With her student loan payments on hold for three years, Ashley Dorn, a public school music teacher, found another use for the money she saved during the moratorium. She used the extra cash to pay off $10,000 in credit card debt, a bill that had haunted her for a decade.

“I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for this student loan debt break, and I’m worried I’m just going to have to start all over again,” she said of the credit card debt. She can’t imagine being able to make payments unless she finds another job, she said, in addition to her “already very time-consuming, already very stressful career.”

She earns about $50,000 a year and her husband earns about $45,000 as a government employee, but they continue to live paycheck to paycheck. Since graduating in 2014 with a master’s degree in education from State University of New York Empire State College, Ms. Dorn and her husband, Jonathan, who live near Albany, have made monthly payments on their more than $160,000 in student debt. They paused in March 2020 when, as part of a pandemic relief effort, the Trump administration said borrowers with federal student loans could stop making monthly payments.

The couple’s payments were nearly $900 a month, with Mrs. Dorn on income-driven repayment, which adjusts payments to a borrower’s salary.

Now that the break ends at the end of August, and with President Biden’s debt forgiveness proposal struck down by the Supreme Court, the Dorns and millions of others face the reality of restarting those loan payments.

For many of the 43.6 million borrowers with federal student debt, the three-year break created a financial cushion that allowed them to use the money for other purposes: buying homes, paying off credit card debt, supporting family members, undergoing overdue medical procedures and booking vacations. Now they are figuring out how to cut back to fit those payments into their budgets.

The Dorns always assumed they would have children someday, but the burden of their student loan debt made them reconsider. For now, their two dogs, Micah and Oscar, and two cats, Ellie and William, will have to do.

“That conversation is, like, off the table indefinitely,” Ms. Dorn, 33, said. In addition to monthly expenses like their mortgage and car payments, Mr. Dorn has Crohn’s disease, which adds an extra layer of financial stress.

The couple said they expected their new monthly payments, which will be calculated through their income repayment plans, to be around $800. That may change with the Department of Education’s new IDR option, the Saving in Value Education plan, or SAVEwhich takes into account income and family size.

Before the payment break, Ms. Dorn relied on her credit card to cover expenses such as an unexpected emergency room visit, vet bills, health care co-pays and new car tires. She used credit to replace their water heater, cover some car insurance payments, and install a new transmission in her husband’s car. Within the last six months, she paid off her credit balance and closed the card using a debt settlement program.

For Shantel Anderson, 27, the break was a lifeline that allowed her to support her mother and help her avoid eviction. The two struggled as Mrs. Anderson grew up in Philadelphia, bouncing from apartment to apartment until they were evicted; they ended up at a homeless shelter for a week just before she started college. Her mother had lost her job earlier that year, and Ms. Anderson, then 18, postponed her first fall semester of college because she couldn’t afford to go. Having lost most of her possessions during the eviction, Ms. Anderson relied on donations from people in her life, including her school counselor, for dorm supplies.

Ms. Anderson secured financial aid and student loans to study political science at Eastern University, while maintaining a work-study job and other employment, but still graduated in 2018 with $43,000 in debt. The moratorium, which freed up $455 a month, allowed her to cover her mother’s phone bill and some car repairs. Ms. Anderson also helped her mother with groceries, medicine, gas and cat food. With these costs handled, her mother was able to put all of her income toward paying rent and utilities.

Ms. Anderson’s first full-time job out of school, at a veterinary hospital, paid $32,000 annually, and the hospital provided housing at the time. When the pandemic recession hit, her hours were cut. She made one last full student loan payment in March 2020, then a few more monthly payments of $50. But when she found out she was going to lose her apartment, she stopped making the debt payments to pay rent and other bills.

The break allowed her to move into a three-bedroom high-rise apartment with a pool and gym — amenities she thought she’d never be able to afford — paying $500 for her share of a month’s rent with three roommates. She bought a car that made errands easier, and was able to cover about $400 in co-pays for unexpected health issues and medical procedures.

Some borrowers were shocked last August when Mr. Biden’s debt plan was announced.

“That day was crazy for me,” Ms Anderson said. She believed the plan would have cut her federal student debt in half. Her relief soon gave way to skepticism after Republican lawmakers filed a series of lawsuits to block the plan.

When the payments resume, Ms. Anderson expects her monthly bill to remain around $455, which she will add to her $250 monthly car and credit card payments. She increased her income to more than $60,000 a year working as a data manager at a nonprofit, and signed up for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) last October — but she’s already started cutting back on some expenses.

She stopped going to therapy to save on out-of-pocket co-payments and talked to her mother about not being able to help her as much. In an emergency, Mrs. Anderson said, she would sell her car.

She continues to help with some of her mother’s expenses: the phone bill, gas money to commute to her part-time job at a nursing home and, sometimes, groceries. But her mother was already behind on rent, and her landlord filed for eviction.

“She had a court date,” Ms Anderson said. “Her landlord didn’t show up, so the judge threw out her case. I was like, thank the lord, we have more time.”

For others, the break helped redirect money to things like home renovations and vacations. Elizabeth Burton and her husband, Kyle, carry private and federal student loan debt of about $175,000. The moratorium saved the couple, who live in Manchester, NH, about $650 each month. Her schedule as a sonographer allowed her to stay home during the day, saving them an additional $1,200 in childcare costs during the pandemic, keeping their 8-year-old and 5-year-old at home.

While Mrs. Burton, 39, and her husband, 38, a sales representative, still had to pay $500 each month on private loans, the extra funds allowed them to put a second bathroom in their house, pay off credit card debt and book an eight-day family vacation to Disney World.

Now that Ms Burton and her husband have higher paying jobs, they believe an income repayment plan would lead to a higher bill than before.

“There is no money for my children to go to university,” Ms Burton said. “I will still pay my loans. But you know, my son is 8. I have 10 years left on my federal loans. There is no money for him. He will either have to take out loans, he will have to live at home, he will have to get a scholarship – I have nothing for him.”

The Dorns used some of their saved student loan money to book a vacation, too — for July 2025. They plan to celebrate their anniversary in Jamaica, hoping to soak up the tropical atmosphere and explore the marine wildlife. The couple is on a payment plan for the trip, which offers the option of spreading small payments over three years. It’s their dream vacation, Mrs. Dorn said. But when the payment break ends, they’re considering giving that up, too.

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