This story has been updated with new details.
Student loan forgiveness is happening ahead of schedule for borrowers enrolled in the Biden administration’s new income-driven repayment plan.
Starting next month, borrowers in the plan, called Saving for a Valuable Education or SAVE, who have been in repayment for at least 10 years will get their remaining student debt canceled, the White House announced Friday.
Partially launched last summer, the SAVE plan ties monthly loan bills to 10% of one's disposable income, and borrowers can receive loan forgiveness on any remaining balance after making between 10 and 25 years of qualifying payments. The loan forgiveness benefits were originally scheduled to begin on July 1 along with a slew of additional SAVE perks.
Why the early roll out? Well, "why wait?" the White House says.
"We did this early because we can push this through early," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tells Money. "Why wait when you can get people help early?"
The Education Department says it will start automatically discharging the loans of eligible borrowers in February.
For folks already enrolled in SAVE, no action is needed; the Education Department says it will notify eligible borrowers. But if you haven’t signed up yet, the department “strongly encourages” you to do so — especially if you originally borrowed $12,000 of federal student loans or less.
“This action will particularly help community college borrowers, low-income borrowers, and those struggling to repay their loans," President Joe Biden said in a statement.
As part of a campaign to encourage folks to enroll, the Education Department says it will alert borrowers who could potentially benefit from the new forgiveness timeline but haven’t signed up yet.
If you fall into this group, you can expect an email from the Education Department titled “You may qualify for loan forgiveness on SAVE” as a nudge, according to a draft email the White House shared with Money.
So far, the White House says about 7 million people have signed up for SAVE, and 3.9 million of them qualify for $0 monthly payments under the program.
"The main goal of this president is to give Americans a little bit of breathing room," Jean-Pierre says. "We understand how student debt can crush a family."
Who is eligible for forgiveness under SAVE?
To get loan forgiveness on this earlier timeline, you must meet three specific criteria:
- You must have at least 10 years of qualifying payment history; and you originally borrowed $12,000 or less of federal student loans to pay for your higher education.
- For every additional $1,000 above that amount, your qualifying payment history increases by one year.
- You must be enrolled in the SAVE program.
Waves of additional borrowers will see their remaining loan balances disappear depending on how much they borrowed and how long they’ve been in repayment. All borrowers with qualifying payment history will begin receiving forgiveness in February — not just those with $12,000 as some wording suggests, the Education Department said Friday afternoon.
For example, if you originally took out $16,000 to pay for college and have been in repayment for at least 14 years, your remaining debt will soon be wiped out.
The Education Department says that months spent in qualifying forbearance and deferment periods — including the recent three-and-a-half-year moratorium — will count toward your payment history for income-driven forgiveness. The other new benefits tied to the SAVE plan — including reducing bills to 5% of one's disposable income — are still slated for July.
“I encourage all borrowers who may be eligible for early debt cancellation to sign up for the SAVE plan at studentaid.gov,” Biden said in a statement.
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