Federal student loan borrowers were sent into a panic after receiving an email Thursday saying that loan payments are restarting and will soon be deducted from their bank accounts.
Turns out, the message was "sent in error."
Nelnet is the major student loan servicer that mistakenly emailed borrowers. The message added to the widespread confusion on whether the student loan forbearance period, which began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and has lasted for more than two years, will indeed end Aug. 31 as currently scheduled. The erroneous alert told an unknown number of federal student loan borrowers that Nelnet would automatically debit their bank accounts on Sept. 1.
“Any communications from servicers to federal student loan borrowers regarding restarting student loan payments were sent in error,” the Department of Education said in a statement to Money. The agency said it "has directed servicers to inform federal student loan borrowers who received the message that payments remain paused.”
Shortly after the first email, Nelnet sent another message, apologizing for the error.
“You do not have a payment due on September 1 and no payment will be withdrawn from your account,” the email reads. “We will send a billing statement 21 days before a payment is due.”
As of Dec. 31, 2021, Nelnet serviced at least 6.4 million federal student loans. (Nelnet oversees a larger number of borrower accounts through Great Lakes, another servicing company that it owns, but the two operate separately.) It’s unclear exactly how many of those borrowers received the message from Nelnet. The company did not respond to Money’s request for comment.
The Education Department says that less than 0.1% of all federal student loan borrowers received the message. Still, that would suggest at least tens of thousands of borrowers got incorrect information about their federal student loans — though the Department of Education stated that no payments were collected.
When will federal student loan payments start again?
The mistaken alerts from Nelnet only add to the confusion and frustration student loan borrowers are feeling right now.
The pause of federal student loan payments is officially supposed to end on Aug. 31. The clock is ticking down, and neither the Education Department nor the White House has made any official announcements on another extension.
“The Department of Education will continue to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy on student loan borrowers,” the department said in its statement to Money. “We will communicate directly with borrowers about the end of the payment pause when a decision is made.”
Experts point to the lack of communication from officials thus far as a strong indicator that the Biden Administration will extend student loan forbearance yet again, for the seventh time total. The announcement could possibly be made in tandem with a student loan forgiveness plan.
“The lack of borrower communication to date makes the payment pause extension highly likely,” Robert Farrington, founder and CEO of The College Investor, recently told Money.
For now, the only answer — however unsatisfying — is to await word from officials. It should be coming any day now. President Biden has said he would make a decision on both forbearance and forgiveness “by the end of August.”