Federal student loan payments have been paused since March 2020. By now, many of us have forgotten what it’s like to have that monthly bill. As the country begins reopening, the end of federal student loan forbearance is on the horizon. Unless there’s an extension, forbearance will end on Sept. 30, 2021. Here’s how you can start preparing to make student loan payments again and avoid missed payments or default.

Adjust Your Budget

Before payments kick in, take some time to review your finances to make sure you can comfortably afford to resume student loan payments. Log in to your online account to check your monthly payments and build it into your budget to see how resuming payments will impact you based on where you stand right now. You may need to cut some expenses if possible so you’re not stretched too thin.

Some student loan borrowers continued making payments toward their student loans during the forbearance payment. If you’re one of them, you may not need to adjust anything.

Reach Out to Your Student Loan Servicer If Needed

If your income changed during the pandemic and your current budget can’t support your previous payments, contact your student loan servicer for options. For example, you may be able to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, which may allow your payments to be as low as $0 depending on your income. Keep in mind you have to recertify each year, so your payments could go up if you start making more.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for additional forbearance or deferment. Unlike the deferment provided by the CARES Act, these won’t be automatic and may require you to provide some information about your current financial situation.

Set a Reminder or Automate Your Payment

After 18 months of no required payments, you may have to get used to paying student loans again. For the first few months, that may mean setting a reminder to schedule or make your payment to avoid a late payment. Or, if you feel comfortable, you can automate your payments instead of manually paying each month.

Read All Communications From Your Student Loan Servicer

Leading up to the end of forbearance, your student loan servicer may communicate with you via mail or email to let you know important information about your student loans. This may include details about your due date or repayment plan. If you haven’t received anything as the end of September approaches, log in to your online account for incoming messages or contact your servicer with any questions.

Consider Refinancing or Consolidating

Both refinancing and student loan consolidation allow you to take advantage of low-interest rates and could make your monthly payments more manageable. Be careful about refinancing with a longer repayment period as this could increase the total amount of interest you pay on your loan.

As the country reopens, it could take several months for Americans to get their financial footing back. In the meantime, work with your student loan servicer and other billers to work out monthly payments that you can comfortably afford. Being proactive can help to prevent late payments, which may help you avoid any negative impact on your FICO® Scores.

Source: myFICO