CARES Act & Student Loan Forgiveness: How to Apply

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Stanley Tate

#1 Student Loan Lawyer

Updated on July 14, 2022

The CARES Act didn’t include a provision to forgive student loan debt, but during the payment pause, thousands of borrowers have had their federal loans eliminated under existing programs the White House has worked to fix.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed in March 2020 to address the coronavirus pandemic, which was signed into law by former President Donald Trump. The Act directed the Department of Education to suspend monthly payments and interest for most federal student loan borrowers. But it did not create a student loan forgiveness program.

Any person who contacts you claiming you’re eligible to have your loan balance eliminated under the “Biden Loan Forgiveness” or “CARES Act Loan Forgiveness” is a scammer. These programs don’t exist.

The student loan relief you’ve read about throughout the Covid-19 forbearance comes from piecemeal fixes the White House has made to four existing programs:

  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

  • Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness

  • Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

  • Borrower Defense to Repayment Discharge

Those adjustments have led to the U.S. Department of Education wiping out $18.6 billion in debt for 750 thousand borrowers. Unfortunately, this debt relief is limited to federally held student loans (Direct, FFEL, and Perkins Loans). The government has created no programs to aid borrowers with private student loans.

Ahead, learn who qualified for student loan forgiveness since Congress passed the CARES Act and how you can join them.

Disclaimer: Although I am a student loan lawyer, this article contains generalized information and should not be taken as legal advice. If you want legal advice that pertains to your specific situation, you should schedule a call with me.

How to apply for CARES Act student loan forgiveness

You can’t apply to get your loans forgiven under the CARES Act because that forgiveness program doesn’t exist. But you can try to have your debt erased under existing programs that the Education Department has improved over the past two years.

Limited waiver for public servants

For years, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was broken. Complex rules and sloppy administration by student loan servicers led to the department denying 99% of all applications.

Last October, the Education Department overhauled the program and introduced a temporary set of fixes that have helped over 113 thousand public servants receive $6.8 billion in relief.

To qualify under the new changes, you must have federal student loans and work full-time for the government or qualifying nonprofit employer anytime after October 1, 2007. You can check whether your employer is eligible using the department’s PSLF Help Tool on

When you’re ready to apply, complete the Employment Certification form and submit it for processing.

Learn More: Limited Waiver for Student Loan Forgiveness

Repayment plan forgiveness

The Education Department offers several repayment plans that require you to pay a portion of your income every month for 20 or 25 years. After you’ve made your final qualifying payment, the rest of your loan balance will be forgiven automatically. Read more about when will student loans go away.

The department gave the responsibility for tracking your progress towards forgiveness to student loan servicers. But a recent NPR report revealed that several of those vendors had no system for tracking payments and identifying when you qualified for loan forgiveness.

In response to that report and others, this April, the department said it would use a one-time waiver and adjustments to:

  • Give borrowers additional credit toward loan forgiveness for payments they’ve made, even if they weren’t enrolled in an income-driven plan.

  • Count the months borrowers postponed their payments through forbearance and some deferments towards loan forgiveness under the PSLF and IDR programs.

These changes will immediately eliminate the debts of at least 40 thousand borrowers through the PSLF program and will give 3.6 million people working toward income-driven forgiveness at least three years of additional credits.

You need not apply for this relief. And you don’t have to switch to one of the income-driven repayment options.

The Education Department has yet to release more details about the eligibility requirements for this relief. As of now, all federally backed loans qualify — Direct Loans, Federal Perkins Loans, or loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Defaulted loans will also qualify after the loans are returned to good standing under the “fresh start” program.

The department will work immediately to update accounts, but you may not see the credit reflected on your file until the end of the year.

Learn More: What is IDR Loan Forgiveness?

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

Your federal student loan debt can be forgiven if a physician, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Social Security Administration declares that you are totally and permanently disabled. Few people have benefited from this program because they didn’t know about it. And those that did were met with convoluted rules and tedious paperwork.

Last August, the Biden administration announced reforms that have eventually led to over 400 thousand permanently disabled borrowers receiving 7.8 billion in relief.

The biggest change is that the Education Department will use Social Security Administration data to identify eligible borrowers. Starting this September, the department will match data with SSA every three months.

The other significant move was to temporarily waive the three-year monitoring period in which borrowers must submit documentation verifying their income. Normally, your loans could be reinstated if you don’t submit paperwork verifying your income every year. But now, that paperwork requirement is waived indefinitely. The department is getting rid of it altogether through the negotiated rulemaking process.

To apply for this program, you need to complete this form and have your physician sign it or attach proof of your permanent and total disability from the VA or SSA.

Some private lenders will cancel student loan debt if the primary borrower becomes permanently disabled. But the cosigner will still be responsible for the debt until it’s paid in full.

Learn More: What Disabilities Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?

Borrower Defense to Repayment

Since President Biden took office, the Education Department has discharged $2.1 billion in federal student loan debt for borrowers ripped off by schools that broke consumer-protection laws. The program, known as Borrower Defense to Repayment, was stymied under President Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. But after Miguel Cardona was appointed as the new head of the department, he quickly approved thousands of applications.

The program still isn’t a windfall for everyone who was misled by their school. So far, relief has been limited to people who attended a handful of schools:

  • ITT Technical Institute

  • Westwood College

  • Marinello Schools of Beauty

  • Court Reporting Institute

  • DeVry University

  • Westwood College

  • Minnesota School of Business/Globe University (criminal justice students only)

You may qualify for this program if you believe your school intentionally misled you about your education program or violated state laws and consumer protection statutes.

You can submit a Borrower Defense to Repayment application electronically at or fill out a PDF and return it to the Education Department by mail.

Learn More: How to Fill Out Borrowers Defense Paperwork

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Bottom Line

After passing the CARES Act, the federal government has paused student loan payments, lowered the interest rate on loans to zero, and improved several existing student loan forgiveness programs that will bring relief to millions of borrowers.

If you’re not sure if you qualify for the programs listed above, schedule a call with me today. I can help review your situation and determine the best course of action for you.

UP NEXT: How to Apply for Student Loan Forgiveness

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