40% of student loan borrowers missed their first payment since the pandemic.

According to recent federal data, 40% of student loan borrowers have missed their first monthly payment since the pandemic-era pause was lifted this fall.

The Education Department reported that approximately 60% of the 22 million people whose bills came due in October paid them. This is a decrease from the 70% of borrowers who made their payments during the same period in October 2019, before the pandemic.

Based on the data, around 13 million student loan borrowers have made their first collection in years. In comparison, federal data shows that there were 20 million borrowers repaying federally managed loans in the first quarter of 2020, before the COVID-induced payment pause.

These numbers provide a clear picture of President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive a system that has been mostly inactive since before his administration began. Biden reached an agreement with Congress to not further extend the pause, just weeks before the Supreme Court rejected his plan for debt relief.

While the figures indicate that the student loan system has not yet returned to pre-pandemic norms, the attempt to get it back on track has not been entirely error-free.

“Getting 60% of people in the door in the first months is a promising sign,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a project director at the education policy think tank New America.

However, there have been some issues with the rollout. One of the largest student loan servicers in the country failed to bill borrowers on time and received a federal fine. Some borrowers have also experienced long wait times and accounting errors. For example, one borrower received a bill demanding payment of their entire balance—over $108,000—at once.

“It’s going about as badly as everybody expected it would,” said Mike Pierce, an attorney and the executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center.

Many student loan borrowers ‘confused and overwhelmed’

Education Department Under Secretary James Kvaal acknowledged that many borrowers are “confused and overwhelmed about their options.” In response to the complaints, the agency has offered a year-long “on-ramp” period. During this period, borrowers who miss their payments will be protected from mandatory collections, default, or delinquency. However, interest on their loans will still accrue.

Even the on-ramp has faced criticism from progressives in Congress who believe that borrowers have not been adequately informed about the risks of missing payments. Four Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, wrote a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, demanding an audit of the return to repayment and the results by Dec. 15.

In a separate letter to credit agencies, Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, asked them to be lenient towards borrowers who continue to miss payments.

If you missed a student loan payment, Biden says your credit score shouldn’t suffer.

Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, stated that the data from Friday was not surprising. She believes that the high volume of borrowers coming due at once, along with their lack of preparedness for repayment, may be contributing factors. She also expressed concern about similar data in March if the issues created by the historic volume have not been resolved by then.

Even those who see the data as promising admit that the department is still overlooking some of the most vulnerable borrowers. Furthermore, a funding shortage at the Office of Federal Student Aid is exacerbating the situation, according to Clare McCann, a higher education fellow at Arnold Ventures and a former policy adviser in the Education Department.

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