Biden is revamping Public Service Loan Forgiveness—here’s when those student loans will get erased

BY Sydney LakeDecember 06, 2021, 9:04 PM
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the Build Back Better legislation, as seen in December 2021. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Education Department in early October announced changes to its largely unsuccessful Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which was created to provide debt relief for public servants. Changes immediately wiped out $1.7 billion in student loan debt for 22,000 borrowers, bringing the total forgiveness announced since President Joe Biden’s inauguration to more than $11 billion.

Congress created PSLF in 2007 to forgive the remaining balance on direct loans for public service workers after they had made 10 years’ worth of payments, or 120 qualifying monthly payments. Since the program started, however, 98% of borrowers who had applied for forgiveness were denied by the program because of several hurdles with the approval process.

The office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), the Education Department, and the Biden administration pledge that changes to the program will make a difference for PSLF borrowers. The FSA is the office within the Education Department that provides financial aid for higher education.

“The changes are real and significant,” Federal Student Aid chief operating officer Richard Cordray wrote in a Nov. 8, 2021 letter to PSLF borrowers. “Our new approach will add months or years of service credit for huge numbers of student loan borrowers by counting certain payments that had been ineligible. In some cases, borrowers will earn full loan forgiveness based on the changes.”

The Education Department also announced in October that it’s looking into further steps to make PSLF forgiveness easier for borrowers. But for now, a group of about 27,000 borrowers could qualify for a collective $2.8 billion in forgiveness if they “certify additional periods of employment,” according to the Education Department. Long-term changes, though, could benefit more than half a million borrowers.

How PSLF student loans will get erased

One of the major roadblocks with the PSLF program was that it didn’t count payments made on certain types of federal loans. A limited waiver introduced in early October as part of the PSLF program overhaul will allow you to count payments on loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program or the Perkins Loan program as long as you submit a PSLF form by Oct. 31, 2022.

Until then, about 22,000 student loan borrowers will be automatically eligible for forgiveness.

The Education Department also said in October it would review previously denied PSLF applications for errors and will reconsider forgiveness decisions for those borrowers.

“These actions will help identify and address servicing errors or other issues that have prevented borrowers from getting the PSLF credit they deserve,” according to the Education Department.

When PSLF student loans will be erased

Loans have already been forgiven for many qualifying PSLF borrowers—unless you still have to consolidate your loans or verify your employment information.

“If you made more than 120 payments on an existing Direct Loan, you will automatically receive a refund for the qualifying payments you made in excess of 120,” according to the Federal Student Aid office. “You’ll receive a notification when your loans are forgiven, provided you’ve had your employment certified for those 120 qualifying payments.”

Borrowers who have not had their employment certified must submit a PSLF form for each of their employers. 

The PSLF program also requires borrowers to have only Direct Loans, as opposed to FFEL or Perkins Loans. If you’re a borrower who still has FFEL or Perkins Loans, you’ll have to consolidate them into a Direct Loan by Oct. 31, 2022, to get credit toward your 120 qualifying monthly payments.

Student loan repayment begins Feb. 1, 2022, after nearly two years of forbearance. Some qualifying PSLF borrowers’ loans will be forgiven before repayment begins, but not all will be processed, according to the FSA office. If you hit 120 payments under the limited PSLF waiver and continue to make payments then they will be refunded, according to the FSA. 

Aside from that information, it’s unknown when the remaining qualifying PSLF borrowers will actually receive relief.

“Please understand that complex changes of this magnitude are hard to process and execute,” Cordray wrote in the Nov. 8 letter. “They require large-scale data and processing work, which takes time.”

“We are working as quickly as possible to update your account and give you clear and accurate information,” he added. “This may take several months.” 

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