When does the COVID-19 suspension of federal student loan repayments end? When do you need to file your FAFSA for this year? You may have heard some student loan servicers are closing shop — when does that happen?
To help you navigate this school year (and the next one), we’ve put together a list of important dates that should be on your radar, whether you’re repaying student loans or applying to college now.
Recent and current dates:
- Oct. 1, 2020: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens
- Nov. 1 or Nov. 15, 2020: Early action and early decision deadlines for many colleges
- Mid-December 2020: Decisions arrive for early action and early decision applicants
- Dec. 31, 2020: Federal student loan forbearance is set to end
- Jan. 1 or Jan. 15, 2021: Regular decision deadlines for many colleges
- March – April 2021: Decisions arrive for regular decision applicants
- May 1, 2021: National College Decision Day
Other dates to be aware of:
- Six months after graduation: Grace period on your student loans ends
- December 2021 – March 2022: Many student loan servicer contracts due to expire
Student loan calendar: Recent and current dates
Here are some dates that have already passed or are coming up this month, but are all still relevant to your planning.
Whether you’re a high school senior or already in college, you need to submit the FAFSA every year to receive federal financial aid.
This free application opens every year on Oct. 1 prior to the start of the school year (so Oct. 1, 2020 for the 2021-22 year) and remains open through the end of the school year (June 30, 2022 for the 2021-22 year).
Still, it’s important to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible, since some aid is doled out on a first-come-first-served basis. Plus, some states set their own deadlines for priority consideration.
Submitting the FAFSA will also reveal your Estimated Family Contribution and help colleges put together your financial aid package. By having all this information upfront, you’ll have an easier time comparing college costs and picking a school.
If you’re a new college-bound student, you have the option of applying for regular decision, early decision or early action.
If you opt to apply through early decision or early action, your application deadline will likely fall on Nov. 1 or Nov. 15, though you should note that some are even earlier (in October), while a few may be later (in December).
Early decision is binding, but early action typically is not. In other words, you can only apply to a single school through early decision, and you agree to attend that school if you get in.
You might prefer an early decision application if you have your heart set on a specific school, but it’s not always the right move if you’ll need to rely on financial aid. This is because early decision requires an upfront commitment to attend, so you won’t get to see your financial aid package before deciding.
If cost of attendance is a factor in your college decision, you might be better off sticking to early action or regular decision applications. For more on the financial pros and cons of applying early, check out this guide.
Student loan calendar: Upcoming dates
Mid-December 2020: Decisions arrive for early action and early decision applicants
One of the benefits of applying early to college is getting a decision months ahead of the typical schedule. Most early candidates will find out in mid-December if they were accepted.
If you get into a school you want to attend, you won’t have to spend the next few months gathering your application materials or writing your college essay. Instead, you can use that time to apply for scholarships and hopefully score some gift aid for your next few years in school.
Dec. 31, 2020: Federal student loan forbearance is set to end
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced earlier this year that it was offering an automatic halt for repayment on all federally-held student loans — initially until Sept. 30, 2020, but later extended until Dec. 31, 2020.
While it’s possible that this period could be extended again, it’s not guaranteed. So if you have federal student loans, mark this important date on your calendar and prepare for a return to repayments. For example, you may need to switch repayment plans to keep your monthly payments low enough to afford — if so, consider applying soon to get the ball rolling.
That said, some borrowers have already restarted repayment voluntarily in order to chip away at their balance faster than normal, since all interest has been set to 0% during the pandemic forbearance period.
If you can afford to keep up your repayment even during the current forbearance (especially if it gets renewed), then it could be worth it. But if you’re working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you’re probably better off not making payments, since you’ll get credit each month toward the required “120 qualifying payments,” even though you pay nothing due to the emergency forbearance.
Note that private student loans were not affected by the pandemic forbearance, although some private lenders are allowing forbearance for eligible borrowers.
Students applying to college via regular decision may have application deadlines of Jan. 1 or Jan. 15. Many colleges expect your applications in January, though some have later deadlines in February or beyond.
Some colleges also practice “rolling admissions,” meaning they accept applications as long as spots are available. Since each college has its own process, keep a careful record of all your deadlines and application requirements.
For those who applied via regular decision, the acceptances or rejections generally roll out in late March or April. If you’re accepted, you should also receive your financial aid package with the acceptance packet, or else shortly thereafter.
Your financial aid award letter will show you any federal, state and institutional aid you’ve received, including grants, scholarships and loans. Note that you’re not obligated to borrow the maximum amount of loans you’ve been offered.
If you’ve gotten multiple acceptances, you can compare your financial aid awards with this handy tool to help you figure out which school would make most financial sense for you and your family.
Many colleges and universities ask applicants for their official decision by May 1, which is why this date has become known as ”National College Decision Day.”
Depending on your school, you may need to officially accept an offer of enrollment by this date. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your choices, head to this guide for tips on choosing an affordable college.
Student loan calendar: Other events to be aware of
Finally, here are some more dates you may want to jot down, some of them a little further into the future.
Federal student loans, as well as many private student loans, don’t require you to make payments while you’re in school or for six months after you graduate. This deferment is known as a grace period.
While repayment on federally-held student loans is automatically paused until at least the end of this year (see above), you’ll want to prepare ahead of time for your first payment. Make sure you know how to log into all your student loan accounts, and if needed, update your address and email so you don’t miss any important correspondence.
If you can afford it, set up autopay so you never forget a payment. Federal loan servicers and many private student loan lenders offer a discount of 0.25 percentage points on your interest rate if you’re in autopay.
In addition, you can use this time before the end of the grace period to explore the various repayment plans and settle on a strategy for repaying your student loans. (Our student loan repayment calculator can help).
You should also remember that you don’t have to wait until your grace period ends to start making payments on your student loans. With the exception of federal subsidized loans, your student loans will be accruing interest throughout your grace period.
To prevent your balance from ballooning, consider making small, interest-only or even full payments while you’re in school.
In June 2020, the Department of Education announced that it had signed contracts with several new loan servicers, which would assume control of most of the federal student loan portfolio. Although this means your student loan servicer might change, you probably won’t have to worry about it until the end of 2021.
Some current loan servicers, including Nelnet and Great Lakes, did not receive new contracts. Their current servicing was initially set to end this year, but most will continue their work through the end of next year.
- FedLoan Servicing, Great Lakes, Navient and Nelnet are expected to continue servicing student loans until December 2021
- Granite State, Edfinancial, MOHELA and OSLA Servicing are expected to continue servicing student loans until March 2022
- One exception is CornerStone Education Loan Services, which is handing off its servicing now (See details at the top of this blog post.)
Although these dates might feel far off, it’s still important to keep them in mind, so you don’t accidentally miss a payment on any of your student loans.
And if you’re not sure who your loan servicer is, consult this article to see how to find them.