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For the better part of 18 months, I’ve been living in a student loan-free fantasy world and earlier this month reality came knocking in the form of an announcement from the Biden administration about the impending end to the extended freeze on federal student loan repayments. The news I knew would eventually come was finally here.
Since graduating from college I’ve been taking advantage of the freeze, and for the most part, not thinking about my loans at all. Once every couple of months or so I’d check on my loans and do a cursory Google to see if there was any chatter about the freeze being extended (or better yet, loans being forgiven.) For eighteen blissful months, the news was the same. Loan repayments are paused — for now.
Satisfied that I still had more time on my hands, I’d close out my Department of Education tabs and go about my business in my fantasy world. At least for a little while longer, I could be a recent college graduate with disposable income.
Amid all of the terrible news brought on by the pandemic, the freeze on federal loan repayments was a saving grace. I was apprehensive about discussing the topic of my loan repayment in this newsletter given how much my thoughts on it have been colored by the pandemic. There’s no graceful way to admit that for myself and many others, the consequences of the pandemic have actually been good for our student debt.
I’ve found that a lot of other borrowers are in a similar position. Here’s just a couple of responses to an Instagram post about the freeze:
I’ve been lucky enough to be employed since graduating from college and while I’ve bounced around to a couple of different jobs in the last year and a half, I’ve always had enough money coming through to cover my bills and then some. Had the pandemic not happened, the “and then some” would’ve been going towards my student loans and interest, but once the education department announced that those payments didn’t have to be made, I decided without hesitation that I wouldn’t be making them.
First-generation college students are more likely to take out undergraduate student loans than other students, and when they do take them on, they tend to be for more money. Forty-seven percent of recent first-gen college graduates take out $25,000-plus loans compared to 35% of continuing-generation grads. I’m in a very similar boat, so you can imagine why I took advantage of the freeze.
In the last year, I put as much money as I could into savings with the goal of being able to make bigger payments on my largest loans whenever I was forced to do so. (A modified avalanche approach to repayment rather than the snowball method I thought I’d have to take.) With the money I was able to put into savings, I felt steadily more confident in my financial situation and was able to make plans to move into my own apartment — a post-college step I didn’t think would be on the table until later down the line.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the repayment freeze was a financial benefit for everyone. Many people who faced financial strain throughout the pandemic didn’t have the luxury of turning those payments into savings. Despite the freeze, some people continued to make their payments likely thinking that they could use this time to make a greater dent in the money they owed. Instead, they continued to be overwhelmed by their debt. Of the 428,268 people who made voluntary payments during this pause, 63% of them aren’t even $1 less in debt, according to a report by Business Insider.
I made the decision not to make any payments during this period and instead put the money I would’ve spent on small monthly payments towards my savings. Whether or not that was a smart decision remains to be seen. But whether a borrower chose to make those payments or hold off, their loans are likely waiting for them at the start of the new year.
The repayment freeze has left room for a lot of borrowers to imagine what our lives could look like without the burden of student debt. For me, it’s meant a chance to live with a little less stress and put together a game plan that will hopefully pull me out of debt sooner than I’d thought. Thankfully, though, at least until February 1, 2022, I can keep living in my debtless fantasy world.
📚 Good reads
- It seems like the prospect of student debt cancellation is in the public conversation now more than ever. Jenny Nordstrom, a college graduate with $90,000 in student debt told Rewire that, the prospect of student loan forgiveness felt like “freedom.” Read that story here.
- Maria Melchor, who runs First Gen Living and who interviewed for this newsletter, put together a guide for borrowers who’ll be resuming payments next year. You can read that here.
Thanks for reading,