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Borrowers don’t need to apply

Borrowers do not need to enroll in the on-ramp period, the U.S. Department of Education says. If your loans were eligible for the pandemic-era payment pause, which mainly include those in the Direct program, then borrowers will also qualify for this relief.

Loans that don’t qualify include private student loans and commercially held Federal Family Education Loans.

On-ramp period isn’t the same as payment pause

Unlike during the pandemic-era pause on federal student loans, when interest rates were set to zero, the debt will continue to grow at its pre-Covid rate over the next year (interest formally began accruing on federal student loans Sept. 1.)

To be clear: forgoing payments or making only partial payments during the on-ramp period means you’ll likely have a larger bill come October 2024.

For that reason, Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, a trade group for federal student loan servicers, said he hoped borrowers weren’t thinking this is just another payment pause.

“There is a fundamental difference here, which is that interest is accruing now,” Buchanan said.

Collection activity halted

Aside from the accruing of interest, experts say there are unlikely to be other significant penalties of not making payments during the on-ramp period. However, like with all things student loans, it makes sense to be careful. One borrower told CNBC that her account was put into a past-due status when she didn’t make her October payment.

Still, the Department of Education says it will not report your missed payments during this period to the credit bureaus.

Borrowers should also be shielded from collection activity, including the garnishments of their wages or retirement benefits, said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

It’s still best to make payments

If you can afford to make your student loan payments, most experts recommend that you do so to avoid ending up with a larger bill when the on-ramp period ends.

Still, these experts say some borrowers with small debt balances who believe they will qualify for President Joe Biden’s Plan B for student loan forgiveness are taking their chances and holding off on making their payments.

“They’re trying to buy themselves time,” said Braxton Brewington, press secretary for the Debt Collective, a union for debtors.

Biden’s plan is currently working its way through the regulatory process. It is unclear if the administration’s second attempt at providing people relief will end any differently than its first, with a failure at the Supreme Court.

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