Although the Biden administration’s sweeping student loan forgiveness plan and the legal troubles around it have gotten the most headlines, the U.S. Department of Education has already canceled more than $66 billion in education debt under existing programs.
More than 2 million borrowers, including defrauded students and those who work in the public sector, have benefited from that relief over the last few years.
“I feel like this administration has done more for borrowers in a short period of time than any other, especially for the most vulnerable borrowers such as the disabled and victims of fraud,” said Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, a nonprofit.
Still, advocates are worried about the administration’s plan to soon resume federal student loan payments, which have been suspended since March 2020, without deeper debt cancellation. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, 1 in 4 student loan borrowers were in delinquency or default.
Here’s a breakdown of the debt relief already granted — and how to know if you qualify for it.
$42 billion in debt canceled for public servants
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program allows certain nonprofit and government employees to have their federal student loans canceled after 10 years, or 120 payments.
A number of recent changes to the policy have increased the number of borrowers who’ve had their debt canceled under it. Those changes include simplifying and broadening the eligibility requirements.
As a result, the Education Department announced this month that it has approved $42 billion in loan cancellation under the PSLF program for more than 615,000 borrowers since October 2021.
The best way to find out if your job qualifies as public service is to fill out the so-called employer certification form. Try to fill out this form at least once a year, said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz. Borrowers should also maintain records of their confirmed qualifying payments, he said.
The pause on federal student loan payments, which has been in effect for over three years now, has proven to be a massive benefit for borrowers pursuing PSLF, Kantrowitz pointed out. All the months during the pause count toward a borrower’s 120 required payments.
Defrauded borrowers got $13 billion in relief
The Biden administration has been focused on canceling the student debt of borrowers who say their colleges misled them. Over the last few years around 1 million people have had their debt relieved through the so-called borrower defense loan discharge, for a total of $13.3 billion in relief.
Generally, a borrower may qualify for debt cancellation under the provision if their college engaged in misconduct, such as providing false or misleading information about their program or job placement rates, Kantrowitz said.
I feel like this administration has done more for borrowers in a short period of time than any other.Betsy Mayottepresident of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors
The Project on Predatory Lending at Harvard University has a list of some of the institutions that were part of a student loan cancellation settlement. If you attended one of these colleges and applied for a borrower defense loan discharge on or before June 22, 2022, you should be entitled to automatic relief, Kantrowitz said, even if your application was previously denied. Eligible borrowers will likely get the cancellation no later than Jan. 28, 2024.
An additional 100,000 borrowers, meanwhile, have had their debt canceled because their college closed while they were enrolled or shortly after.
$9 billion for borrowers with disabilities
Around 425,000 federal student loan borrowers have had their debt forgiven under President Joe Biden through the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge, for a total of $9.1 billion in debt erased, according to a calculation of Education Department data by Kantrowitz.
The relief provision is for borrowers with a physical or mental disability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to work.
More borrowers with disabilities have seen the relief in recent years, after the Education Department started using data from the Social Security Administration and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to identify eligible people and to automatically grant them the cancellation, Kantrowitz said. This process of data matching is usually done once a quarter, he said, and borrowers who are eligible should be notified by the Education Department and their loan servicer.
The Education Department has also decided to do away with the three-year monitoring period of the program, in which borrowers had to continue to meet a number of requirements after they got the relief, including earning below a certain amount. That procedure caused more than half of all approved borrowers to get their loans reinstated, Mayotte said.
Even if a borrower is not considered disabled by another government agency, a doctor or nurse practitioner may also be able to make the case that they qualify for the discharge. Those who think they might be eligible can apply online or by mail.
$400 billion in forgiveness still in the balance
Of course, beyond these tailored relief programs, millions of Americans are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on President Joe Biden’s sweeping plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower.
The plan could wipe out as much as $400 billion in debt.
If the Biden administration is able to carry out its plan, Kantrowitz said, “you can’t have your loans forgiven twice.”
If you’ve already received debt cancellation under one of the above programs and have no remaining debt, he said, the president’s plan won’t affect you.
If you still have student loans, you may qualify for the broad forgiveness of $10,000 or $20,000, he said.
Kantrowitz said borrowers with questions about their eligibility for loan forgiveness should contact their servicer or the Education Department at 1-800-433-3243.
Meanwhile, there are dozens of other forgiveness options currently available on the state and federal level for those with federal student loans.