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Advice

How to spend your money now that student loan payments are on hold

With student loan relief included in the CARES Act extended through the end of the year, CNBC Select outlines how borrowers can spend the money that would have gone to monthly payments.

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Editor's Note: APYs listed in this article are up-to-date as of the time of publication. They may fluctuate (up or down) as the Fed rate changes. CNBC will update as changes are made public.

The student loan relief policies under the CARES Act, which were set to expire on September 30, have been extended through the end of the year. With this extension, most federal student loan borrowers can keep their monthly payments on pause without incurring any interest in the meantime.

This means that millions of borrowers can delay budgeting for their monthly loan payment, with no penalty, until January 2021.

The additional three months of relief comes in handy, especially if you're struggling with other forms of debt. With student loan payments on hold, here are three options of what you can do with that money instead.

1. Put it toward your emergency savings

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has reminded many how important it is to have back-up savings. In fact, a recent MassMutual survey found that more than one in five Americans have saved at least $1,000 during the pandemic.

In uncertain times like these, an emergency fund can help you withstand unexpected expenses, like medical bills or sudden income losses, such as being laid off or having your hours reduced.

The general rule of thumb is to build up an emergency fund of three to six months' worth of your living expenses, but right now setting aside any amount of cash that you can will help.

To maximize your saving, use a high-yield savings account versus a traditional savings account. With a high-yield account, you can earn a larger return on your money and see your savings grow at a faster rate.

For example, the Varo Savings Account offers an APY of 1.21% to all savings account holders, with the opportunity to earn up to 2.80% if you meet certain monthly requirements. This is more than 20 times the national average savings rate.

Varo Savings Account

Varo Savings Account
Information about the Varo Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Bank Account Services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.81% (with option to earn up to 2.80% if meet requirements)

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    None up to $50; anything greater, Varo would decline the transaction

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes, if have a Varo checking account

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • High APY and option to earn even higher
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • No penalty for overdrafts up to $50 (anything greater, Varo declines the transaction)
  • Option to add a checking account
  • ATM access if you have a checking account
  • Offers 2 programs to help automate your savings

Cons

  • Overdrafts over $50 will cause transactions to be declined
  • Cash deposits are only available through third-party services, which may charge a fee

Though interest rates for online high-yield savings accounts hover around 1% across the board, that still earns you more than your usual brick-and-mortar bank. If you find an account that comes with zero monthly fees and no minimum balance deposits or requirements, it could be a no-brainer.

The Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings fits the bill for a no-monthly-fee account. Plus, it comes with the convenience of unlimited withdrawal transactions with its optional ATM card for account holders. And if you're on the road and need to use an out-of-network ATM provider, Synchrony will refund ATM fees in the U.S. up to $5 per statement cycle.

Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings

Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings
Information about the Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Synchrony Bank is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.75%

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None, but may result in account closure

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong APY
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • Easy ATM access
  • 1 physical branch (in Bridgewater, New Jersey)

Cons

  • Account could close if you make more than 6 transactions in a statement cycle
  • No option to add a checking account

2. Pay off your credit card debt

If you have a safety net of savings already, use whatever amount of money you would normally pay toward your student loans to chip away at your credit card debt.

Because credit cards typically impose double-digit interest rates whenever you carry a balance month to month, it is important that you pay off your charges as soon as possible, and in full if you can. The longer your outstanding debt lingers on your credit card, the bigger a hole you dig yourself into.

With the typical monthly student loan payment ranging between $200 and $299, according to the Federal Reserve, you can instead take that couple hundred dollars and knock off chunks of your credit card balances. Given the additional three months of relief through December 2020, that frees up $600 to nearly $900, using the Fed estimates above, that can go toward your ballooning debt.

3. Keep paying off your student loans anyway

The extended suspension on student loan payments means you can work towards getting ahead, even while your loans are in deferment or forbearance.

Student loan payments will eventually resume again, and so will interest. Student loan borrowers can continue making their monthly payments now so that, at the end of the suspension, interest is charged on a much lower balance.

By being proactive now and taking advantage of the waived interest for the rest of the year, borrowers' monthly payments from now through December would also go directly to their current principal balance.

At the end of the day, the sooner you can pay off this debt, the better. Putting off loans, even in a deferment period where interest doesn't collect, can be a strain on both your budget and your peace of mind.

Learn more: Trump extended federal student loan relief—here's what financial experts say you should do if you qualify

Information about Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings and Varo Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.