Millions of U.S. college graduates have begun their careers with a crushing student loan debt balance. In fact, 40 million Americans owe more than $1.7 trillion in total loan debt. This equates to more than 50% of students graduating with significant debt. The overwhelming majority of this student debt is federal student loans, with the remaining amount owed to private lenders.
Immediate Relief for Many Borrowers
In the past two years, student loan debtors enjoyed some relief as monthly payments were paused during the pandemic. In late August, the Biden Administration extended this hiatus on student loan payments until December 31, 2022.
In addition to the extended pause, President Biden announced that the government would forgive federal direct loans up to $10,000 for graduates with annual salaries below $125,000 or $250,000 for married couples or heads of households. Biden will also cancel up to $20,000 for borrowers who meet those requirements and were Pell Grant recipients in college. The initiative caps the relief at the amount of a borrower’s outstanding eligible debt.
Students still in school are eligible to have debt canceled, and the income cap will apply to their parents’ income. Parents who took out Parent PLUS loans are also eligible. For many borrowers, the debt cancellation will be automatic as their information is already on file. If information is not on file, borrowers must verify income with the Department of Education.
Income-Driven Loan Forgiveness
The federal government has four main income-driven payment plans, enabling borrowers to cap loan payments at a percentage of monthly income. If accepted into one of these programs, the remaining loan balance will be eligible for forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. However, few borrowers have achieved loan forgiveness through these plans. Other plans include teacher loan forgiveness, state-sponsored repayment assistance programs, and military student loan forgiveness and assistance.
Understanding Public Service Loan Forgiveness
This plan is available to federal, state, local, and Tribal government and qualifying nonprofit employees with federal student loans.
The government will forgive the remaining loan balances for eligible borrowers who complete 120 qualifying loan payments, i.e., ten years of work before being eligible for loan forgiveness.
Temporary Change Has Made a Permanent Difference for Many
Since its inception, the program suffered from being difficult to navigate for many borrowers, and the type of eligible loans was narrow.
In October 2021, temporary changes were made to the PSLF program to simplify the debt cancellation process for borrowers who have made ten years of on-time payments. A retroactive waiver broadened the types of loans that are eligible for forgiveness, and automatic certifying of payments for federal employees and members of the military was introduced. In addition to having debts canceled, more than one million borrowers have used the waiver to receive additional credit toward forgiveness.
The temporary changes allow student borrowers to get credit for payments made on loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, Perkins Loan Program, and other federal student loans. These borrowers must apply to consolidate their loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan before the deadline of October 31 to qualify for the program under the temporary changes. Borrowers can also combine multiple sources of part-time employment to qualify, and months in service do not have to be consecutive.
The changes were necessary and overdue. Over its history up to October 2021, the program discharged debt for only 7,000 borrowers, according to the Department of Education. The temporary changes resulted in 175,000 borrowers having $10 billion in debt canceled in the last ten months. However, the waiver of qualifying payment rules ends on October 31, 2022.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, student loan amounts forgiven are not considered income for tax purposes.
Once a borrower has fulfilled all the requirements of the PSLF program, it’s time to submit the Public Service Loan Forgiveness application. The applicant must be working full-time for a qualifying employer at the time of the application.
Along with the application, an employment certification form for the current employer and each employer during the 120 payments must be submitted. If the applicant has been completing these forms each year, only the current employer’s certification must be included. FedLoan Servicing will notify the applicant once it receives its paperwork. The applicant does not have to pay the monthly loan bill while FedLoan Servicing processes the application.
The Bottom Line
For borrowers with lower balances, the $10,000 or $20,000 student loan forgiveness program will mean an immediate, tangible difference in income and standard of living. Borrowers with higher balances that have made payments but were having difficulty getting debts discharged will – until October 31, 2022 – have a chance to cut through the red tape and get relief.
The information contained herein is intended to be used for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive. Diversification and/or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but are intended to help manage risk and return. If applicable, historical discussions and/or opinions are not predictive of future events. The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable. The content is not intended to be legal, tax or financial advice. Please consult a legal, tax or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation.
This content not reviewed by FINRA
 Annie Nova. “Biden’s decision on student loan forgiveness could come as soon as Wednesday.” CNBC.com, August 23, 2022.
 Alicia Hahn, Jordan Tarver. “2022 Student Loan Debt Statistics: Average Student Loan Debt.” Forbes.com. June 9, 2022.
 Annie Nova. “Biden cancels $10,000 in federal loan debt for most borrowers.” CNBC.com. August 24, 2022.