More than 110,000 people have had about $6.8 billion in student loans forgiven under a revamped federal program, the U.S. Department of Education said earlier this week.
The Biden administration announced changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in October 2021. The program temporarily waived certain rules to make it easier for some payments borrowers already made to qualify for loan forgiveness.
The department said more than 113,000 borrowers have seen their balances discharged so far, with the average balance of around $60,000 per person.
Originally started in 2007, the program was intended to help employees with nonprofit and government agencies have their student loans forgiven after ten years of payments (120 total payments). But the program struggled to live up to its promise, with many who applied running into roadblocks or learning they were ineligible.
The overall approval rate among applicants has been low – just 1 in 5 of the 1.3 million borrowers pursuing debt discharge through PSLF were on track to see relief by 2026, according to a September 2021 report from The Washington Post.
What changes to PSLF were made?
The federal government made key changes to the program last year, making some payments eligible that wouldn’t have qualified under the previous rules.
According to the Department of Education, here are the changes:
- Receive credit for periods of repayment on Direct, FFEL, or Perkins Loans
- Periods of repayment under any plan count
- Periods of repayment on loans before consolidation count, even if on the wrong repayment plan
- Periods of repayment where payments were late or for less than the amount due also count
- Periods of repayment on loans before consolidation count, even if paid late or for less than the amount due
- Can get forgiveness even if not employed or not employed by a qualifying employer at the time of application and forgiveness
- If you got Teacher Loan Forgiveness, the period of service that led to your eligibility can count toward PSLF if you certify PSLF employment for that period
The rule changes were part of new federal policy put in place for the COVID-19 pandemic. They are temporary and will expire after Oct. 31, 2022.
Who qualifies for PSLF?
To be eligible, the Education Department says you must:
- Be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization (federal service includes U.S. military service)
- Work full-time for that agency or organization
- Have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan)
- Make 120 qualifying payments
You can learn more about the program here.
Who else qualifies for student loan forgiveness?
While running for office, President Joe Biden expressed support for federal student loan forgiveness of $10,000 per borrower. Just over a year into his presidency, Biden has yet to make any widespread student debt cancellation.
The administration has, however, canceled more than $17 billion in debt for some 725,000 borrowers for multiple reasons, including those impacted by the aforementioned changes to the PSLF program.
Others who qualify include 40,000 who received immediate debt cancellation thanks to actions to “fix longstanding failures in the student loan programs” last month, borrowers with total and permanent disability, and borrowers defrauded by their school.
President Biden appears to be moving forward with canceling at least a portion of the student debt held by Americans, but exactly how much and when isn’t yet clear.