Nearly half a million people have been approved for federal student loan forgiveness under a one-time waiver program geared towards borrowers working in public service jobs.

Processing is continuing. Many more borrowers may ultimately qualify, even while another Biden administration initiatives — the one-time mass student debt relief plan — remains blocked by federal courts.

Student Loan Forgiveness Under PSLF Waiver Accelerates

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal student loan forgiveness program that can eliminate the federal student loan debt for borrowers who commit to public service careers. After 120 “qualifying payments” (equivalent to 10 years) while working for approved nonprofit or government employers, borrowers can receive a complete discharge of their federal student debt.

Historically, PSLF has been a troubled program since its creation in 2007. PSLF has had complicated eligibility requirements and tricky rules about what counts as a “qualifying payment” toward loan forgiveness. Simple errors, either by the borrower or a loan servicer, could cause lasting problems.

The Biden administration enacted the Limited PSLF Waiver in 2021 to remedy these issues. Under the waiver, the Education Department issued emergency regulations relaxing the original PSLF rules and expanding the definition of “qualifying payments” for past loan periods. This allowed many borrowers to accelerate their progress, or even reach the threshold for complete federal student loan forgiveness.

The Limited PSLF Waiver officially ended last fall. However, the Education Department and its contracted PSLF loan servicer, MOHELA, are continuing to process applications. “Through early February 2023, approximately 453,000 borrowers have qualified for forgiveness under the limited PSLF waiver,” says the Education Department in a recently published data summary.

More student loan forgiveness approvals under the waiver are expected in the coming months. “Although the limited PSLF waiver period has ended, some borrowers who submitted their applications prior to the end date [of October 31, 2022] may continue to have their applications processed from the waiver period,” according to the Education Department. And the process appears to be accelerating, as some borrowers are reporting improvements to what had previously been very long processing periods.

Student Loan Forgiveness Benefits Of PSLF Waiver Extended Under IDR Account Adjustment

While the Limited PSLF Waiver ended last October, the Biden administration extended many of its benefits through a separate but related initiative called the IDR Account Adjustment. Under this program, the Education Department can credit borrowers with time toward their 20- or 25-year student loan forgiveness term under Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans. Most past periods of loan repayment, as well as some earlier periods of deferment and forbearance, can count toward student loan forgiveness under the account adjustment, even for borrowers who have not been in an IDR plan.

The benefits of the IDR Account Adjustment can also apply to student loan forgiveness under the PSLF program for borrowers who were working in qualifying public service employment. “These changes will be applied automatically to all PSLF-eligible Direct Loans, including consolidated and unconsolidated parent PLUS loans,” according to Education Department guidance. Over 3.6 million borrowers will receive at least three years of credit toward student loan forgiveness under the initiative, the department estimates.

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Some borrowers may need to take action to benefit from the IDR Account Adjustment, such as submitting a PSLF employment certification form or consolidating non-Direct federal student loans via the federal Direct consolidation program. “If you believe you might benefit, you should update your employment certification history to reflect all periods of public service employment,” says the Education Department. “Borrowers with commercially or federally held FFEL loans who consolidate those loans into Direct Consolidation Loans before the account adjustment is applied will also get PSLF credit.”

The Education Department recently updated the timeline for the IDR Account Adjustment. Borrowers with FFEL-program loans who must consolidate through the Direct loan program to qualify now have until the end of 2023 to do so. Implementation of the account adjustment is now expected to occur sometime in 2024.

Waiver Initiatives Are Separate From Biden’s One-Time Mass Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Before The Supreme Court

Importantly, both the the Limited PSLF Waiver and the IDR Account Adjustment are entirely distinct from Biden’s separate initiative to provide $10,000 or $20,000 in student loan forgiveness for millions of borrowers. That plan has been blocked by federal courts in response to legal challenges, and the Supreme Court is set to rule on the legality of the program by this summer.

In the meantime, congressional Republicans have launched an effort to repeal Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan through an expedited process under the Congressional Review Act. That effort is unlikely to overcome an expected veto by President Biden, however.

Further Student Loan Forgiveness Reading

Republican Effort To Repeal Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Gains Steam

What Happens If The Supreme Court Strikes Down Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan?

Student Loan Forgiveness: Whether Biden Extends Payment Pause Again May Depend On Supreme Court Ruling

Potential Student Loan Forgiveness Loophole Could Cause Problems And Confusion For Consolidating Borrowers

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