But social media postings show that borrowers are confused. A leading advocate also warned on Tuesday that perhaps nine million private sector borrowers with $300 billion in loans are “left out in the cold” because the federal relief does not extend to them.
On Tuesday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and other Senate Democrats sent letters to private student lenders — among them Wells Fargo, LendKey, and College Avenue Student Loans — urging the firms to help those borrowers as the nation’s economy reels from the coronavirus pandemic.
“For private student loan borrowers, these economic disruptions will be uniquely devastating due to private student loan borrowers’ lack of critical protections, forgiveness programs, and repayment options available to federal student loan borrowers,” the senators wrote.
“I’m concerned that millions of borrowers could fall through the cracks,” added Seth Frotman, executive director of the nonprofit Student Borrower Protection Center and a former federal student loan watchdog in Washington.
Borrowers covered under the stimulus bill enacted last month owe an estimated $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.
FedLoan, part of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) in Harrisburg, said it expects to finalize notifications to all federal student loan borrowers of the payment hiatus by Friday.
“No action is required on your part at this time," FedLoan said on its website. "Your account should currently reflect the updated 0% interest rate. Additionally, you will receive a notification once the forbearance benefit has been applied to your account no later than April 10.”
College graduates, doctors, lawyers, and those who participated in training programs owe about $1.6 trillion in federal and private loans, second only to mortgages and consumer debt. Monthly student loan payments can range from less than $100 to more than $1,000 for big borrowers.
Student borrowers who made payments on qualifying federal loans after March 13 could have those payments refunded if they notify their loan servicer.
“Auto-debit payments will be automatically suspended during this administrative forbearance period," PHEAA spokesperson Keith New said Tuesday. "Any auto-debit payments that were already processed between those dates can be refunded to the borrower.”
But borrowers took to Twitter with concerns about whether they would be refunded or if they would be penalized for not making monthly payments.
“We are all hands on deck,” New said. “There are a lot of questions and our phones are ringing.”
Navient, based in Wilmington, said in a statement that “we have suspended payments and interest accrual on all U.S. Department of Education owned loans until Sept. 30, 2020. Navient has sent notification in writing to all eligible borrowers,” the publicly traded company said in a statement.
Navient says on its website that it’s offering “up to three months of administrative forbearance to qualified FFELP [Federal Family Education Loan Program] borrowers who request it. This program brings your eligible loans current and postpones payments for up to three months. During this time, you will not be responsible for making payments but please know interest will continue to accrue. At the end of this forbearance, unpaid interest will not be capitalized (added to your outstanding principal balance).”
Older FFELP loans are different from the federal loans that qualify for the hiatus.