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President Biden Will Extend Student Loan Payment Freeze Through September 30

President Joe Biden will issue an executive order asking the Education Department to extend pandemic relief for about 41 million federal student loan borrowers through September 30th.

In March of 2020, borrowers were granted a reprieve on their loan payments — interest was set to 0% and collections of defaulted federal student loans was paused. Congress initiated this relief in the CARES Act. Both President Trump and later, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, extended it.

Before Biden's executive order, expected later today, the relief was set to expire on Jan. 31.

The back and forth on deadlines has been a challenge for borrowers. Research from Pew conducted in August and September found that, among borrowers who said the relief applied to them, about 40% did not know when their loan payments were set to resume. That research also found that borrowers are struggling financially due to the pandemic: Almost 6 in 10 borrowers with paused payments reported to Pew that it would be difficult to begin making their payments if they had to do so in the next month.

With the extension for the next eight months, borrowers and loan servicers now have a longer runway to prepare for when repayment starts.

"The extension of the payment pauses provides much needed relief to borrowers during the pandemic in the short-term," says Sarah Sattelmeyer, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's Student Borrower Success project. The big question now is what happens next.

Many hope temporary pandemic relief for borrowers will open the door to more permanent loan forgiveness. But it's unclear to what extent the Biden administration would do that. On January 8th, David Kamin, the incoming deputy director of Biden's National Economic Council, repeated Biden's support of Congress cancelling up to $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower in response to the pandemic. But many Democrats want him to go further.

In September, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer unveiled a plan calling for the next president to cancel up to $50,000 of outstanding federal student loans per borrower. Biden has yet to signal interest in this plan. In his campaign proposal, he outlined a number of changes to paying back loans, including canceling $10,000 in debt for students who work in national or community service.

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Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.