Despite the partial government shutdown, student loan borrowers are still on the hook when it comes to paying off their debts. Cumulatively, Americans owe more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and despite the shutdown's adverse impact on other government functions, there's no respite from their payment schedules.
Why you still have to pay your student loans
Here’s why people still have to make their student loan payments: although other branches of the federal government have been hit hard by the shutdown, funding for the Department of Education remains intact, so DoED contractors are still collecting student loan payments.
Borrowers may experience problems for tasks that require information from the IRS because nearly 90% of the IRS's workforce has been sent home without pay due to the partial shutdown, according to the agency’s since-expired December contingency plan.
People who have income-driven repayment plans depend on the IRS to provide income data via its data retrieval tool. The tool electronically transfers borrowers’ tax information into income-driven repayment plan applications. If the data retrieval tool malfunctions, borrowers download an IRS transcript and file a paper application. Due to the shutdown, the tax transcript service is down and customer service is limited at the IRS, which means borrowers may struggle completing necessary IDR forms.
What if you have trouble with your student loan repayment
If you’re having problems paying back your student loan, the Department of Education advises you to not ignore your student loan payments or you will risk going into default. The first thing you should do is to contact your loan service provider to explore repayment options, such as income-driven repayment plans. IDR plans reduce your monthly payment amount, which will make your student loan debt more manageable.
Consider applying for a deferment or forbearance that allows you to temporarily stop making federal student loan payments or reduces the amount of your payments. A deferment or forbearance may also help you avoid default. Currently the guidelines set down by the Department of Education state that individuals diagnosed with cancer are eligible to have their federal student loans placed in deferment while they receive cancer treatment.
If you’re overwhelmed with student loan debt and the various repayment, deferment and forbearance options mentioned above won’t help, consider filing for bankruptcy. If you go this route, you will be required to prove that making student loan payments would impose an undue hardship on you and your dependents. Proving undue hardship can be difficult, so you may need the help of a bankruptcy lawyer.