How to get back student loan payments you’ve made since March 2020

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There’s good news for the millions of people with federal student loans who made payments on that debt during the Covid pandemic: Many of them will be eligible to get the money back.

The U.S. Department of Education says many borrowers eligible for President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan who made payments on their debt during the pandemic-era hiatus on bills will be automatically repaid. The relief policy has been in effect since March 2020 and is scheduled to end on December 31.

More than 9 million people made at least one payment on their federal student debt between April 2020 and March 2022, according to the government. The vast majority of borrowers made no payments, taking advantage of the suspension of bills and the accumulation of interest.

Here’s what borrowers need to know.

How could a refund help?

Requesting a refund can help ensure you get the full amount of cash back you’re entitled to. Forgiveness is capped at the lower of your eligible federal student loan balance or $10,000 ($20,000, if you got a Pell Grant).

If you’ve made payments during the pandemic that have taken your balance below the rebate figure you’d otherwise be entitled to, getting a refund could ensure you get the full relief.

This will also give you cash in hand to use for other goals.

What payments are eligible for a refund?

Payments made since March 2020 on federal student loans eligible for the payment pause should now be repayable, said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

The roughly 5 million student borrowers who hold commercially held Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs) were not eligible for the payment pause and will not be eligible for a refund.

Any payment made before the pandemic is also ineligible, Kantrowitz said.

How do I request a refund?

Not all borrowers need to request repayment, said Elaine Rubin, senior contributor and communications specialist at Edvisors.

The repayment process will be automatic for borrowers who qualify for student loan forgiveness and for those who made voluntary payments during the break that brought their balance below the maximum forgiveness amount: either $10,000 or $20,000. Rubin said.

“They will be offered an automatic refund of the difference,” Rubin said.

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If you have repaid your loan in full during the pandemic, however, you will need to take action and request repayment.

Borrowers who have refinanced their federal loans will also need to request repayment from their student loan officer, Kantrowitz said.

Even if you think you’re entitled to an automatic refund, you can call your repairman and ask for it, Kantrowitz said, to make sure you get it.

How much can I recover?

Borrowers should be able to recover “everything paid since March 13, 2020,” said Betsy Mayotte, president of the Institute of Student Loan Counselors, a nonprofit organization.

Do I absolutely have to ask for a refund?

Not necessarily, Mayotte said. The goal should be to get as much forgiveness as you deserve.

“Only borrowers who have paid their balance down to less than they think they will be forgiven should consider requesting a refund,” she said.

If you made payments during the pandemic but still owe $40,000 in student loans, asking for a refund doesn’t make sense, she said, “because you’ll still owe a balance after applying debt relief”.

Repaid installments will increase your loan balance and possibly your monthly payments, according to the Department of Education.

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