The Biden administration is preparing to roll out its one-time new student loan forgiveness initiative, which could provide relief to millions of borrowers. But some of the eligibility rules have recently changed, as the administration faces growing legal challenges to the program before it even starts.
Here’s where things stand in terms of eligibility and how to find out if your student loans are eligible for forgiveness.
Biden’s One-Time Student Loan Forgiveness Plan
Under President Biden’s unique new student loan forgiveness plan, millions of student borrowers can get up to $20,000 in federal student loan forgiveness. If a borrower received a Pell Grant, they could be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $20,000, while other borrowers can receive up to $10,000. To qualify, borrowers must have earned less than $125,000 (or less than $250,000 if married) in 2020 or 2021.
But when it comes to knowing which student loans are eligible for relief, it gets a little tricky. All government owned Federal student loans, including undergraduate, graduate, and Parent PLUS loans, are potentially eligible for relief. This would include direct federal student loans, as well as FFELP loans in default or already administered by the Department of Education. Private student loans and – following an abrupt policy change last week – most FFELP loans held by companies are currently not eligible.
But how do you determine if a federal loan is held by the government?
Direct federal loans are eligible for student loan relief under Biden’s plan
All federal student loans issued under the Direct Loans Program are, by definition, federal student loans held by the government. Direct loans are issued directly by the United States Department of Education, which then continues to hold the loans even though it outsources management and operations to various third-party loan managers.
If your Stafford, Consolidation, Graduate PLUS, or Parent PLUS loan is designated as a “direct” loan, then it should be eligible for relief under Biden’s unique student loan forgiveness initiative, provided the other eligibility criteria (such as income) are also met.
Borrowers can log into their Student Loans Service Account or Department of Education account on StudentAid.gov to determine if applicable loans are direct loans.
Defaulted direct and FFELP loans are eligible for student loan forgiveness under Biden’s plan
Per Department of Education guidelines at the time of writing, delinquent federal student loans – which “includes [Education Department]- Subsidized Stafford Commercially Owned or Served, Non-Subsidized Stafford, Parent PLUS and Graduate PLUS; and Perkins loans held by [the Education Department] — be eligible for student loan forgiveness under the plan. To break this down more clearly, it includes:
- All outstanding direct program student loans;
- All student loans from the FFEL program in default, whether they are held by National Education or a commercial guarantee organization;
- Perkins loans in default, but only if held by the Department of Education.
If you are unsure if you have any federal student loans in default, log into your Department of Education account on StudentAid.gov, which will display the current status of your outstanding federal student loans.
FFELP loans and government-held Perkins loans are eligible for student loan relief under Biden’s plan
FFEL program loans are federal student loans that have been issued by a private or commercial lender, although they are government-backed. Some of these FFELP loans have since been transferred to the Department for Education, although many others have not.
FFELP loans currently held by the Department of Education are eligible for student loan forgiveness under the Biden plan. But it can be a bit difficult to understand. There are two ways to determine if your FFELP loans are held by the government:
- If your FFELP loans have been under Covid-19 forbearance, which has suspended all payments and interest since March 2020 in response to the pandemic, this is a good indication that your loans are government-held.
- You can also log into your Department of Education account on StudentAid.gov to get more details about your current loan manager. If your loan officer has a designation from the Department of Education (e.g., “DEPT OF ED/NELNET”), that would suggest the loan is held by the government.
Most FFELP loans held by businesses no longer qualify for student loan relief under Biden’s plan
FFELP loans held by businesses in good standing (non-defaulted FFEL program loans that are not held by the Department of Education) are no longer eligible for the Single Student Loan Cancellation Scheme effective September 29, 2022. The Biden administration had initially indicated that borrowers could consolidate these loans into a federal direct consolidation loan to qualify, but abruptly changed the rules in response to mounting legal challenges from states and FFEL program lenders.
There is, however, an important exception. “Borrowers with FFEL program loans and Perkins loans not held by [the Department of Education] who applied to be consolidated into the Direct Lending Program by September 29, 2022, are eligible for one-time debt relief through the Direct Lending Program,” the administration states in its current guidelines.
The administration is studying other possible solutions for borrowers with FFELP loans held by companies.
Next steps for borrowers applying for student loan forgiveness
The Biden administration has indicated that a simple application for student loan forgiveness will be available this month. Borrowers will have until the end of 2023 to apply for relief under the program. However, legal challenges could interfere with the rollout of the plan, so borrowers should be vigilant and keep abreast of new developments.
Borrowers can view current guidelines on the initiative here.
Further Reading on Student Loans
Biden administration reveals potential start date for student loan forgiveness, but there’s a catch
In Reversal, Biden Administration Announces New Student Loan Forgiveness Eligibility Limits
5 key takeaways from the sudden change in student loan forgiveness eligibility
Biden’s student loan forgiveness could be taxable in some states