Student Loan Relief & Forbearance During COVID-19

Learn how the CARES Act protects some student loan borrowers during COVID-19, how long the relief lasts, who’s eligible and more

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides millions of eligible federal student loan borrowers with temporary payment relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CARES Act protects eligible student loan borrowers in a number of ways. And these protections are automatic for eligible borrowers. But what are the protections? How long do they last? Who’s eligible for the relief? And what if your loan is from a private lender? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

How Is the CARES Act Protecting Student Loan Borrowers During COVID-19?

The CARES Act provides a number of protections to federal student loan borrowers for a limited time. The Act was signed into law on March 13, 2020, and eligible borrowers will receive the following relief until September 30, 2020:

  • Payments are deferred. Your loan servicer should automatically place your federal student loans owned by the Department of Education in “administrative forbearance.” This “allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment,” the Department of Education explains.
  • Interest isn’t accruing. The interest rate is currently 0% on federal student loans owned by the Department of Education. Because interest isn’t accruing during this time, borrowers won’t see their balances grow.
  • Debt collections are paused. The Department of Education has also stopped debt collections on federal student loans. That means the Department won’t make collection calls or send letters or billing statements to borrowers in default. The Department also won’t seize tax refunds, garnish wages or withhold Social Security payments.

Keep in mind, the CARES Act does not forgive student loan debt. But what if you’re enrolled in a student loan forgiveness program? According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), as long as you meet the other requirements of the student loan forgiveness program, your suspended payments will still count toward forgiveness.

For more information on the CARES Act’s student loan protections, visit the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.

Who’s Eligible for CARES Act Student Loan Protections?

The CARES Act’s student loan protections apply only to borrowers with federal student loans. Common student loans covered by the CARES Act include

  • Direct loans
  • Federal Perkins Loans held by the Department of Education
  • Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans held by the Department of Education

If you’re wondering whether you qualify for the CARES Act’s student loan protections, you can contact your loan servicer or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243. You can also log in to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website to see whether the Department of Education is listed as the lender. If it is, then your loan qualifies for CARES Act protections.

If you think your loan qualifies for protections but you’re not getting relief, try contacting the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.

Who Isn’t Eligible for CARES Act Student Loan Protections?

Private student loan borrowers aren’t eligible for the CARES Act’s student loan protections. Common student loans that aren’t covered by the CARES Act include

  • Private loans owned by banks and other private entities
  • Perkins Loans owned by an educational institution
  • FFEL Program loans owned by commercial lenders

If you have one of these loans and you’re experiencing financial hardship, contact your loan servicer to ask about what benefits might be available. 

How Do You Get CARES Act Student Loan Protections?

Most federal student loan borrowers don’t have to do anything to get CARES Act protections from March 13, 2020, through September 30, 2020. And your loan servicer must send you written notification before putting your loan in administrative forbearance.

You can log in to your account to double-check the status of your loan. Your loan servicer will automatically set the interest rate to 0% and pause payments on federal student loans.

If you previously made automatic payments on your student loans, you might want to check your payment history. You’re able to get a refund on any auto-debit payments processed between March 13, 2020, and September 30, 2020.

Can You Still Make Payments on Federal Student Loans?

You’re not required to, but you can choose to keep making payments on qualifying federal student loans. Because the interest rate is 0%, any payments you make can help you pay off your debt faster.

How Do CARES Act Student Loan Protections Affect Credit Scores?

Student loan servicers regularly report your student loan amounts and payment history to the credit bureaus. And how student loan protections affect your credit may depend on the status of your loans when they entered forbearance.

If you were current on your student loans when they entered administrative forbearance, your loan servicer must continue to report the account as current to the credit bureaus. This can help keep your credit in good standing. But if you were delinquent on your student loans when they entered forbearance, your loan servicer can keep reporting your account’s delinquent status until you catch up on the payments you missed.

Watch Out for Student Loan Relief Scams

You should always be on the lookout for student loan relief scams. And right now, scammers are taking advantage of the uncertainty that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CFPB explains that if someone contacts you and offers to suspend your student loan payments for a fee, then it’s a scam. As the CFPB puts it, “You do not need to pay someone to help with your student loans.” You can report the person or company to the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint assistant.

Student Loan Relief and Your Budget

The CARES Act offers several protections that might help you keep your budget afloat in the coming months.

If you’re dealing with the financial impacts of the coronavirus, check whether you have federal student loans. If you do, the CARES Act’s federal student loan protections can help.

And remember, if you’re struggling to pay private student loans, it’s still a good idea to contact your loan servicer. Many lenders are working with borrowers to keep their accounts in good standing. And this can help you protect your credit score during the pandemic. 

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

COVID-19 Customer Assistance

Read about Capital One's response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers.

Learn More

Related Content

Money Management

Ways to Help Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19

Privacy & Security

7 Common COVID-19 Scams

Life Events

Mortgage and Rent Relief Options Explained