FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Federal student loan debt in America totals $1.6 trillion, with approximately 43 million borrowers.

Over the last two years during the pandemic, Americans have been given a break from student loan debt payments as well as interest.

This moratorium applies to what are called direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Direct subsidized are loans taken out during your education years that do not accrue interest until six months after you leave college. Direct unsubsidized are loans you take out during your education years that do accrue interest.

If you have taken the opportunity to get ahead by still making loan payments — or even increasing loan payments during the moratorium — good for you. You have likely saved thousands of dollars.

If you have not taken advantage of the zero-percent interest for the past two years, you still have time. The moratorium on federal student loans has been extended until Aug. 31.

If you are thinking, that is only a few months, think of it this way: If you have student loan debt of $20,000, and are paying a 4.6-percent interest rate, you will save $184. That is likely your monthly, or possibly two to three monthly payments. Every extra dollar you use to pay down your debt is a win for you. If you still have money remaining from your income tax refund, consider paying a large sum to save even more money.

Another opportunity to help get rid of student loan debt is what’s called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. If you work in federal or public service, you may qualify for the forgiveness of your student loan debt. You must work 120 months and make payments for those 120 months to qualify. However, the payments you weren’t required to make during the moratorium qualify as payments, so you may be further ahead of paying off your student loan debt than you think. This program allows you to apply during any of your 120 months of payments. Apply today and they will make your start date retroactive, so you can get credit for all those payments you have made in the past. Visit the U.S. Department of Education website for more information.

Fort Leonard Wood’s Army Community Service financial counselors are available to help you get started. Call 573.596.2078 to schedule an in-person, telephonic or virtual appointment.