Student Loans During the COVID Pandemic

Read this in:
Spanish / Español


Student loans are treated differently depending on whether they are "federally connected" or not. Also, some relief under new federal legislation called the CARES Act only applies to one kind of federally connected loan called "Direct Loans," while other relief applies to all federally connected loans.

In addition, some loans that are not federally connected may also present options to borrowers. Read on to get more information.

The CARES Act provisions passed in March were originally supposed to expire on September 30, 2020, but have now been extended to December 31, 2020.

What is a federally connected loan?

Federally connected loans include Direct Loans, which are owed directly to the government; Perkins Loans, which are owed to your school; and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), which were made by a private company or state agency but guaranteed by the federal government. Not all student loans are federally connected.

If you want to be able to tell whether your loans are federally connected, you should log in to If you see your loan listed there, it is federally connected. If you don't, then it is not federally connected. The listing should also tell you if your loan is a Direct Loan, a Perkins Loan, or an FFEL.

Do I qualify for an "administrative forbearance?"

According to the federal CARES Act, some federal loan borrowers can take an "administrative forbearance" from making payments on their loans, starting March 31, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

This means you don't have to pay your payment. People who have either a Direct Loan -or- a FFEL that is "held by the federal government" can take advantage of this program.

It is usually easy to tell if you have a Direct Loan by logging in to Unfortunately, it is more difficult to find out if you have a FFEL owned by the federal government. You might be able to find out by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID, or calling your servicer, but it is not clear whether you can 100% trust the information you get there to be accurate.

How do I get an administrative forbearance if I do qualify?

You can ask your servicer (i.e. the person you pay your bill to) for this forbearance, but it is not necessary to do that - if you do not make your payment, you will automatically be placed into forbearance.

What if they are threatening to take -- or have already taken -- my federal tax refund, wages, or federal benefits (social security, etc)?

Debt collection for all federally connected loans that are in default - Direct, Perkins, or FFEL - has been halted until December 31, 2020. That includes wage garnishments, garnishments of federal benefits, and offsets of tax refunds.

However, if your tax refund was already offset earlier in the season, you will not be able to get your refund back without specifically asking your servicer for a hardship. You can claim a hardship by submitting a request to your loan servicer. Make sure you point out why you need access to your tax refund, and be specific.

Typical hardships may include

  • Pending eviction or foreclosure (or likely inability to pay built up back rent or house payments after the moratoriums end)
  • Loss of a job, COVID related or otherwise
  • Sickness
  • Cessation or offset of unemployment benefits

You can submit the hardship request even after your refund, benefits, or wages have been garnished

State [Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation]

  • Iowa Legal Aid has been informed that some collection actions for many but not all Iowa student loans owned by ISLLC or "Iowa Student Loan" has been stopped during the pendency of the state of emergency, specifically those cases assigned to private attorneys for collection (Abbott, Osborne & Jacobs; Brick Gentry; etc.). For those cases, no new lawsuits will be filed during the state of emergency.
  • At this time, our understanding is that garnishments for lawsuits that have already completed will continue. See our section on garnishment for ideas on how to reduce your garnishment amount.
  • At this time, our understanding is that ISL cases collected by the state are continuing as normal.


Iowa Legal Aid Provides Legal Help to Low-Income Iowans

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275.

  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or apply online at
  • If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
  • As of March 18, 2020, our offices are closed for walk-ins until further notice, due to the coronavirus outbreak.


*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Last Review and Update: Apr 16, 2021