Stressed-out borrowers fear end of student loan forbearance will put them further in debt, Achieve survey finds

While 45% of student loan borrowers used the forbearance period to address other debts, 65% also took on new debts during the three-year-long payment freeze

September 14, 2023

SAN MATEO, Calif., September 14, 2023 — Nearly half of borrowers are experiencing considerable stress following the conclusion of the federal student loan forbearance and more than a quarter are concerned that resuming payments will force them to take on more debt to make ends meet, according to a new survey by Achieve, the leader in digital personal finance.

The forbearance program that began in March 2020 was designed to provide financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resumption of payments in October comes at a time when consumers are grappling with soaring inflation, high interest rates and record-high levels of debt. The Achieve Center for Consumer Insights surveyed active student loan borrowers to understand how the end of the forbearance will affect their finances and what they’ve done to prepare.

Key findings:

  • 45% of respondents feel extremely or very stressed about resuming their student loan payments.

  • 28% of student loan borrowers said the resumption of federal student loan payments will likely require them to take on new debt to manage their personal finances.

  • 24% of borrowers anticipate needing financial assistance or hardship provisions to resume their student loan payments.

  • 29% say they feel more burdened by their student loans now than they did when the forbearance began.

“Student loan forbearances brought relief for millions during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Andrew Housser, co-founder and co-CEO of Achieve. “But after more than three years, many consumers are now bracing for significant adjustments to their household budgets. Many will even have to delay major life plans and milestones in order to manage their student loans, existing debts and other day-to-day expenses.”

Borrowers used funds to pay down other debts

Over half (56%) of survey respondents did not make any student loan payments during the 41-month-long forbearance, while 30% have made at least some payments and 14% continued to make all their payments. Over that time, many borrowers used the money that previously went toward student loan payments to fill gaps in their household budgets and to pay down other debts.

  • Basic living expenses (36%), education and professional development (16%), and building up emergency savings (10%) were also cited uses of these funds.

  • 9% of respondents used the money for leisure or non-essential items, while 8% used the funds to help pay for a vacation.

  • 45% of respondents used the forbearance period to address other debts, with these consumers primarily focused on paying down mortgage/rent expenses (27%), credit cards (26%) and past-due bills (24%).

Student loan debt delays life milestones

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents have delayed or been unable to make large financial purchases and reach other major life milestones as a direct result of their student loan debt.

  • 36% have foregone building up an emergency savings fund

  • 30% have not saved for retirement

  • 26% have not paid down other debts

  • 23% have been unable to buy a house

  • 17% have been unable to buy or lease a vehicle

  • 7% report delaying or not getting married

  • 9% said student loans have affected their plans to have children

New debts complicate repayment plans

When student loan payments resume in October, 62% of respondents expect their monthly payments will be less than $250 per month, while 13% expect to owe monthly payments of $500 or more. When asked how the end of the forbearance program will affect their personal finances, 61% believe it will have a significant or moderate negative impact.

Further complicating matters is that nearly two-thirds (65%) of student loan borrowers took on new debt during the student loan forbearance, including credit cards (41%), car loans (17%), personal loans (16%), and medical debt (15%). Among those who took on new debt, nearly one-third (32%) said these new obligations exceeded $10,000, compared to 26% who said their new debt was less than $2,500.


The data and findings presented are based on an Achieve survey conducted in July 2023 consisting of 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older, and is representative of Census Bureau benchmarks of the U.S. population for age, gender, race and ethnicity. The sample includes 247 respondents who are currently the primary borrower (not co-signer) of federal or private student loans used to pay for their own or someone else’s education.

About the Achieve Center for Consumer Insights

The Achieve Center for Consumer Insights is a think tank that leverages Achieve’s team of digital personal finance experts to provide a view into the state of consumer finances. In addition to sharing insights gleaned from Achieve’s proprietary data and analytics, the Achieve Center for Consumer Insights publishes in-depth research, bespoke data and thoughtful commentary in support of Achieve’s mission of helping everyday people get on the path to a better financial future.

About Achieve

Achieve is the leader in digital personal finance. Our solutions help everyday people get on, and stay on, the path to a better financial future, with innovative technology and personalized support. By leveraging proprietary data and analytics, our solutions are tailored for each step of a consumer’s financial journey and include personal loans, home equity loans and help with debt. In addition, Achieve also provides financial tips and education, including a free specialized mobile app, MoLO (Money Left Over). Headquartered in San Mateo, California, Achieve has nearly 3,000 dedicated teammates across the country with hubs in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Achieve is frequently recognized as a Best Place to Work.

Achieve and its affiliates are subsidiaries of Freedom Financial Network Funding, LLC, including, LLC d/b/a (NMLS ID #138464) Equal Housing Lender; Freedom Financial Asset Management, LLC d/b/a Achieve Personal Loans (NMLS ID #227977); Freedom Resolution (NMLS ID #1248929); and Lendage, LLC d/b/a Achieve Loans (NMLS ID #1810501), Equal Housing Lender.


Erica Bigley

Vice President, Corporate Communications

[email protected]



Austin Kilgore

Director, Corporate Communications

[email protected]


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