Federal Student Loan Payments Could Restart in Roughly 2 Months — Or 6. What to Know

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  • Federal student loan payments could resume as early as May, depending on how quickly the Supreme Court reaches a decision on student loan forgiveness.
  • The pandemic-relief policy has now been extended eight times and spanned nearly three years.

The pandemic-relief policy suspending federal student loan payments has now been extended eight times and spanned nearly three years.

When will the payments actually resume? It's still uncertain.

Experts say the Supreme Court hearings on Feb. 28 over President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness plan will solidify the timeline. In short, depending on that outcome, borrowers could have a bit more than two more months, or up to half a year.

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Here's what borrowers need to know.

Restart depends on Supreme Court decision timing

When student loan payments restart depends on how long the Supreme Court justices take to issue a decision on the president's plan, said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

In November, the U.S. Department of Education announced the latest extension to the payment pause on federal student loans, saying the bills would resume 60 days after the litigation over its student loan forgiveness plan resolves. If the legal issues with the administration's forgiveness plan are still unfolding by the end of June, or if it's not allowed to move forward with forgiving student debt by then, payments will pick up at the end of August.

"If the court issues a ruling a few weeks after the Feb. 28 hearing, repayment could restart in May or June," Kantrowitz said. "If they wait until the end of the term in June or July, then there'd be an August or September restart."

In an analysis of the last Supreme Court's term, Kantrowitz found that half of the decisions were issued in June.

Servicers will determine when your payment is due

Federal student loan payments have been on pause since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.S. and crippled the economy. Resuming the bills for more than 40 million Americans will be a massive task.

When a borrowers' payment is due again will depend in part on their timeline with their servicer, Kantrowitz said.

"They're not going to restart everybody's student loan payments on the same day, everywhere, all at once," he said. "Most likely, borrowers will have the same payment due date as they did before the pandemic."

And another extension is still possible, Kantrowitz added. He noted that the Education Department had said twice before on previous extensions of the payments pause that it would be the final extension — only to prolong it yet again.

During the extended payment pause, the Education Department is also ceasing all collection activity, it said, including the garnishment of wages and tax refunds.

Supreme Court will decide loan forgiveness fate

Shortly after Biden announced his sweeping plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of Americans, a number of conservative groups and Republican-backed states attacked the policy in the courts.

Two of these lawsuits — which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments for — have been successful in at least temporarily halting the relief.

The high court justices should put an end to the uncertainty on loan forgiveness.

"The benefit of the Supreme Court ruling is that it will settle, for now, all of the litigation related to the loan forgiveness," Dan Urman, a law professor at Northeastern University, said in an earlier interview with CNBC.

If the justices allow student loan forgiveness to go through, many borrowers will never have to restart payments. According to a White House estimate, roughly 20 million people could have their debt entirely cleared under the president's plan.

"Sixty days will be enough to forgive student loan debt if the president's plan survives," Kantrowitz said. "They've already approved forgiveness for 16 million borrowers, so they just need to transmit this information to the loan servicers.

"It should take one to two weeks for the servicers to implement."

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