Student loan payment pause eases financial burdens on some borrowers

The most recent pause extension is set to expire Aug. 31.

April 23, 2022, 8:08 AM

David Ormsby remembers the stress of trying to make ends meet as he juggled repaying his student loans and paying for child and living expenses.

He requested several deferrals of his monthly student loan payments because he couldn't afford them, he said.

"It came down to (the) house payment or my student loan payment," said Ormsby, 50, who lives outside the Detroit area and works in material cost purchasing in the automobile industry.

The pause on federal student loan repayments and accumulating interest -- started in March 2020 with the passage of the CARES Act to help those facing economic hardship amid the pandemic -- and has been extended by both the Trump administration and the Biden administration.

Mounting student loan debt can leave borrowers feeling trapped and helpless. So, for many, the repayment pause gave them new freedom to decide how they would spend and save their money.

Ormsby, who said he has nearly $90,000 in federal student loan debt, called the pause a "welcome relief, especially during Covid." It enabled him to put some money toward lowering his debt and saving for retirement, he said.

David Ormsby and his wife, Nancy, attend a Debt Collective protest in Washington, DC.
Courtesy of David Ormsby

Even before the pandemic, reducing or even canceling student debt had become a political issue, especially for Democrats, while some Republicans have called the idea "reckless."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told "Pod Save America" on April 14 that canceling at least some student loan debt through executive action is "still on the table" for President Joe Biden.

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to forgive at least $10,000 worth of federal student loan debt for every borrower, and has faced pressure from progressive Democrats to work to cancel debt outright.

"Between now and August 31, (the pause is) either going to be extended or we're going to make a decision, as Ron (Klain) referenced, about canceling student debt," Psaki said.

This update came the week after Biden announced the most recent extension of the pause, which is set to expire Aug. 31.

"As I recognized in recently extending the COVID-19 national emergency, we are still recovering from the pandemic and the unprecedented economic disruption it caused," Biden said in a statement announcing the extension. "If loan payments were to resume on schedule in May, analysis of recent data from the Federal Reserve suggests that millions of student loan borrowers would face significant economic hardship, and delinquencies and defaults could threaten Americans' financial stability."

Since March 2020, an estimated $195 billion in student loan payments has been waived for nearly 37 million borrowers, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Farzad Kapadia, a 40-year-old living in Brooklyn, New York, is one of those borrowers.

He told ABC News he decided to go to college in part because he wanted to work at the United Nations to serve the world and learn how to help different cultures.

To finance his graduate education at The New School, a university in New York City, Kapadia said he relied primarily on federal student loans, which totaled about $80,000.

"There was no other option," he said. "I needed a graduate degree to go into a lot of the fields that I wanted to go into."

Kapadia, vice president of sales for a financial services related company, said his monthly payments before the pause were almost $1,000. He had to budget daily and refrain from going out and eating at some restaurants.

PHOTO: Farzad Kapadia, 40, seen in this undated photo.
Farzad Kapadia, 40, said the repayment pause means "potentially considering buying a home one day (and) it means if I need to help my parents, I can do that."
Courtesy of Farzad Kapadia

For him, the pause on federal student loan repayments is "totally life changing."

"The pause means living a life that has dignity … (and) living a life that I'm not paranoid every five minutes about my account going to a certain level," Kapadia said. "It means being able to make choices that I have never been able to make."

Lisa Giordano is executive director of the Association of Young Americans, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that advocates for young people on various issues, including student debt.

It's been nearly impossible for young people in past years to gain stability after graduation, she said, due to the "the job market, the housing market -- all of these sort of external factors that are at play that weren't at play for our parents' generation, and then the added burden of student debt."

After graduating from Flagler College in 2015, Briana Lagos of Cincinnati, Ohio, said it was kind of hard for her to manage repaying her federal student loan debt of about $20,000.

ABC News contacted Lagos, who is pregnant, after she tweeted, "I really hope the student loan pause is extended, for the sake of all these medical bills I'm about to endure."

Briana Lagos, 28, is pictured with her mom and dad at her college graduation.
Courtesy of Briana Lagos

Lagos, who now works as an adjustment specialist for a bank, recalled working part time at JOANNS Fabric and Crafts, then full time at an insurance company for a couple of months and then part time as a substitute teacher.

The 28-year old credited living with her parents previously with helping her make payments towards her student loans.

"But still at the same time, I wanted to save up to get my own place and kind of move on, and it was hard to save just by working those jobs," she said.

Earlier in the pause, Lagos said she took advantage of the halt on accruing interest by still repaying her loans. As the pause kept getting extended, however, she said she stopped putting money towards them because she hopes some student loan debt will be canceled.

Braxton Brewington, press secretary for the Debt Collective, which advocates for student debt cancellation, said "the pause is really helping people, but cancellation would be even better."

He also noted how Black women are disproportionately burdened by the student debt crisis. They experience more difficulties paying off student loan debt "for a variety of reasons that are systemic and not personal," he said.

Black women owe 13% more money than they borrowed 12 years after starting college, while on average, white men paid off 44% of their debt, according to an Education Trust report.

To repay their student loan debt, many borrowers have had to make sacrifices.

Amy Gugliemino, 23, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, started chipping away at her approximate balance of $7,000 in federal student loans while attending college, and fully repaid them last year. In doing so, however, Gugliemino said she had to forgo building her savings and pursuing interests such as traveling.

"I have no savings pretty much at this point because I spent like all of what I would have been saving on my loans," she said.

For Ormsby to decrease his student loan debt, he said he took a second job delivering groceries with Shipt.

"It's a bit disheartening to know that you have this weight hanging around your neck and you can't do other things that your peers are doing," said Kapadia, who is also a member of the Debt Collective's New York chapter.

The Department of Education announced new measures Tuesday addressing failures within federal student loan programs to help borrowers obtain public service loan and income-driven repayment (IDR) forgiveness.

At least 40,000 borrowers within the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program will immediately have their debts canceled, according to an estimate from Federal Student Aid (FSA).

More than 3.6 million people will benefit from at least three years worth of credit added toward IDR forgiveness and "several thousand borrowers with older loans will also receive forgiveness through IDR," the Department of Education said.

"Student loans were never meant to be a life sentence, but it's certainly felt that way for borrowers locked out of debt relief they're eligible for," Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

FSA will include "certain long-term forbearances toward IDR and PSLF forgiveness" and cancel loans for any borrower who made the necessary amount of payments under "IDR forgiveness based on FSA's payment-count revision," in addition to other actions, according to the Department of Education.

Student loan debt "sticks with you until it's paid off," said Bruce McClary, the senior vice president of membership and communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "It'll follow you around for the rest of your life if you try to ignore it, and it gets in the way of a lot of things."

ABC News' Katie Kindelan contributed to this report.

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