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Biden administration to cancel student loan debt for at least 40,000 borrowers. It could wipe out $3.9 billion

April 19, 2022, 7:58 PM UTC

The Biden administration announced new reforms for public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) and income-driven repayment (IDR) plans Tuesday that will wipe away the debt of tens of thousands of borrowers and help millions more get closer to forgiveness.

At least 40,000 borrowers in the PSLF program and IDR plans will have their student debt canceled immediately as the Department of Education makes corrections to “historical failures” in the administration of federal loan programs, the department said in a press release. Additionally, 3.6 million borrowers in IDR plans will be closer to forgiveness, having at least three years of additional credits added to their overall payment tally.

The average balance of PSLF loans discharged is $97,289, according to department data, implying a value of $3.9 billion of debt wiped out for 40,000 borrowers. The average outstanding balance is $99,032.

PSLF is meant to forgive the student debt of public servants—such as teachers, public defenders, and government workers—after 10 years of on-time payments. But very few applicants have actually qualified for forgiveness since the first workers became eligible. Since President Joe Biden took office, his administration has overhauled the program to make it easier for qualifying applicants to actually have their debt erased.

IDR plans are meant to provide borrowers with affordable monthly payments, based primarily on their income and family size. Borrowers in these repayment plans can receive forgiveness after 20 to 25 years, and can pay as little as $0 a month, depending on their personal circumstances. But the IDR forgiveness program has also been plagued with problems over the years.

One major problem the Department of Education wants to rectify: It says that many borrowers who would have qualified for IDR plans weren’t given accurate information about all of their options, pushing some into forbearance when IDR was the better option.

“FSA reviews suggest that loan servicers placed borrowers into forbearance in violation of Department rules,” the release reads. “Borrowers steered or inappropriately placed into long-term forbearances miss out on critical progress toward IDR and PSLF forgiveness; this can set them back years.”

To make up for these mistakes, the department will make a one-time automatic adjustment to borrowers’ accounts to count forbearances of more than 12 consecutive months, and more than 35 cumulative months, toward forgiveness for IDR and PSLF borrowers. That adjustment will occur “later this year.” Borrowers who were in shorter forbearance periods can request a review of their account.

Additionally, the Department of Education will make a one-time revision of IDR-qualifying payments for all direct loans and Federal Family Education Loan Program loans. “Any months in which borrowers made payments will count toward IDR, regardless of repayment plan,” the release reads.

Any borrower who has made the required number of payments for IDR forgiveness—again, typically 20 years’ worth of payments—will have the rest of their loans canceled automatically.

Going forward, the Department of Education says, it will work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to do regular audits of forbearance use. And IDR payment counts will begin to be displayed on next year; borrowers will be able to see their progress when they log into their accounts.

In October 2021, the Biden administration announced other changes to the PSLF program to help more technically qualifying borrowers to get relief. Since those changes, the student loan debts of more than 100,000 borrowers have been forgiven, totaling over $6 billion.

The Biden administration has also wiped away debt for some disabled borrowers and for others who were victims of fraud. And earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that borrowers who were in default before the coronavirus pandemic will receive a “fresh start” when federal payments resume (they are currently paused until September), with the black mark removed from their credit reports.

Other Democrats are pushing for student debt cancellation for all borrowers. During his campaign, Biden called for canceling $10,000 of debt for federal borrowers.

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