Here’s how to prepare to start paying back your student loans when the pandemic payment freeze ends

 A three-year pause on student loan payments will end this summer regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the White House plan to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt.

If Congress approves a debt ceiling deal negotiated by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden, payments will resume in late August, ending any lingering hope of a further extension of the pause that started during the COVID pandemic. Even if the deal falls through, payments will resume 60 days after the Supreme Court decision.

That ruling is expected sometime before the end of June. No matter what the justices decide, more than 40 million borrowers will have to start paying back their loans by the end of the summer at the latest.

Here’s what to know to get ready to start paying back loans:


Betsy Mayotte, President of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors, encourages people not to make any payments until the pause has ended. Instead, she says, put what you would have paid into a savings account.

“Then you’ve maintained the habit of making the payment, but (you’re) earning a little bit of interest as well,” she said. “There’s no reason to send that money to the student loans until the last minute of the 0% interest rate.”

Mayotte recommends borrowers use the loan-simulator tool at or the one on TISLA’s website to find a payment plan that best fits their needs. The calculators tell you what your monthly payment would be under each available plan, as well as your long-term costs.

“I really want to emphasize the long-term,” Mayotte said.

Sometimes, when borrowers are in a financial bind, they’ll choose the option with the lowest monthly payment, which can cost more over the life of the loan, Mayotte said. Rather than “setting it and forgetting it,” she encourages borrowers to reevaluate when their financial situation improves.


An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based on your income and family size. It takes into account different expenses in your budget, and most federal student loans are eligible for at least one of these types of plans.

Generally, your payment amount under an income-driven repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income. If your income is low enough, your payment could be as low as $0 per month.

If you’d like to repay your federal student loans under an income-driven plan, the first step is to fill out an application through the Federal Student Aid website.


Fran Gonzales, 27, who is based in Texas, works as a supervisor for a financial institution. She holds $32,000 in public student loans and $40,000 in private student loans. During the payment pause on her public loans, Gonzales said she was able to pay off her credit card debt, buy a new car, and pay down two years’ worth of private loans while saving money. Her private student loan payment has been $500 a month, and her public student loan payment will be $350 per month when it restarts.

Gonzales recommends that anyone with student loans speak with a mentor or financial advisor to educate themselves about their options, as well as make sure they’re in an income-driven repayment plan.

The Federal Student Aid website can help direct you to counselors, as well as organizations like the Student Borrower Protection Center and the Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

“I was the first in my family to go to college, and I could have saved money with grants and scholarships had I known someone who knew about college,” she said. “I could have gone to community college or lived in cheaper housing … It’s a huge financial decision.”

Gonzales received her degree in business marketing and says she was “horrible with finances” until she began working as a loan officer herself.

Gonzales’s mother works in retail and her father for the airport, she said, and both encouraged her to pursue higher education. For her part, Gonzales now tries to inform others with student loans about what they’re taking on and what their choices are.

“Anyone young I cross paths with, I try to educate them.”


Yes — payment plans are always available. Even so, some advocates encourage borrowers to wait for now, since there’s no financial penalty for nonpayment during the pause on payments and interest accrual.

Katherine Welbeck of the Student Borrower Protection Center recommends logging on to your account and making sure you know the name of your servicer, your due date, and whether you’re enrolled in the best income-driven repayment plan.


If your budget doesn’t allow you to resume payments, it’s important to know how to navigate the possibility of default and delinquency on a student loan. Both can hurt your credit rating, which would make you ineligible for additional aid.

If you’re in a short-term financial bind, according to Mayotte, you may qualify for deferment or forbearance — allowing you to temporarily suspend payment.

To determine whether deferment or forbearance are good options for you, you can contact your loan servicer. One thing to note: interest still accrues during deferment or forbearance. Both can also impact potential loan forgiveness options. Depending on the conditions of your deferment or forbearance, it may make sense to continue paying the interest during the payment suspension.


— If you sign up for automatic payments, the servicer takes a quarter of a percent off your interest rate, according to Mayotte.

— Income-driven repayment plans aren’t right for everyone. That said, if you know you will eventually qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, it makes sense to make the lowest monthly payments possible, as the remainder of your debt will be canceled once that decade of payments is complete.

— Reevaluate your monthly student loan repayment during tax season, when you already have all your financial information in front of you. “Can you afford to increase it? Or do you need to decrease it?” Mayotte said.

— Break up payments into whatever ways work best for you. You could consider two installments per month, instead of one large monthly sum.


If you’ve worked for a government agency or a nonprofit, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program offers cancellation after 10 years of regular payments, and some income-driven repayment plans cancel the remainder of a borrower’s debt after 20 to 25 years.

Borrowers should make sure they’re signed up for the best possible income-driven repayment plan to qualify for these programs.

Borrowers who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges may also apply for borrower defense and receive relief.

These programs won’t be affected by the Supreme Court ruling.

This summer, Cornell University’s squash coach, David Palmer, is tracking 200 of the best high-school juniors. Over the next 10 months, he will begin to decide which six to recruit, paving their path for admission to one of the most selective universities in the country.

Most, if not all, will probably come from private high schools. Across the Ivy League, nearly 90% of the players on squash rosters who went to high school in the U.S. attended institutions with fees that start at around $30,000, according to a Wall Street Journal tally taken from rosters on university websites. 

About two-thirds of athletes on Ivy League rosters in so-called aristocratic sports such as crew and lacrosse who attended U.S. high schools are filled by graduates of these pricey private institutions, which have robust traditions in these sports going back generations. By contrast, a smaller percentage of public schools offer these sports, putting less-affluent students at a disadvantage when competing for spots at the most selective colleges.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June decision to ban race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions, there is increasing pushback against built-in advantages for applicants from families that are overwhelmingly white and wealthy. These include legacy and donor preference, higher non-academic ratings that often accompany private school enrollment, and seats reserved for athletes.

The U.S. Education Department opened an investigation into Harvard University’s use of donor and legacy admissions preferences, about a month after the Supreme Court ruled the school’s use of race-conscious preferences to be unconstitutional.

Palmer, the Cornell coach, said he recruits from a range of schools, including public and international. He said he doesn’t seek out private school athletes.

“The majority of the best players are coming from the Northeast, where there are lots of private schools and prep schools that have squash programs,” he said.

Among the seven Ivy League schools with varsity squash teams, all are dominated by private-school graduates, including 18 out of 20 men and women who were educated in the U.S. on the Dartmouth and Yale rosters. Public school players typically come from some of the wealthiest districts in the country, the team rosters show. 

Harvard’s use of donor and legacy admissions preferences is facing a government investigation. PHOTO: SIMON SIMARD/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Among the approximately 190 high-school squash teams to compete in the U.S. nationals, about 40 were public, according to the U.S. Squash Association.

Criticism of the elitist nature of these sports comes as Americans are losing confidence in higher education and pressing ever harder to get into brand-name schools. As college entrance exams such as the SAT lose favor and admission rates decrease, questions about how to define merit and untangle it from opportunity born of affluence are on the rise.

“In many ways, schools are offering opportunities that replicate societal privileges,” said Sarah Hinger, senior staff attorney in the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. “There is a type of formal and informal discrimination that our country has allowed that has been shaped by access and participation.”

Country club sports aside, the wealthiest Americans already enjoy disproportionate access to elite colleges. At Ivy League schools, one in six students has parents in the top 1% of the income distribution, according to a research study released by Harvard economists in July.

Among all high school students in the U.S., 8.5% attend private high schools, according to federal data. Among the eight Ivy League schools, the percentage of students who graduate from a private high school is about four to five times that.

At Harvard, 37% of the class of 2025 attended private schools, while at Princeton, the share is 40%, with Brown at 41%, and Dartmouth, at 44%, according to the schools’ websites or surveys taken by student newspapers. Between 10% and 30% of Ivy League undergraduates are international, many of whom attended private high schools. 

The upshot: Only about half of the 17,000 spots in first-year Ivy League classes are filled by those among the approximately 3.4 million public high-school graduates in the U.S. each year. The rest mostly go to students who attend private or international high schools.

Among the 50 schools that sent the most students to Harvard between 2015 and 2020, 35 were private, according to, a website that tracks the high schools from which students who enrolled at elite colleges graduated.

Sports compound that advantage. Harvard has 42 Division I intercollegiate sports teams, more than any other college in the country, according to the school’s website. Recruited athletes have to meet regular admission standards but have a much better shot at acceptance. Over 80% of coach-recruited athletes are admitted to Harvard, according to discovery information shared during the Harvard affirmative-action trial. The overall admit rate was less than 5%. 

Since 2001, nearly 85% of the players on the men’s and women’s Cornell varsity squash roster who attended high school in the U.S. graduated from one of a few dozen private Northeastern high schools, such as Groton, Collegiate, Noble, and Greenough—all are schools where tuition hovers around $50,000 a year. Supreme Court Bans Affirmative Action: What It Means for College Admi

Supreme Court Bans Affirmative Action: What It Means for College Admissions
Supreme Court Bans Affirmative Action: What It Means for College AdmissionsPlay video: Supreme Court Bans Affirmative Action: What It Means for College Admissions
The Supreme Court has banned colleges from using race as an admission criterion, essentially ending affirmative action. California did the same 25 years ago. Photo illustration: Madeline Marshall

Over the past 19 seasons, fewer than five of the players on Princeton’s women’s squash team who went to high school in the U.S. graduated from a public school.

“The university admits students who have the exceptional academic ability necessary to benefit fully from a Princeton education and we believe will use that education to make a difference in the world,” the school said in an emailed comment about its practice of recruiting squash players almost entirely from private high schools. “That applies to Princeton’s athletes just as it does our musicians, our chemists, and all members of the student body. Each contributes to the fabric of our community.”

Americans generally consider sports to be one of the last bastions of meritocracy. Players have equal opportunity to compete on the same field with the same rules. The reality is quite different, said Rick Eckstein, a sociologist at Villanova University who has studied youth sports in America. 

Parents spend about $19 billion a year on youth sports programs, travel teams, and specialized coaches, he said. The investment creates a steep hierarchy with a disproportionate number of players from wealthy families at the top.

“Sports has this aura that it’s the antidote to inequality, that it’s a level playing field, it’s just about talent, it’s just about skill and you get judged by how good you are,” Eckstein said. “That’s not the case. Some people don’t have the ability to even get to the place where they’re judged. They can’t get through the door.”

The opportunity to earn a recruited spot on the squash team roster at an elite college is officially available to players of any background, but in practice, the opportunity is limited. To excel, players are generally introduced to the game by age 10 or 11 and start competing by about 13. To advance up the rankings, they need to travel to tournaments.

The squash rosters at Ivy League schools read like a who’s who of private prep schools. For example, 10 of the 11 women on Dartmouth’s team this year graduated from private high schools, including the Hotchkiss School, Phillips Academy, and Grace Church High School. The total cost to attend each is around $60,000.

Not all students pay the full price, and private schools offer some scholarships.

Greg Zaff played collegiate squash at Williams College before playing professionally. In 1996, he started SquashBusters to help children from less-wealthy families get into the sport and excel in school.

Since then, he said, a few similar programs have popped up, and several thousand inner-city students across the country have moved through these “urban squash education programs,” which pair academic support with the game.

Still, few of those players have managed to crack the upper echelons of the sport and become recruited squash players for top schools.

“By and large, our kids do not get as good as privileged kids in the sport of squash, because they play less. And they travel less, and they spend less concentrated time on the sport,” he said. “We’re running a youth program with the largest focus on educational outcomes, not hiring private coaches who spend hours practicing.”

They were the kids most disrupted by the pandemic, the ones who were still learning to write their names and tie their shoes when schools shut down in the spring of 2020.

Now, they’re the big kids at elementary schools across the United States. Many still need profound help overcoming the effects of the pandemic.

To catch up, schools have deployed a wide range of strategies. And among some incoming fourth-graders, there are encouraging signs of gains. However as this generation progresses, many will need extra reading support that schools are not as accustomed to providing for older students.

Beyond third grade, fewer teachers each year know how to help students who are lacking key foundational reading skills, said Elizabeth Albro, an executive at the U.S. Department of Education’s independent research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences.

“ Middle and high school teachers aren’t expecting to have to teach kids how to read,” Albro said.

Nationally, students suffered deep learning setbacks in reading and math during the pandemic. Last year’s third-graders, the kids who were in kindergarten when the pandemic started, lost more ground in reading than kids in older grades and were slower to catch up. With federal pandemic relief money, school systems added class time, brought on tutors, trained teachers in phonics instruction, and found other ways to offer extra support to struggling readers.

But even after several years of recovery, an analysis of last year’s test scores by NWEA found that the average student would need the equivalent of 4.1 additional months of instruction to catch up to pre-COVID reading levels.

The one bright spot was for incoming fourth-graders, who made above-average gains and would need about two months of additional reading instruction to catch up. Karyn Lewis, who leads a team of education policy researchers at NWEA, described them as “a little bit less worse off.”

The school system in Niagara Falls, New York, is seeing similar results, said Marcia Capone, the district’s assessment administrator. The district brought on additional reading specialists, but Capone said it would take time to bring struggling students up to speed.

“I do not believe it’s hopeless, but it’s not something that’s going to occur in, say, three years’ time,” Capone said.

The problem for children who don’t master reading by third grade: School becomes that much harder in later grades, as reading becomes the foundation for everything else.

Schools have plenty of experience with older students who struggle. Even before the pandemic, only about a third of fourth graders scored as proficient in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card.”

But the pandemic made it worse, particularly for low-income students and kids of color.

So some schools are targeting some upper-grade students with the “ science of reading,” a push to embrace research-backed strategies for reading based on phonics. Many new laws endorsing the phonics-based approach target students beyond third grade, according to a July report from the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute.

In Virginia, for instance, a law signed in March mandates extra help for struggling readers through eighth grade. It is one of the most aggressive efforts yet.

“There’s an implicit recognition,” wrote the authors of the Shanker report, “that reading improvement needs to address a greater span of grades, and that reading difficulties do not necessarily end in 3rd grade.”

That will require a major shift. Historically, phonics and help decoding words have gradually disappeared in the upper grades.

Most English teachers at that level are no more prepared to teach a student to read than a math teacher would be, said Miah Daughtery, who advocates for effective literacy instruction for the NWEA research organization.

“They’re prepared to teach text,” she said. “They’re prepared to teach literature, to analyze ideas, craft, story structure, make connections.”

The federal pandemic relief money that bolstered many schools’ academic recovery efforts soon will run out, leaving some experts less optimistic.

“We’re past the point where we’re likely to see a quick rebound,” said Dan Goldhaber, of the American Institutes for Research.

Teachers are reporting it is taking more time to get through the material, according to Tonya Perry, the vice president of the National Council of Teachers of English. Some school systems are turning to programs that break grade-level subject matter down into a variety of reading levels, so strong and weak readers can still learn the concepts, she said.

“Now we have to spend more time building the foundation for what we’re asking students to do,” she said.

Early in the pandemic, some students repeated a grade. But that was only a short-term solution, often taken reluctantly because of concerns about the effect on kids’ social lives and academic futures. By last year, grade retention numbers were trending downward again.

One thing teachers can do is rely less on silent reading in class, and instead have small group activities in which strong and weak readers can be paired together, Daughtery said.

Lewis, of the NWEA, said the takeaway should not be that the COVID kids are beyond help.

“The message has to be: We’re doing the right things. We’re just not doing enough of it,” she said. “And we need to amp up and certainly not take our foot off the gas pedal anytime soon.”

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