Millions of federal student loan borrowers will continue to have a reprieve on their loans through Jan. 31, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Friday, extending a pandemic relief measure that had been set to expire at the end of the month.
The extension avoids what borrowers — and the loan servicers that handle their accounts — feared would be a messy disruption between the end of President Trump’s administration and the start of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s term.
Mr. Biden has not said if he intends to extend the student loan moratorium, but he has called for limited student-debt cancellation and other relief efforts. The announcement means the moratorium, which has been in place since March, can be extended during the Biden administration with no interruption.
As of Sept. 30, 23 million borrowers had taken advantage of the relief option, suspending payments on $927 billion in debt, according to Education Department data.
The moratorium allows borrowers to skip payments on their federal student loans without penalty and without incurring interest. For those who opt to keep making payments, the entire amount goes toward their loan principal.
The measure covers only federal loans that are owned by the Education Department, which holds the vast majority of all student loans. Borrowers with private loans still need to make those payments.
The moratorium on payments extends to those who have defaulted on their federal loans and are having their wages garnished. Employers have been told to stop garnishing paychecks, Ms. DeVos said, and those who have had money garnished are due refunds.
“The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for many students and borrowers, and this temporary pause in payments will help those who have been impacted,” Ms. DeVos said in her announcement. “The added time also allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate.”