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News: SLA on COVID-19 changes for borrowers

WA student loan advocate weighs in on federal COVID-19 changes for borrowers

March 26, 2020

Olympia—Washington’s student loan advocate has guidance to help borrowers navigate federal changes related to COVID-19. This guidance is likely to change as a result of the federal response to this rapidly evolving situation. 

ED’s recent changes offer an opportunity for borrowers to get out of default for as little as $5 a month for a total of $45 over nine months. Borrowers can work with collection agencies to enter a nine-month rehabilitation plan.

ED’s changes

As of 3 p.m. on March 26, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has made four changes that apply retroactively to March 13, 2020. They only apply to federally held student loans.

1. Waive interest. 
2. Suspend payments. 
3. Stop collections on loans in default. 
4. Refund offsets to tax returns that were in process.

Learn more

The student loan advocate has published guidance for borrowers on the Washington Student Achievement Council’s (WSAC) webpage for COVID-19 resources. To get help from the advocate, borrowers that live in Washington can submit their request online via the state’s student complaint portal.  

Details on ED’s changes

Interest waiver

ED is waiving interest automatically, but it may take loan servicers up to a week to operationalize the federal government’s change. The waiver will apply retroactively.

Suspend payments

Student loan borrowers who can’t make payments because of decreased income have two options to lower or stop their monthly payments. They can contact their servicers and sign up for an Income Driven Repayment (IDR) plan, or they can ask for a deferment or forbearance on their loans.

Federal legislation may result in more changes. But for now, if borrowers can afford to make their payments, they should continue doing so.

Stop collections

For all defaulted student loans, ED will stop collections, wage and Social Security garnishment, and offsets to tax returns. ED has also instructed its contracted private agencies to halt all proactive collection measures—including phone calls and sending collection letters or billing statements.

Refund offsets to tax returns

Although ED has stated that it will refund any offsets that were in process as of March 13, it has not given a timeline for returning these funds to borrowers. ED is also relying on employers to comply with this new policy. Borrowers should contact their employers’ human resources contact and inform them this garnishment was lifted as of March 13, 2020.

About

The Office of the Student Loan Advocate is housed in the Washington Student Achievement Council. Student loan borrowers in Washington State can visit the Student Complaint Portal to submit a request for information or help. The Washington Student Achievement Council is committed to increasing educational opportunities and attainment in Washington.