Student Loan Forgiveness Is Coming: Here's How To Prepare

To start, create a StudentAid.gov account, or update your existing one

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Student loan forgiveness is coming—but if you want to get up to $20,000 knocked off the balance of your federal student loan, you’ll likely have to take some steps to make it happen.

About 8 million student loan borrowers will automatically have up to $10,000 of their federally-held student loan balances forgiven before payments resume in 2023 ($20,000 for those who went to school on Pell grants) because of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness initiative. Loan payments haven’t been required since March 2020 as a pandemic relief measure.

Student loan forgiveness will make a massive difference in the financial lives of millions of borrowers, canceling many loans outright and chopping monthly payments for many others. The Department of Education has enough income information for nearly 8 million borrowers to make them eligible for automatic forgiveness. 

However, millions more will have to fill out an application with the Department of Education. Details on how to apply will be released in “the coming weeks,” the government says, but in the meantime, there are things you can do to get ready. 

Key Takeaways

  • Applications for student loan forgiveness should be available in early October.
  • You can sign up to be notified when the application becomes available.
  • You may need to consolidate private FFEL and Perkins loans into a federal Direct Loan.
  • Check to see that the Department of Education and your loan servicer have your current contact information.
  • Some borrowers will have their debts automatically forgiven.

Application Coming in Early October

Student loan forgiveness comes with some paperwork because not everyone’s loans are being forgiven—just borrowers with incomes lower than $125,000 (or married couples making twice that). Therefore, the Department of Education needs your income information to see if you’re eligible. The department said the application will be made available in early October, and that borrowers will have until the end of 2023 to apply.

Note

Borrowers can sign up here to be notified when applications are open. Check the box that says “NEW!! Federal Student Loan Borrower Updates.”

In the meantime, you can:

  • Look at your 2020 and 2021 tax returns to find your annual income from those years. If your income in either year was below the thresholds mentioned above, you should be eligible. 
  • Make sure the contact information on your StudentAid.gov account is up to date. If you don’t have an account, create one. The government will send email and text message updates about how to receive forgiveness.
  • Make sure your loan servicer also has your current contact information. 
  • If you’re not sure whether you received a Pell Grant during college, log into your StudentAid.gov account. From there, go to your “My Aid” section, which shows a breakdown of any grants you received during college, including Pell Grants. 

Note

The White House says about 60% of student loan borrowers have Pell Grants.

Once your application is is in, your debt should be canceled within four to six weeks. So, if you want to beat the January 1 deadline when payments will resume, don’t wait to apply once applications for forgiveness become available.

Borrowers who already have given the department their income information may not need to worry about this step. Mostly that means current students who recently filled out federal student aid applications, according to student loan expert and author Mark Kantrowitz. If everything goes as planned, they’ll automatically have the forgiveness amount deducted from their loan balances. 

Some Borrowers May Have To Consolidate

Because the forgiveness only applies to loans owed directly to the government, borrowers with certain types of federal loans may have to consolidate their loans into the Direct Loan Program before applying for forgiveness. That’s because some Perkins loans (a program that ended in 2017) and Federal Family Education Loans (which ended in 2010) are held by private banks.

To receive forgiveness, borrowers must consolidate these loans into federal direct loans before applying. 

Processing the consolidation application can take 30-45 days, Kantrowitz said, so the timeline is even tighter if you’re in this situation and want to receive forgiveness before payments resume in January.

“You might want to start the process as soon as possible and not procrastinate,” he said.

Note

The Department of Education said it is “assessing whether to provide relief to borrowers with privately owned federal student loans, including FFEL and Perkins Loans, and is discussing this with private lenders.” So, it’s possible you might not even need to consolidate these loans to become eligible at some point. 

Student Loan Forgiveness Isn’t Just for Students

The forgiveness applies to student loan borrowers—which includes parents who took out federal parent PLUS loans to help their kids out. White House officials have clarified that the forgiveness applies to Mom and Dad too. In cases where both students and parents have loans, both should apply for forgiveness, Kantrowitz said. 

Don’t Fall for Scams

Scammers are trying to exploit the desire of borrowers to apply for forgiveness, government officials and state prosecutors around the country have warned. To avoid falling for a scam, ignore all messages that don’t come directly from the Department of Education or your student loan servicer, Kantrowitz said. 

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Diccon at dhyatt@thebalance.com.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1.  Federal Student Aid. “The Biden-Harris Administration's Student Debt Relief Plan Explained.”

  2. The White House. “Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Student Loan Relief.”

  3.  Federal Student Aid. “One-Time Student Loan Debt Relief.”

  4. Federal Student Aid. “How to Avoid Student Loan Forgiveness Scams.”

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