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Student borrowers with cancer can now pause their payments

Key Points
  • Nearly a year ago, Congress passed a law allowing people with cancer to press pause on their student loan payments.
  • Yet borrowers haven't been able to access the so-called cancer deferment because the U.S. Education Department didn't provide the companies that administer its federal student loan programs with an official application.
  • Now that form is available and eligible borrowers should be able to put their loans into deferment. Here's how to apply.
EIR Healthcare

Nearly a year ago, Congress passed a law allowing people with cancer to press pause on their student loan payments.

Yet borrowers haven't been able to access the so-called cancer deferment because the U.S. Education Department didn't provide the companies that administer its federal student loan programs with an official application.

Now that form is available and eligible borrowers should be able to put their loans into deferment. (Email me if you run into trouble: annie.nova@nbcuni.com.)

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CNBC revealed earlier this year that servicers were denying borrowers the deferment — and often giving incorrect information about it — long after the law went into effect.

Up to 1 million people could be eligible, according to estimates by Mark Kantrowitz, an expert on student debt.

The general requirements are that a person 1) needs to owe money on federal student loans and 2) must be in active treatment for cancer.

Once approved, borrowers can pause their bills throughout their medical care and then for six months afterward.

How to apply

You should fill out the newly available cancer deferment application and send it to your servicer. "A telephone call is not sufficient," Kantrowitz said. "Keep a copy for your records."

You will need your doctor to confirm that you have cancer. He or she can do this on the cancer deferment form or by attaching a letter.

If you have loans in the Direct program, your loans can be paused without interest accruing whether they're subsidized or unsubsidized loans, Kantrowitz said. If you have a FFEL loan, you can get a break from your payments, but interest will continue to rack up. Private loans do not qualify.

If you requested the deferment after Sept. 28, 2018 — when the law went into effect — but before the form was available, Kantrowitz recommends you include a letter with your application noting that any interest that was paid should be refunded to you or applied to the principal balance of the loan. If you didn't pay the interest, it should be removed.

"A week or so after the deferment form is mailed, call the servicer to confirm receipt and to ask when it will be processed," Kantrowitz said.