How to Get a Refund for Student Loan Payments You Made During the Pandemic

Even if you paid off your student loans completely during the pandemic pause, you're eligible for debt relief.

Dan Avery Former Writer
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Expertise Personal finance, government and policy, consumer affairs
Dan Avery
3 min read
Student loan borrowers at a rally outside the White House

Demonstrators celebrate President Biden's decision to cancel student loan debt. 

Paul Morigi/Getty Images

The Department of Education has launched the beta version of its student-loan forgiveness website, allowing many of the 45 million Americans with outstanding educational loans to start applying for up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness  

While payments and interest have been suspended since March 2020, some borrowers continued paying to chip away at their principal. 

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If you were one of them, you're not out of luck: You can request a refund of any payments made on student loans since the forbearance began, according to the Federal Office of Student Aid.
Your pre-pandemic amount would then be eligible for the new cancellation plan. 

Here's what you need to know about refunds for loan payments made during the pandemic, including who is eligible and how to request your money back.

For more on student debt, find out if you qualify for a public student loan forgiveness waiver, the benefits (and drawbacks) of refinancing your student loan and how to avoid student loan forgiveness scams.

How do I request a refund of student loan payments?

To request a refund of any payments made since March 13, 2020, the Department of Education recommends contacting your specific loan servicer to request a refund. (More than 40% of all student loans in the US are managed by Nelnet.)
Read more: Find Out Who Your Student Loan Servicer Is
If you reach out, have details about your loan and payments on hand -- including how much you paid and the dates of your payments. And be prepared for a long call with significant hold times.

The Department of Education's Federal Office of Student Aid website also has information on the loan services and forgiveness plan, although the site has also been experiencing lags because of the high volume of traffic. 

What kind of loans are eligible for refunds?

If you've been making payments on federal loans from the Department of Education, you may request a refund of some or all made since the loan forbearance took effect on March 13, 2020.

Payments on other types of loans -- non-defaulted Perkins and Health Education Assistance Loans (HEAL) not owned by the Department of Education, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) not held by the Department of Education and private student loans are not eligible for refunds.

If I get a refund, will my pre-pandemic debt amount be eligible for debt forgiveness?

While even loan service providers have questions about the particulars of the plans, most analysts believe your account should be eligible for the forgiveness plan, as long as you meet all the other qualifications.

"Those who have been making voluntary student loan payments of their federal student loans since March of 2020 can actually get a refund of those payments," Daniel Zibel, co-founder of the advocacy group Student Defense told Houston Public Radio. "You will have that amount canceled out."

The Department of Education has said even borrowers who paid off all their federal student loans since March 13, 2020, still qualify for debt forgiveness, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Several borrowers who made payments during the pandemic said on Twitter that their loan servicers told them that if they received a refund, their loans would be reopened and the forgiveness applied to the revised balance.

CNET has not verified this information yet. We recommend talking directly with your loan servicer. 
Read more: How to Apply for Student Loan Forgiveness

Should I apply for a refund before or after requesting debt forgiveness?

Apply for a refund before you request any student loan debt forgiveness, according to Katherine Welbeck of the Student Borrower Protection Center.

"If you apply first, you can process the refund to get your money back, and then that balance in your account is canceled," Welbeck told PBS News Hour.