Student loan borrowers who requested refunds after forgiveness announcement are still waiting

September 30, 2022, 4:38 PM UTC
Borrowers who made voluntary payments on their student loans during the payment pause can request a refund. Many borrowers are still waiting to receive theirs.
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Some borrowers who requested refunds on the federal student loan payments made during the pandemic payment pause are finally seeing the balances hit their bank accounts. But weeks after their initial requests, many others are still waiting.

The pandemic-era CARES Act allows borrowers to request refunds for payments made on their federal student loans during the payment pause. In the weeks since President Joe Biden’s announcement of widespread student loan forgiveness, many people are actually making the requests so they can benefit from the full $10,000 to $20,000 in relief they are eligible for.

“I just felt relieved,” says Marlene Peralta of seeing the money back in her account. Peralta, a 34 year-old from Illinois, requested a refund from Mohela, her student loan servicer, right after Biden’s announcement in the last week of August and received the $3,600 four weeks later.

The process was simple for Peralta. She waited on hold for about 40 minutes, but the request itself took barely one minute. “[The representative] confirmed that I wanted the full amount refunded, and I said yes,” says Peralta. He confirmed she would receive the refund, “and that was pretty much it.”

Peralta is lucky. Many borrowers who made the same request say they have yet to receive the funds and aren’t getting any information from their servicers. Peralta advises them to “be patient.” Every servicer is different and is sending out the refunds on different timelines. Some are mailing paper checks, while others are sending the refunds electronically.

Loan servicers, Federal Student Aid, and the Department of Education declined to answer Fortune’s questions about the timing of the refunds.

Complicating the process: The Department of Education said that borrowers who apply for forgiveness will automatically receive a refund for payments they made during the past two and a half years that brought their balance below the full amount of forgiveness they are eligible for. Servicers, many of which are understaffed from the pandemic, have a lot more work on their plates now. 

Still, this means a borrower who had a balance of $10,500 in their account before Mar. 13, 2020, and made a $1,000 payment during the payment pause would have the $9,500 discharged and receive a refund of $500, as long as they are eligible for $10,000 in relief, according to the Federal Student Aid website

Other borrowers are still eligible for a refund on any payments made after Mar. 13, 2020, by contacting their federal student loan servicer. But be careful: Any amount refunded above the forgiveness threshold will increase your total loan balance and monthly payments, which resume on Jan. 1, 2023.

If you plan on requesting a refund, the deadline is Dec. 31, 2023. And it will take quite a while to process. Currently, wait times are estimated to be 50 to 60 days after your request is processed for most major student loan servicers.

Austin Haymore, a 25-year-old from California, put off requesting a refund for the payments made during the freeze because he figured it would be time-consuming. But when he finally did make the call earlier this month, it took only about five minutes of his time. The student loan representative confirmed that he was eligible for a refund and that his address on file was still accurate, then estimated the refund would arrive in mid-November. 

“Honestly, it was really exciting, as well as a relief in some ways,” says Haymore, who requested $2,000 on Sept. 19. “Money has been tight, so to be getting some back will be a great help.”

If you requested a refund already and haven’t heard back from your student loan servicer, consider checking in with the company. Some borrowers have reportedly received inconsistent information about when they will receive their refund, with some being told it takes longer to request a refund over the phone than to wait for the automatic refund come October when the relief application opens. 

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