Latest News on Student Loan Forgiveness
Student Loan Forgiveness remains a hot topic for the Biden Administration, which announced July 14th that another 800,000 borrowers enrolled in income-drive repayment plans, have qualified for loan forgiveness.
The Education Department said $39 billion will be forgiven through the program after corrections were made in the number of qualifying monthly payments counted for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan.
“For far too long, borrowers fell through the cracks of a broken system that failed to keep accurate track of their progress toward forgiveness,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement Friday. “By fixing past administrative failures, we are ensuring everyone gets the forgiveness they deserve.”
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Plan started in 2007 and borrowers needed to make 10 years of on-time payments to have the remainder of their loan forgiven. However, when the first wave of borrowers became eligible, 98% of them had their applications rejected because qualifying payments were miscounted.
“At the start of this Administration, millions of borrowers had earned loan forgiveness but never received it. That’s unacceptable,” Education Undersecretary James Kvaal said in a statement. “Today we are holding up the bargain we offered borrowers who have completed decades of repayment.”
The news comes on the heels of the Supreme Court decision to shut the door on Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, The Court ruled 6-3 on June 29 that Biden didn’t have the authority to implement a plan that would have canceled $10,000 of debt for nearly everyone with federal student loans ($20,000 If you were a Pell Grant recipient) and cost the federal government approximately $400 billion.
Some 20 million borrowers were counting on that Biden Plan to wipe out all of their existing loan debt, but they – and the other 23 million who had larger debt – must be ready to resume monthly payments starting Oct. 1 of this year.
What Is Biden’s ‘Plan B’ for Student Loan Forgiveness?
The only thing certain about the Biden administration’s “Plan B” for student loan forgiveness is that it is going to take some time to materialize. A “long time” might be a better description.
Biden promised to pursue “Plan B” through a negotiated rulemaking process based on the 1965 Higher Education Act that allows the Department of Education to “compromise, waive or release loans.”
The rulemaking process includes:
- Setting an agenda
- Invitations to representatives from various stakeholders that will be affected by the rule change to offer input
- Public comments and discussions on the proposed rule changes
The process will start July 18 when the Education department holds a hearing to decide what items will be on the agenda. Formulating the agenda is expected to take 2-3 months, meaning the process of hearing from stakeholders and the public will start sometime this fall. The public comment section of the process could take months with meetings all across the country.
The administration hasn’t let out any details on what would be proposed or up for discussion, but It appears that whatever comes out will be focused on reducing monthly payments and possibly reducing the number of years borrowers must make repayments before having their debt forgiven.
At a White House briefing the day the Supreme Court decision was announced, Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director for the National Economic Council, declined to give a specific timeline
“It’s going to be months,” Ramamurti said. “Even the typical rulemaking process typically takes months, but we are aiming to do it as quickly as possible. And so, we will give you more updates as we hit each milestone in that process.”
The good news is that rulemaking process is expected to receive less legal scrutiny than the executive order Biden originally tried.
In the meantime, here are other loan forgiveness possibilities that have been approved.
What Is Student Loan Forgiveness?
Student loan forgiveness means you are no longer required to make payments on the money you borrowed to pay for college. It’s an incentive program for those who took out more money than they can afford to repay.
Forgiveness means all or part of your student loan is wiped away. Poof! But the federal government doesn’t just wave a magic wand over everyone’s debt. You must qualify for forgiveness and, depending on which type of forgiveness you are pursuing, that can be a challenge. To qualify for the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness program, for example, you must make 10 years (120 months) of steady, on-time payments.
Private student loan forgiveness is even more difficult. The only way that happens is if you sustain total and permanent disability, or you die.
Student Loan Forgiveness vs. Cancellation vs. Discharge
The end result of all three of those procedures – forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge – is essentially the same: You get out from under some or all of your student debt. The means to that end differ slightly from process to process and loan type to loan type. That can be important as you research your eligibility for relief programs.
- Student Loan Forgiveness: When you are employed in any government or certain nonprofit organizations, you can be eligible to be relieved of making payments on your federal loans. If you have a Public Service Loan, a Forgiveness Teacher Loan, or an income-driven repayment plan on a federal student loan, it likely qualifies for forgiveness.
- Student Loan Cancellation: This is similar to forgiveness in that your job can unburden you of the requirement to make the loan payments. However, cancellation can involve different time periods for eligibility to kick in than forgiveness does, and cancellation applies to a different range of student loans. For example, most Perkins loans qualify for cancellation rather than forgiveness, though a Perkins loan can also be discharged.
- Student Loan Discharge: A loan can be discharged when you are subject to special circumstances that are beyond your control, such as disability, death, bankruptcy, identity theft, and others. Your student loan can also be discharged if your school closed soon after you graduated or while you were enrolled.
Again, you should know which term applies to your particular situation, but for the sake of simplicity, “forgiveness” generally can apply to any of the processes that lead to student loan debt relief.
» Learn more: Student Loan Discharge vs. Forgiveness
2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
Congress created the PSLF program in 2007 to encourage people to pursue noble careers that serve mankind and lessen student debt.
To qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), you must be a full-time employee (at least 30 hours per week) in a public service job. You must also make 10 years of on-time monthly payments (120 total) after consolidating your federal loans in a qualified repayment program. If you meet those requirements, you qualify for tax-free forgiveness.
This option applies solely to Direct Federal Student Loans. Private student loans are not eligible for the PSLF program.
Before we proceed, here’s a red flag: Applicants from the class of 2007 theoretically were the first ones eligible for loan forgiveness in 2017 and 99% of applications were rejected. That number is improving. The Department of Education announced in May of 2023 that of the 616,000 borrowers whose loans have been approved for forgiveness, nearly 610,000 were discharged.
Some borrowers discovered their application was rejected because they had been in an incorrect repayment plan. The Department of Education introduced its PSLF Help Tool in 2018 to try and reduce the number of rejected applications.
More changes are coming this summer, and they should benefit borrowers. Starting in July 2023, payments that are made late, in installments or in a lump sum, will be credited toward PSLF. Periods of time during the 10-year employment obligation that require deferments from payment such as military service, economic hardship, cancer treatments and time served in AmeriCorps and the National Guard will count toward PSLF. Rules about consolidating older loans into federal Direct Loans will ease.
The PSLF Help Tool allows you to search for qualifying employers and has a series of questions related to the program’s requirements that should help steer borrowers through the eligibility process.
If you are deemed ineligible because some or all of your payments were not made under a qualifying plan, you might still be eligible through Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
So, if you think you might qualify, it will pay for you to pursue forgiveness. It might eventually pay off nicely.
Public Service Jobs that Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness:
- Any job in a government organization at the federal, state, local or tribal level qualifies for PSLF. Working for not-for-profit organizations that are designated tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3), also qualifies.
- Other not-for-profit organizations that are not tax-exempt, but do provide a qualifying public service, such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps volunteers.
The most common public service careers are in education, law enforcement, health, public law, and veterinary medicine.
If you question whether your job qualifies, use the PSLF Help Tool for answers.
Repayment Plans that Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness:
Currently, there are several repayment plans that qualify under the PSLF program, including Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR); Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR); Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE); and Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE). We’ll get into a little more detail about them in a bit.
But if Biden’s new revamped income-driven repayment proposal is implemented, those four plans will be retired gradually. More on that later, too.
Note that the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan also is considered a qualifying plan. But because it is a 10-year plan, there won’t be any debt left to forgive if you’ve made payments on time. If you plan to enroll in a PSLF program, you need to enroll in a repayment plan that extends your loan term beyond 10 years.
How to Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
To apply for PSLF, you must fill out an Employment Certification Form every year and make pay stubs, W-2 forms, or other documentation available as requested.
If you have met the repayment requirements, submit a PSLF application to the Department of Education. If it’s approved, the remaining balance of your loan will be forgiven.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program was created in 1998 to encourage teachers to take jobs at elementary schools, secondary schools and educational service agencies that serve low-income families. The U.S. Department of Education publishes the list of low-income elementary schools and secondary schools each year.
You need to teach full-time at a qualifying school for five full and consecutive years. Then you are eligible to have from $5,000 to up to $17,500 in loans forgiven.
Only direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans qualify. PLUS loans do not qualify. There are 13 states that offer some form of loan forgiveness for teachers, with varying requirements.
Apply to the program by completing the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application and submitting it to your loan servicer.
Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
Registered nurses, nurse practitioners and members of nursing faculty, who work in high-need population areas or areas where there is a critical shortage, could qualify to have up to 85% of their loans forgiven under the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program.
Qualified candidates can have 60% of their student loans forgiven for working two years in an underserved area. Another 25% could be forgiven for working three years.
Some states also offer loan repayment assistance. Go to the Loan Forgiveness for Nurses website to see if yours is one of the 33 states that has one and what the eligibility requirements are.
Loan Forgiveness for Doctors
The healthcare professions, especially physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and mental healthcare workers, have several options, both national and local, to receive loan forgiveness.
The requirements and the amount forgiven vary dramatically, depending upon which program you enter. Check out the links to see the amount of loan forgiveness available and requirements for Army doctors, Indian Health Services, National Institute of Health, as well as state-by-state programs.
Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers
There is a financial incentive for lawyers to practice in public service or government offices in order to have some portion of their law school loan forgiven.
For example, the Department of Justice provides up to $60,000 in loan forgiveness for lawyers who work there for at least three years. The Air Force Judge Advocate program offers up to $65,000 in loan forgiveness.
The best place to start looking might be your own law school, since several colleges forgive some or all of the student loans for students who make less than $60,000 a year.
That amount varies, so check with your school to get actual requirements and amounts forgiven. If you can’t qualify for a forgiveness program, look into refinancing your law school debt.
Loan Forgiveness for Military Veterans
Each branch of the military has programs that help qualified members pay off their student loans, but the loan amounts forgiven and the requirements that must be met vary dramatically.
Visit the Complete Guide to Military Student Loan Forgiveness and Repayment and find the program that best suits your situation and branch of the military.
Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation
Federal Perkins Loans have a separate forgiveness program because your school is the lender, not the federal government. To apply, contact the financial aid office at the school that administered your Perkins Loan and request the application forms. You need to be a full-time employee in a qualified career.
Qualifying Perkins Loan Forgiveness Jobs:
- Soldier in hostile fire or imminent danger pay areas
- Law enforcement or corrections officer
- Nurse or medical technician
- VISTA or Peace Corps volunteer
- Librarian with a master’s degree (employed by Title 1 eligible schools or public libraries that serve those schools)
- Attorney employed in a federal public or community defender organization
- Employee for public or nonprofit organization that serves high-risk children and their families from low-income communities
- Staff member for educational component of the Head Start program
- Staff member for a state-licensed or regulated pre-kindergarten or childcare program
- Professional provider of early intervention services for the disabled
- Speech pathologist with a master’s degree (employed by Title 1 eligible schools)
- Special education teacher for children with disabilities in public, other nonprofit schools, or educational service agency
- Teacher in a field designated by the state as teacher shortage areas (math, science, foreign language, bilingual education etc.)
- Teacher in a designated educational service agency that serves students from low-income families
- Faculty member at a tribal college or university
You can have up to 100% of your Perkins Loans canceled or broken down over five years — 15% per year for the first and second year, 20% for the third and fourth years, and 30% for the fifth year.
2. Income-Driven Repayment Plan Loan Forgiveness
This is where the Biden Administration’s latest proposal could make a significant impact if it’s allowed to be implemented. Assuming it survives any legal or bureaucratic challenges, the “SAVE” program (Saving on A Valuable Education) could officially be available by July 1, 2024, though some elements of it could be put into effect sooner than that.
Monthly payments in these plans are built around a percentage of a borrower’s discretionary income and how long the borrower makes on-time payments, under a qualifying repayment plan. In exchange for a longer repayment period, a borrower gets lower monthly payments. You do not need to be working in a specific career field to qualify for loan forgiveness based on your repayment history.
Generally, you will make on-time payments for 20 or 25 years, depending on the existing repayment plan. The remaining loan balance is forgiven after that period of time.
Currently, there are the four existing income-driven repayment plans, with a fifth expected to become available in July of 2024:
- The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan, which qualifies you for loan forgiveness after 20 years of on-time payments. This repayment plan will generally offer you the lowest monthly payment. To enroll in this repayment plan, you must demonstrate financial hardship. You may remain in the program, however, after the hardship has resolved.
- The Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Repayment Plan, which is similar to the PAYE plan except that you don’t need to demonstrate financial hardship to qualify for the program.
- The Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan, which qualifies you for loan forgiveness after 25 years of on-time payments. The student loan programs under which the ICR Plan is available are somewhat limited, though they include Parent PLUS loans. Monthly payments generally are higher in an ICR Plan than they are in an Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan.
- The Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan also qualifies you for loan forgiveness after 25 years of on-time payments and generally has a broader reach than the Income-Contingent Plan. IBR is available under both the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL) and the Federal Direct Loan Program.
- The Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. This plan is scheduled to begin July 1, 2024, but some elements could be implemented earlier. Borrowers will pay a weighted average (between 5%-10%) of their income above the poverty line ($14,580 in 2023). The big news is that SAVE would eliminate negative amortization to prevent balances from growing even when borrower’s payments don’t even cover the interest on their loan. The income protected from payment calculations will increase to 225% of the poverty line. Borrowers making less than $32,805 would have a $0 monthly payment. Borrowers in the REPAYE program would be moved to the SAVE program.
Biden’s new proposal would modify the REPAYE Plan and eventually eliminate any new enrollments in the other three.
Currently, income-driven repayment plans generally charge 10% of a borrower’s monthly discretionary income. The Biden proposal would lower it to 5% for undergraduate loans and only require payments from people who earn more than about $32,800 per year. Any remaining debt would be canceled after 20 years of payments. And for a balance that is $12,000 or less, a student loan could be forgiven after 10 years.
Information for applications for the existing income-driven repayment plans can be found at StudentLoans.gov. You will need documentation on personal and financial information. Your loan servicer also can provide an application.
Forgiveness based on 20 or 25 years of on-time payments is only available to Federal Student loans. Private student loans do not qualify.
3. Student Loan Discharge
There’s one additional way to achieve student loan forgiveness which is called discharge. It is generally awarded by a judge and can apply to both Federal and private student loans. Discharge is granted under extremely rare circumstances.
Circumstances for Student Loan Discharge:
- Permanent disability or death
- Victim of identity theft
- Unauthorized signature of the loan by the school without your knowledge
- False certification of student eligibility
- Unpaid refund, which is when you withdrew from school, and it didn’t return the required loan funds to your loan servicer
- School closure while you were enrolled
Discharging student loans through bankruptcy is extremely rare. Demonstrating undue hardship is very difficult. Read more about the differences between forgiveness and discharge.
Pros and Cons of Student Loan Forgiveness
President Biden’s loan forgiveness plan was a political football, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues to be debated and resolved. It’s a long shot, but perhaps both parties could work together to resolve issues – pro and con – about repaying student loans.
- Millions of Americans could be relieved of paying exorbitant sums for their college educations, sometimes incurred through predatory lending practices.
- When millions of Americans have more money in their pockets, they tend to spend or invest it, providing a welcome boost to the entire economy.
- Incentives could bring younger, sometimes more qualified, people into public service jobs.
- A major disruption of the student loan system could lead to other, more sustainable alternatives, such as lowering the costs of education and creating programs that help students pay for education without incurring life-altering debt.
- Loan forgiveness often requires working in specific careers or dissuades students from pursuing other careers they might favor.
- Relief can take years to arrive, and until it does, it is difficult for recipients to be sure or to plan for their financial futures.
- Forgiven debt could be classified as income and then subject to taxation.
- The complicated process of obtaining relief could subject you to new levels of bureaucratic frustration or to scams developed to exploit the process.
Student Loan Forgiveness Alternatives
The qualifying standards for student loan forgiveness eliminate many of the 45 million borrowers, but there are other avenues to pursue that might make repaying your debt a little less challenging.
The most obvious one for federal loans is to sign up for one of the income-driven programs. These programs adjust your monthly payment based on your income, so if you’re not making much, you aren’t required to pay much.
One attractive alternative disappeared with the Federal Reserve’s gradual raising for the prime lending rate. Rates that were historically low in 2020 are, as of May 2023, 8.0%. That is almost double the prime rate in March 2020. The Fed has been trying to slow inflation. If that effort is successful, watch for interest rates to decrease to the point where a new loan can reduce your monthly student loan payment.
If your money crunch is temporary, you can ask that your loans be deferred or placed in forbearance. This allows you time to reorganize financially so you can meet monthly payment responsibilities.
Get Help Navigating Student Loan Forgiveness
If you’ve read this far, you already know that student loan forgiveness is complicated and volatile.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is making changes for the better, but they won’t be in place for another five or six months.
If you’re struggling with the weight of your student loans right now, the confusion surely doesn’t help. Your patience no doubt is being severely tested.
Waiting is not your only option. There are ways to take action to improve your relationship with all debt, including student loan debt.
A good place to begin is with the help of nonprofit credit counseling agencies. A nonprofit credit counselor has a responsibility to help clients find creative ways to reorganize and consolidate their debt.
Stay up to date on the latest news and continue communicating with your student loan servicer. You can find your student loan servicer here.
About The Author
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
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