How to apply for federal student loan forgiveness
Biden’s student loan relief is in addition to those programs and applies to many more borrowers. But they will need to wait for an announcement from the Education Department about when they can apply for the $10,000 to $20,000 in debt forgiveness. Applying for the other programs won’t get you forgiveness any faster—and it could slow down the forgiveness process for those who are eligible.
While you wait, here’s what the Department of Education has shared about the widespread forgiveness process so far.
Who is eligible for forgiveness?
Anyone with an annual adjusted gross income below $125,000 (for individuals and anyone married but filing separately) or $250,000 (for those married filing jointly or heads of household) in 2020 or 2021 are eligible for forgiveness.
You will receive up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness if you had at least one Pell Grant in college. This is true even if you received a Pell Grant in undergraduate school but your loans are graduate loans.
If you never had a Pell Grant, you will receive up to $10,000 in relief if you have federal loans and meet the income requirements.
Additionally, parents or guardians who have taken out Parent PLUS loans, those with graduate school loans, and students currently in school are also eligible, again, as long as they meet the income requirements.
How do I apply for forgiveness?
In October or whenever the application becomes available, you will fill out a form on the Department of Education’s website. You will need to certify your income for either 2020 or 2021.
You will have until Dec. 31, 2023, to submit your application—but forgiveness will be granted on a first come, first served basis, so apply as early as you can. Definitely try to apply before the end of this year, when the payment pause ends.
The Department of Education says there will “eventually” be a paper application available. But at least at the beginning, borrowers should plan to apply online.
How do I know if I received a Pell Grant?
For most borrowers, they can just check the “My Aid” page on their StudentAid.gov profile to see what kind of loan they had. Those who received a Pell Grant before 1994 will not see the information displayed in their profile—however, the Department of Education has a record of everyone who has ever received one and says they will still receive the full benefit.
Parents who took out loans for their children will not receive the extra $10,000 if their child was a Pell Grant recipient. In that case, the student would be eligible for $20,000 if they have loans in their own name, and the parent would be eligible for $10,000, assuming everyone meets the income requirements.
That said, a parent might be eligible for $20,000 on their own loans if they received their own Pell Grants to attend college. But they wouldn’t receive $30,000 in relief. The forgiveness limits are per borrower, not per loan.
What about Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans?
This is where things can get tricky.
Your FFEL Program loans—and Perkins Loans—are eligible for forgiveness if the name of your servicer starts with “Dept. of Ed” or “Default Management Collection System.” That means they are held by the Department of Education and federally managed. You can find the servicer in the “My Aid” section on StudentAid.gov.
That said, some FFEL loans are privately held. These are not currently eligible for forgiveness—however, the Department of Education is assessing whether to expand eligibility to these borrowers. These borrowers would be able to get forgiveness if they consolidated their privately held FFEL loans into a federal direct loan (but watch out for interest capitalization).
And FFEL Joint Consolidation Loans, or spousal consolidation loans, are not eligible for forgiveness or consolidation into a direct loan.
A good way to think about it, according to the Department of Education: If your loans have been paused since the start of COVID-19, then they likely are eligible for relief, unless you don’t meet the income requirements.
Are defaulted loans eligible for forgiveness?
Yes. And remember, the Fresh Start initiative could bring the remainder of your loans out of default when payments restart in 2023.
How will forgiveness be applied if I have multiple loans?
This is the order of forgiveness for those with multiple loans, according to the Department of Education:
- Defaulted loans held by the Department of Education
- Defaulted commercial FFEL loans
- Non-defaulted direct loans and FFEL loans held by the Department of Education
- Perkins Loans held by the Department of Education
If you don’t have defaulted loans, then forgiveness will be applied first to your direct loans.
And if you have multiple loans of the same type—say, more than one direct loan—then the relief will be applied to the loan with the highest interest rate first. If the interest rates are the same, then the relief will be applied to unsubsidized loans—meaning interest began accruing from the date of disbursement—before subsidized loans. You can find more information on the order here.
What happens to my monthly payments after forgiveness?
If you still have a balance left on your student loans after the forgiveness, then it will be re-amortized, and you will get a new monthly payment based on the new balance. Your loan servicer will tell you what the new payment amount is.
How will I know if I received forgiveness?
After you submit the application, your loan servicer will let you know when your loans have been forgiven. They will also detail how the relief was applied to your loans.
Will any relief be automatic?
Student loan forgiveness will be automated for around 8 million borrowers for whom the Department of Education already has their income information, mostly from FAFSA applicants and those who are in income-driven repayment plans. The Department of Education will look at both tax year 2020 and 2021 information and will use the year with the lower income to determine forgiveness.
Borrowers will receive an email and text message from the Department of Education about their status and won’t have to take any further action.
There is already some concern over scams related to the federal student loan forgiveness program. Remember: Rhere is no fee for loan forgiveness, and you cannot “jump the line” to get it faster than others. Be wary of individuals and companies calling you now to offer help receiving cancellation.
When the applications open, apply—and then wait to hear from the Department of Education or your servicer directly.
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