Millions of student-loan borrowers don't know who they'll be paying when the payment freeze lifts in 100 days

Millions of student-loan borrowers don't know who they'll be paying when the payment freeze lifts in 100 days
·4 min read
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  • The Education Dept. renewed contracts for 7 student-loan companies for $2 billion.

  • Navient was one of those companies, but it has requested to transfer its federal loan portfolio to another company.

  • Millions of federal borrowers still aren't sure who they'll pay each month when payments resume in 2022.

In just over 100 days, the federal student-loan payment pause will end and 43 million borrowers will have to start making payments again. Some details on how that will happen are still in flux.

The Education Department announced in a press release on Friday that it reached an agreement with six student-loan companies who renewed their contracts on higher accountability measures, including providing better customer service to borrowers and requiring the companies to comply with state and federal law with regards to loan servicing.

In addition to the new standards, though, the department also noted it is in the process of negotiating one student-loan company, Navient's, request to transfer its federal student loans to a new servicer even after being granted a $391 million contract extension last month. This comes after two other companies - the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and Granite State Management and Resources - announced their plans to shut down their loan services in July, requiring a combined 16 million borrowers to pay their debt to new companies come February.

In total, the government offered seven student-loan companies over $2 billion to renew their contracts through at least the end of next year, according to a government website, but not all of them took the government up on its offer. Here's what that means.

Six student-loan companies will likely service the whole federal loan portfolio

Great Lakes, HESC/Edfinancial, MOHELA, Nelnet, and OSLA Servicing will likely service student loans for 43 million federal borrowers through at least 2023. Navient, which services 6 million federal accounts, agreed to a contract extension but later requested to transfer its accounts to another company, called Maximus.

An Education Department spokesperson previously told Insider that before approving the transfer, the department will ensure "Maximus has adequate capacity, resources, and management experience to ensure a smooth transition for borrowers."

"We will not approve this proposal or begin any transition until we are satisfied Maximus is fully capable of delivering high-quality service," the spokesperson added.

The department also noted in the Friday press release it did not reach an agreement with PHEAA on a one-year contract extension - something it had proposed to give more time to transfer its 8.5 million accounts to a new company. The administrative burden with PHEAA's transfer will likely prove difficult, given that it manages borrowers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which is supposed to forgive student debt for public servants after ten years of qualifying monthly payments.

The Federal Student Aid (FSA) office has announced that some federal accounts under PHEAA will be transferred to MOHELA, and the transfer of the remaining accounts are still to be determined, and borrowers should be notified of the switch.

The department still 'expects' to restart payments on February 1

The Education Department told Insider it had previously completed smooth transfers of borrowers to new student-loan companies, but this will be the first time it has to bring 43 million borrowers back into repayment after a year and half, along with switching 16 million borrowers' accounts.

But this administrative burden is not changing the department's timeline to return to repayment.

"We will continue to work to ensure that all of our borrowers can experience a successful return to repayment," an Education Department spokesperson previously told Insider. "The Department expects student loan payments to resume after Jan. 31, 2022," the spokesperson added, when asked if the companies shutting down would change the timeline.

This has lawmakers and advocates concerned. Last month, ranking members of the House and Senate education committees, Rep. Virginia Foxx and Sen. Richard Burr, sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona saying they were "deeply concerned" about the payment restart.

"The lack of clarity and guidance about the process surrounding returning borrowers to repayment is as troubling as the process is uncertain," the Republican lawmakers wrote.

Reforms to the student-loan industry are underway, though. FSA expressed committement to hold companies to higher standards to ensure borrowers are not misled, coming on the tails of reviving an enforcement office to "vigorously investigate" schools' student-loan and federal aid abuses.

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