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93% of student loan borrowers aren’t prepared to start paying again. Inflation could make it even worse

February 24, 2022, 6:27 PM UTC

Roughly 41 million Americans are set to restart paying down their federal student loan balances again on May 1 for the first time in more than two years. Yet the vast majority of borrowers say they’re concerned about how they’re going to pay this monthly bill again amid current sky-high levels of inflation

About 93% of borrowers are not prepared to resume payments in May, according to a recent survey of 23,532 student loan borrowers conducted by advocacy organization the Student Debt Crisis Center and Savi, a technology company focused on student loan forgiveness. 

In preparation for repayments to start, however, about a third of student loan borrowers have already started cutting back their spending, even on necessities like food, rent, and health care, the survey finds. 

“Our findings show that the ongoing pandemic combined with unprecedented inflation are huge obstacles for borrowers who are, by and large, not ready to resume payments, struggling to afford basic needs, and confused about their options moving forward,” said Natalia Abrams, president and founder of the Student Debt Crisis Center.

In many cases, the financial health of student loan borrowers got worse over the past two years, making it even more difficult to start repayments, said Abrams. Over half the borrowers surveyed experienced a job loss or reduced hours during the pandemic. 

Among those who were easily making their student loan payments pre-pandemic, 61% now say they are struggling to pay down their student loans or are in default.

But in addition to inflation worries, many borrowers are also concerned about the status of their loan servicer. Several major companies—including Navient, PHEAA (also known as FedLoan Servicing), and Granite State—stopped servicing loans last year, transferring millions of loans to new servicers. Over half of the borrowers surveyed report they had not been contacted by their student loan servicer about payments resuming May 1.

It’s the largest servicing transition to ever occur for borrowers, and millions are struggling to figure this out, said Tobin Van Ostern, cofounder of Savi. And that means “clear guidance and communication to borrowers from the Department of Education is essential,” he adds.

Many experts are recommending that borrowers not wait for their servicer to contact them. Instead, they should make sure their contact information is up-to-date and start looking into repayment plans now if they’re concerned about being able to afford the monthly expense. 

And while some Democrats are pushing for sweeping student loan forgiveness, it’s far from a done deal, and borrowers shouldn’t necessarily count on it taking place before the Department of Education requires payments to resume.

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