Episode 90: Students react after Biden extended loan pause to May

The Daily’s podcast reporter Sam Moser spoke with three University students on how the student loan pause will affect them as the pandemic continues.

by Sam Moser

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SAM MOSER: Hi everyone, my name is Sam Moser and you’re listening to In The Know, a podcast by the MN Daily. Together, we’ll be exploring the University of Minnesota’s students and communities with each episode. 

In this episode, we’ll look into the Federal Student Loan Pause scheduled to end May 2022, and what that means for loan holders. In addition, we will hear from current and former University of Minnesota students on how they think the government is handling student loan debt, and what changes they think need to be made. 

Many of the University’s graduates, as well as current graduate students, are directly affected by the federal student loan pause. The pause has helped debtors to keep their heads above water financially during a global pandemic while simultaneously stimulating the economy.

The Office of Student Finance at the University of Minnesota declined invitations to be interviewed about the pause. However, Tina Faulkner, the director of the office of student finance, did comment via an email to the Minnesota Daily. 

Faulkner said in the email, “The pause to May 1 is an extension of what has been in place since the middle of 2020, and it is really aimed at alumni and not currently enrolled students. Enrolled students with unsubsidized direct loans can see a benefit of no interest being assessed, as would normally happen, and will resume as of May 1.” 

According to Faulker, students graduating in May will not be affected by the pause in any way. Those with unsubsidized loans only will have interest that accrued either before June 2020, or after May 1, 2022.

According to Forbes, the Biden administration never publicly intended on keeping the pause in effect until May. It was initially set to end in September 2021, but it was rescheduled to end in January 2022. According to Forbes, inflation along with the emergence of the Omicron variant has delayed its termination even further, yet the Biden administration claims that there will be no more extensions past May 2022.

On January 18th, The Daily met with Joey Adamle, a 21-year-old senior here at the U of M. Adamle has taken out subsidized federal student loans with a low interest rate, and he won’t benefit from the pause since he is yet to graduate. He commented on whether he anticipates another extension, one that could benefit him directly. Adamle graduates in May, and he will likely have to start paying down his loans while the pandemic continues. He will not benefit from the pause. When asked if he considers the pause a generous gesture by the government or if they could be doing more to help people in his shoes, Adamle said:

JOEY ADAMLE: There’s definitely more they could be doing. Like for one, people might say, “You should be thankful that it’s happening at all,” but at the same time, you know, it’s student debt forgiveness would be a step up. But you know, it’s nice that it’s happening at all, so I don’t know, I’m kind of in the middle there, because no again, they can always take it away and cut it off on May.

MOSER: While Adamle is barely missing out on an opportunity to benefit from the pause, those who have already graduated are grateful to receive the help. Maddie Stumbaugh graduated from the University of Minnesota in the spring of 2021, and she has yet to make a student loan payment due to the pause. The Daily asked how the pause has benefited her and others that are in her position. Her response was as follows:

MADDIE STUMBAUGH: I think overall, I can say that the student loan pause has been beneficial for like really any graduate, I guess I would be really surprised if anybody said that it didn’t benefit them. I know personally, it definitely has benefited me, I was very, very worried.

MOSER: Stumbaugh mentioned that she was working overtime in order to save up for student loan payments in January.

STUMBAUGH: But now that the pause has been extended, like I have a little bit more time to like, get to a point where I’ll feel comfortable adding that, because like, a lot of us are like, by the time that you graduate college, you’re getting to the point of being financially independent, right? Like, you have all the bills, all of like, being, I don’t know, a normal adult. So adding student loan payments on top of that, it’s definitely a scary and a much bigger burden. So the pause has helped me immensely.

MOSER: EducationData.org says that millions of students in the United States start their post-grad life with thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt. EducationData.org also reports that currently 43.2 million students remain in debt, owing roughly $39,000 on average. With these statistics in mind, the Daily asked Adamle whether his student loans cause him stress on a daily basis. 

ADAMLE: Not necessarily, which may or may not be a good thing, because I know it’s something that I’m going to have to worry about eventually. But as of right now I don’t really think about it a ton until it’s like around the time I’m looking at the tuition bill and stuff like that.

MOSER: The same question was proposed to Stumbaugh.

STUMBAUGH: Yeah, no, it’s definitely a stressor. Um, I wouldn’t say that I think about it all the time, like I try not to, I don’t know, dwell in the stressful things. Um, but yeah, when you’re thinking about money, and like I said, I definitely took on more hours at work to try and prepare to like, save up more money. So it’s definitely like a thought that’s in the back of my head kind of always, or at least when I’m planning out, like, when I’ll be working, or what I’m buying. 

MOSER: Stumbaugh believes that the pause was necessary during a pandemic. 

STUMBAUGH: It’s yeah, no, I think that it’s super necessary, especially with like, all of the guidelines changing. Like the CDC’s guidelines on when you’re able to work like there’s a lot of students are like, recently graduated students that aren’t able to find work, like I’m fortunate enough to have a full time job.

MOSER: For many workers like Stumbaugh, the potential of coming down with sickness can threaten financial stability as well. 

STUMBAUGH: If I were to get COVID, or like, if I were to get sick, or even if my coworkers get sick, and I have to quarantine, like, that’s time off that you don’t get paid for. So, going two weeks without getting paid and then having student loans to pay on top of that on top of other bills is super stressful. So having the student loan pause has been, like, super helpful, because it’s one less thing that you have to worry about in the uncertainty of literally everything we’ve been going through for the last two years.

MOSER: Wren Melanson is a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Minnesota. She doesn’t intend on taking out any federal student loans. She spoke with the Daily at Coffman Memorial Union on January 17th, and she shared her opinion on whether or not it was a good idea to discontinue the pause. 

WREN MELANSON: If it was introduced as a temporary solution, then I can understand why they’re trying to shorten it. But I do think it would be a good idea to make it a permanent solution.   

MOSER: Melanson isn’t the only one who thinks that adding another extension or making it a permanent solution via complete forgiveness would benefit student debtors. Adamle also shared his thoughts. 

ADAMLE: I hope they decide to extend it. I hope there’s enough pressure coming on them that they do decide to do that, if they have claimed that it’s the final time and do go with that, then that’d be unfortunate for me, and for all other graduating students and those who have already graduated, of course. But yeah, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  

MOSER: Stumbaugh is also unsatisfied with the pause ending in May 

STUMBAUGH: Yeah, I think I mean, I think the cost of college in general is pretty extraordinary. And then on top of that, like considering that we just elected Biden, under his promise to forgive student loans, I think they’re like, I think that the extension of the pause has been really helpful. But it’s just kind of mitigating the original promise that they made that they were going to forgive student loans in general.

MOSER: Stumbaugh wants the Biden administration to do more for student debtors.

STUMBAUGH: I don’t know, it just, it just definitely feels like they’re trying to weasel their way out of that. Which I don’t know if I expected anything different. But there’s always that hope that they’ll actually follow through, right?

MOSER: Stumbaugh is in favor of complete student loan forgiveness. When she is asked what she predicts in the near future, she doesn’t know what to expect. 

STUMBAUGH: I don’t know, I think there’s too many variables. I think if like, given the situation that you laid out, if COVID is still happening, and people are still as affected by it as we are now, I think that ultimately, unfortunately, it’s up to the people. Like it’s up to the people and how hard we’re gonna push back and fight for what we believe we deserve.

MOSER: Stumbaugh thinks that sitting around waiting for the government to help student debtors might not be enough. She wants student debtors to speak out, share their voices and earn their federal assistance. 

STUMBAUGH: I think if it continues, like it has for the past couple of years, it’ll definitely be a big uphill battle struggle like everything else has, but hopefully, there will be some, I don’t know, reception of our cries for help.

MOSER: As the pandemic rages on and higher education rises in price, student debtors are put in a tough spot. The federal student loan pause has relieved some students of stress, but many wonder if it has done enough. As we come to a close, I would like to thank Joey Adamle, Maddie Stumbaugh and Wren Melanson for taking the time to share their thoughts with us. And to all listeners, thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time. I’m Sam Moser, and this is In The Know.