As Americans wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of President Joe Biden's student debt forgiveness program, thousands of borrowers are taking advantage of a different initiative to get their loans discharged.
Since October 2021, more than 615,000 borrowers have had a cumulative $42 billion in loans approved for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, according to an announcement this week from the U.S. Department of Education. Nearly 610,000 of those borrowers have already had their loans completely discharged.
The Education Department attributes those numbers to the temporary changes the federal government recently made to the PSLF program, which expanded eligibility and made it easier for eligible borrowers to have their loans forgiven. Before those changes, PSLF was notorious for its low rate of approval for applications and confusing requirements.
What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
Launched in 2007, PSLF is a government program that is designed to reduce or eliminate the burden of student loans for borrowers employed by government agencies (like firefighters and teachers) and qualifying non-profit organizations.
To have their balances forgiven under PSLF, borrowers must have federal Direct Loans, enroll in an income repayment plan and make 120 monthly payments towards their loans.
What changes did Biden make to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program?
In the fall of 2021, the Biden administration implemented what it called the “limited PSLF waiver” that expanded the definition of a payment under the program. Under the temporary rules, loan payments that were previously considered ineligible, either because the borrower held the wrong loan type or was in the wrong type of payment plan, would count toward forgiveness.
This helped drastically increase the number of borrowers who were approved, climbing from about 7,000 at the beginning of 2021 to more than 615,000 today.
The waiver expired in October 2022, but the Biden administration has indicated it plans to enact permanent changes to the PSLF in July. Many — though not all — of the benefits of the limited waiver will be included in those changes, along with a few new ones.
Also expected this summer is a ruling on Biden's one-time loan forgiveness proposal, which would cancel some or all student debt for more than 40 million borrowers. Later this year, federal student loan payment requirements will resume, thought the exact date is not yet clear. The Education Department has said it will set the new deadline for either 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after student loan forgiveness litigation is resolved, whichever comes first.