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Tips for paying for college or student loans during the COVID-19 pandemic

A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse shows enrollment at community colleges nationwide dropped 10-percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak-havoc on college and university plans for prospective students of all ages. Choosing to attend a two- or four-year college can be one of the largest financial investments of your life, especially during at a time of high national unemployment and financial hardship.

The ongoing health crisis, however, is to blame for fewer students entering colleges or universities. A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse shows enrollment at community colleges nationwide dropped 10-percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020. The report also shows four-year colleges and universities experienced only slight declines, beating many predictions that the outcome would be worse.

Even in good economic times, many college students struggle to stay in school while juggling the demands of supporting and feeding families, paying rent, and covering tuition. Jessica Brown is a financial aid expert, author of "How To Pay For College When You're Broke," and founder of "College Gurl." She recommends completing the "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" as well as turning to overlooked strategies in the community to pay for college.

“If you belong to a church home, you might want to consider checking to see if the church offers financial support for students or scholarships,” Brown said. “If your parents have affiliations with sororities and fraternities, you might want to check to see if the organizations offer financial assistance or programs. Additionally, many high schools have scholarships that were given by alumni. Many parents also have careers where their job provides tuition benefits. So, you might also want to consider having your parents follow up with the human resources department to see if those opportunities are available.”

After you've submitted the FAFSA application, you can apply to additional grants, scholarships, work-study programs, or personal student loans. You can also get a part-time job, if possible, to help cover minor or unexpected expenses.

Data from the Federal Reserve shows there are 45-million borrowers who collectively owe more than 1.7 trillion in student loan debt. In response to the mountain of debt and COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers are giving most federal student loan borrowers additional bill-paying breathing room.

On March 20th, 2020, the office of Federal Student Aid began providing temporary relief on federal student loans. That includes suspending loan payments, stopping collections on defaulted loans, and offering zero-percent interest rates on student loans.

Seven days later, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, became law to continue providing relief measures on federal student loans. The COVID-19 emergency relief measure was originally set to expire in September, but the Trump administration extended it until January 31st. 

Then, on his first day in office, President Joe Biden extended the benefit through September 30th, 2021. But, if your budget allows, Brown recommends making monthly payments on your federal student loans for major financial benefits in the future.

"If you have the financial stability to currently pay on your student loans, I would strongly suggest that you do,” Brown said. “This way, you can make sure that your credit improves so that you can secure all of life's luxuries, like a car,  home and all of the other things you might want or need to reach financial success."

Brown also suggests making monthly student loan payments, even though you don't have to at this time, to help develop financial discipline and properly manage your money. To learn more about paying for college or paying off student loan debt, visit the College Gurl website.