When you know a tiny bit about something, you can walk around in a fog that throws your finances for a total loop.

And so begins the story on coronavirus relief efforts and student loan debt.

Increasingly, consumer advocates report hearing from student loan borrowers who haven’t paid a dime on their college loans since March and believe that they’re in perfectly fine shape. They’ve heard about all the student loan breaks that now run through the end of December.

And the big money trip wire? 

Tucked in their basket of debt, they’re dealing with a hot mess of student loans that aren’t covered by coronavirus-related debt relief.

A metro Detroit consumer was shocked after late payments relating to unpaid student debt suddenly popped up in 2020 on her credit report, according to Sue Stoddard, housing counselor and family self-sufficiency resource coordinator for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. 

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Stoddard, a financial coach for the borrower, had to explain that more than $13,000 of student loan debt was now being reported as past due — indicating that those specific loans weren’t covered by special forbearance programs.

The borrower had needed to make monthly payments on those loans but had stopped because of some misconceptions about what was and what wasn’t covered under COVID-19 debt relief. 

The borrower didn’t realize that the temporary 0% rates and automatic pause in payments applied only to specific federal student loan debt, not all student loans.

About 9 million borrowers — those with private student loans and those with most Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans that are not owned by the federal government — are not receiving automatic relief, according to the Student Borrower Protection Center, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“With private student loans, a borrower has to request forbearance. It is not automatic. Even the special 90-day COVID-19 forbearance has to be requested,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for Savingforcollege.com. 

And many experts recommend that you contact your loan servicer, if you’re having trouble making your payments or if you’re unclear about whether your loans are covered under the federal CARES Act or other programs. 

Mishaps can trigger trouble down the road — and servicers will try to get their money. For example, a private student loan creditor is entitled to 100% of your state tax refund, with court approval. 

For private student loans, tax refund garnishment is only available at the state level and does not apply to federal tax refunds. 

“While they can’t seize your federal refund, they can take action to collect quicker than federal student loan servicers,” Stoddard said.

“Federal servicers are unable to take collection action until a loan is 270 days past due, private servicers can take action as soon as you’re late once.”  

The private servicer can go to court and sue to garnish wages,