beautiful things about the way the tax law is written in our country. If you have been putting money aside into a 403(b) or an IRA or a Roth IRA, those funds are sheltered so that if you experience bankruptcy, if you have any student loan debt, if you owe funds, they won’t be able to take your retirement money.
You can work with a loan provider and figure out what makes sense. Typically student loans are expected to be be repaid over 10 years, but there are extended payment plans that can lengthen the term up to 25 years
How can I find out how much I owe? My parents were taking care of all my student loan debt, and the responsibility is now mine, so it’s $800 a month. But I really don’t know who I’m paying it to or how much I have left. — Gene, West Dundee
Yanely Espinal: You want to find out from your family: Did you have any private student loans or was it just federal aid? Federal aid comes from the federal government whereas private aid might come from financial institutions and private banks. For your federal student aid, all of that information is going to be available for you in your portal. You will have to create a username and password and log into that using the website studentaid.gov. There’s so much information there.
I took out debt as an undergraduate student, which my parents shared with me. But at 29, I went to graduate school and I signed on the dotted line for what ended up being a little under $100,000 in debt. Looking back, I take responsibility. But when we talk about student loan debt relief, where is the money coming from? Also, I’m stuck with very high interest rates loans from my graduate debt. Should I consolidate? — Emily, Arlington Heights
Yanely Espinal: First one — who pays for student loan debt forgiveness? The simple answer is taxpayers. At the end of the day, the government is collecting taxes from all of us in order to create income for itself.
For the second question about consolidating undergraduate and graduate loans: I would absolutely say that you should wait because the reality is, if you consolidate your private loans with your federal loans right now, if the Biden administration — or any future administration — were to offer any federal relief, you would no longer qualify.
GUESTS: Cody Hounanian, executive director at the Student Debt Crisis Center
Fenaba Addo, associate professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Yanely Espinal, director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance