Cancer Patients Now Allowed To Defer Student Loans

Sometimes the most stressful part of cancer is having to pay for it. Let that sink in for a minute.

When a cancer should be focusing on getting well, often their biggest focus is: how am I going to pay for this? Insured or uninsured, cancer isn’t cheap. In fact, the financial burden can last just as long, or longer, than the physical effects of the disease.

And for young adults, paying for cancer treatment can push them off even the straightest path toward financial stability. Over 60,000 young adults (aged 20 to 39) are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, and cancer is the 4th leading cause of death in the age group. Many of these young adults facing cancer also carry heavy student loan debt.

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Seventy percent of college students graduate with significant debt—on average about $37,000 at graduation. Cancer treatment will pile on another $45,000 worth of debt, on average. The patient may or may not be able to hold down any sort of job during treatment.

And, until recently, cancer wasn’t a good enough excuse to defer payments, leaving a patient doubly indebted with decreased ability to earn.

But the fiscal year 2019 Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriates Act has a provision, called the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act, that changes all that.

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The Act was recommended by Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota. “We currently allow individuals to defer student loan payments for various qualifying reasons such as going back to school, joining the armed services, looking for a job, or becoming permanently disabled,” Representative McCollum said. “Unfortunately, for the more than 70,000 young adults diagnosed with cancer each year, cancer treatment has not qualified for deferment.”

But now it does. The spending package, approved on September 18, 2018 means the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act will become law. The bipartisan act will allow those with student loan debt to defer payments from the time of their cancer diagnosis until six months after their treatment is completed.

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Maybe it seems a little obvious; cancer patients should be able to take a break from student loans. And it seems like an oversight that cancer wasn’t included with the list of things that qualified for deferment in the first place, like armed service and disability. Still, for someone whose financial plan was sidetracked by the ultimate unwelcome visitor, the deferment is a kindness that will allow greater peace of mind and dignity while going through treatment.

Kindness, dignity, peace of mind—these are things cancer patients need in large quantities. It’s encouraging that some of that has been signed into law.

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