After more than eighteen months, the current suspension of federal student loan payments is slated to end on October 1. While that date is still months away, policymakers need to start planning for the end of the suspension now. Restarting loan payments for over 20 million borrowers isn’t nearly as simple as turning on a light switch.
As I write at Forbes, the Department of Education and student loan servicers should start contacting borrowers over the summer to remind them of the upcoming end to the suspension. Borrowers at high risk — including those who were delinquent before the pandemic and those who were enrolled in income-driven repayment or another safety-net program — will need extra attention. Servicers should encourage some borrowers to start making payments again during July and August, in order to reduce the amount of paperwork to be processed when the true deadline arrives in October.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations have extended the payment suspension several times, but kicking the can down the road again should not be an option. According to Education Department estimates, the suspension costs taxpayers more than $4 billion a month, making it one of the most expensive higher education programs on the federal books. The government currently spends more suspending student loan payments than it does on grant aid to low-income college students. Given that high-income households hold most student debt, this state of affairs is regressive.
Fortunately, the pace of vaccinations is increasing and the economy is on the mend. Most student borrowers should be fine once monthly payments start up again. The minority who might struggle will have safety-net programs available to help them. But getting the student loan program back to normal requires clearing a major logistical hurdle on October 1. Policymakers should start planning for it now.