(NEW YORK) — When Nisa Betancourt graduated college in May 2020, it was an unusual time.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Betancourt was unable to accept her diploma in person and the federal government placed a pause on student loan repayments and set interest rates to 0%.
Despite her disappointment at not walking across the stage, Betancourt said the pause in repayments felt like a blessing in disguise.
“I definitely felt a sense of relief because I felt like I was finally on my own without worrying about that additional expense that would have come way earlier than it did,” Betancourt said. “I would not have been able to move out and I probably would still be at home had they not been paused.”
Three years later, student loan repayments have resumed, and Betancourt is one of over 28 million borrowers who have begun or restarted their payments, a process that has been marred by administrative errors, such as incorrect bills and late notices to borrowers.
Betancourt, an account executive for a public relations firm, knew the day would come when she would have to make payments. She also knew she had to make lifestyle changes to accommodate the shift — everything from meal prepping and cutting back on social activities to taking on freelance work on the weekends, facilitating Zoom meetings for a company that offers equity, diversity and inclusion workshops for companies across the country.
“The money that I make from my freelance gigs goes straight towards my student loans. It’s specific to that and it’s budgeted to go towards those payments,” Betancourt explained.
Today, Betancourt submits payments that total nearly $600 per month to chip away at her student loan debt, which is approximately $52,000.
“I’m afraid that I’m not going to be able to pay them back, even though I have been taking these extra measures and taking these extra steps to make sure that I have it under control,” Betancourt said of how she feels about her student debt.
In June, the Supreme Court overturned President Joe Biden’s attempt at student debt relief, a sweeping student loan forgiveness program, but the administration recently released a draft of a narrower policy that could take effect next year, which aims to help student loan borrowers who are the most affected by their debts. Student loan borrowers also currently have a yearlong grace period if they miss a payment until September 2024 although interest will continue to accrue.
Mary Ryan, a senior wealth adviser with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, told “GMA” borrowers should consider what they can control instead of what they can’t when it comes to student debt payments.
“You want to think about, ‘What can you control?’ And that control is what you spend,” Ryan said. “You need to focus on what’s going on in your house, what payments you need to make and be prepared for what you have to do, because we don’t know what’s going to be happening in Washington. But you do know what you have to do, and I would stay focused on that.”
Despite her daunting debt, Betancourt said she is hopeful about paying it all off.
“Making that first payment, I saw I was able to see how much I actually have in debt but also feel like I can get it done and [hope] that all of the steps that I’ve taken and all of those measures that I’ve taken will eventually pay off in the end,” she said.
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