Student Loan Forgiveness: Here’s What to Do if You Missed the Loan Consolidation Deadline – CNET

The path to student loan forgiveness has been tumultuous at best, and some borrowers eligible for relief may have missed a key deadline to consolidate their student loans.

Borrowers had until April 30, 2024, to consolidate their federal student loans into one Direct Loan to help maximize their student debt relief. While you can still consolidate your student loans and enroll in an income-driven repayment plan to take advantage of loan forgiveness options, you likely won’t be eligible for the full benefit you could have received prior to this date.

With the deadline behind us, here’s what’s next for student loan forgiveness — and what you should do if you missed the consolidation window.

Read more: 25 Million Americans Could Have Student Loan Debt Wiped Out Under Biden’s Latest Plan

Where student debt relief currently stands

There are several ways you might be eligible for student loan forgiveness. If you’re on an income-driven repayment plan like SAVE, you could qualify for debt cancellation after 10 to 25 years of qualifying payments. If you’re a teacher or public service employee, you might be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program after you make 120 qualifying loan payments.

More recently, the Biden administration announced its newest plan for broader debt relief in April, which could wipe out the balances for borrowers who have been paying their loans for 20 to 25 years, those eligible for PSLF or Teacher Forgiveness Programs who have not applied and those facing financial hardship. It also seeks to forgive up to $20,000 for those who have seen their balances grow due to runaway interest.

The catch for most of these debt relief programs is that only certain federal student loans qualify. If you held a federal student loan that wasn’t eligible, consolidating by April 30, 2024, was your chance to ensure all of your loans were eligible for maximum forgiveness.

What happens if you missed the loan consolidation deadline?

If you didn’t consolidate your loans and you currently hold Direct Loans, they should still be eligible for debt relief under any federal programs you qualify for. You just might have to wait longer for forgiveness. 

For example, if you had a federal Direct Loan from 2004, it could be canceled this year, since it’s been in repayment for 20 years. However, if you have a second undergraduate student loan you began repaying in 2010, it won’t be eligible for relief until 2030.

Consolidating your loans by the April 30, 2024, deadline could have allowed you to get debt relief for all of your loans sooner. Both would have been consolidated together, with your first qualifying payment starting in 2024.

Can I still consolidate my student loans?

Yes, you can still consolidate your student loans. And if you have an FFEL, HEAL, Perkins or ParentPlus loan, this option might still be beneficial.

Federal student loans that are not Direct Loans may not qualify for student debt relief under certain programs. In this case, consolidating them now could help you receive partial credit for past payments.

If you have two undergraduate loans, one from 2004 and one from 2010, they would have been in repayment for 20 and 14 years, respectively. If you had consolidated them prior to the April 30 deadline, your debt might have been fully canceled. Now if you consolidate, your past repayment timeline will become an average of the two — in this case, 17 years.

So it would take you three more years to receive full debt forgiveness on an IDR plan, if you qualify. But that’s still better than not consolidating and waiting six more years to reach the forgiveness time frame on your second loan.

If you’re not eligible for student loan forgiveness and you’re not looking to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan, it likely won’t make sense for you to consolidate your student loans. Consolidating now will push out your repayment date, and you could end up paying more in interest.

When will the latest student loan relief be processed?

Whether you consolidated your student loans or not, if you’re eligible for debt relief under the White House’s latest plan, you could see your balance adjusted later this fall. This adjustment could erase or lower your total student loan debt.

That’s assuming the plan proceeds as proposed. If the administration faces any roadblocks, it’s possible there will be delays or changes.

Read more: Skipping Student Loan Payments: What Happens if You Don’t Pay

What to do if you’re struggling to pay your student loan debt

In the meantime, if you can’t afford to pay your student loan debt, consider enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. An IDR can help lower your monthly payment. But it will stretch out your repayment timeline, which means you could pay more over time. But a longer repayment timeline may be less of a concern if you’re eligible for debt relief under an IDR.

You can also reach out to your student loan servicer to see if they can lower your monthly repayment amount for a period of time. You might also qualify for forbearance or deferment, which can give you a respite from monthly payments temporarily.