There are several student loan forgiveness programs for federal student loans. The steps you need to follow to get your debt forgiven depend on the program you’re eligible for.
The Department of Education has programs that eliminate federal student loan debt for everything from disability to not receiving a refund. Each program has its own eligibility requirements and application process.
Keep reading to learn how to apply for student loan forgiveness.
Here are the student loan forgiveness programs that we’ll cover based on your situation:
- You work full-time for the government or nonprofit.
- You have a permanent disability.
- You make payments for at least 20 years.
- Your school lied to you.
- You teach in a low-income area.
- Your school closed.
You work for the government or a nonprofit organization
There are three options to get your loans forgiven after working in public service for at least 10 years. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is the main pathway to apply for forgiveness, but few borrowers met the program’s complicated requirements.
Federal lawmakers tried to fix PSLF by temporarily expanding it to count payments made under the wrong repayment plan. But the TEPSLF program helped only a handful more people. It didn’t help people with government-backed bank loans known as Federal Family Education Loans.
In October 2021, the Biden Administration temporarily fixed the “wrong loan” issue by expanding PSLF once more to count payments toward FFEL Loans. The PSLF Waiver offers a limited opportunity to get credit for FFEL Loan payments, late payments, and payments made under an ineligible repayment plan.
- Whose eligible: You’re eligible if you work full-time for the government or a nonprofit company that provides a qualified public service.
- How to apply: Submit the PSLF & TEPSLF Employment Certification form to FedLoan Servicing.
- When to apply: You can submit the PSLF form to check how many payments you’ve made or after you’ve made 120 qualifying payments.
- Application: Download PSLF Application (You use the same form for the PSLF, TEPSLF, and PSLF Waiver programs.)
You have a permanent disability
The Department of Education wipes away the balances on your federal student loans if you suffer a severe and permanent disability that leaves you unable to work full-time. You can still work and earn an income, but that income ordinarily must be below the Poverty Guideline amount for a family of two, regardless of your family size. The Education Department has temporarily waived the three-year monitoring period during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
- Whose eligible: You’re eligible if a doctor, SSA, or VA determine you are severely and permanently disabled. Your disability can be mental or physical.
- How to apply: Submit the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge Application to Nelnet or through disabilitydischarge.com.
- When to apply: You can apply for a TPD discharge after the doctor signs the discharge application or the SSA or VA determine you are totally and permanently disabled.
- Application: Download TPD Discharge Application
Many lenders also offer private student loan forgiveness if you become permanently disabled. Check with your loan servicer to see how to apply.
Learn More: Student Loan Forgiveness for Disability Options
You make payments for at least 20 years
It would be nice if student loans went away after they’ve been in repayment for several years like they do in other countries. But in the US, the only way to get old student loan debt forgiven is to make payments on the loans under one of the income-driven repayment plans for at least 20 years.
Unfortunately, most income-driven repayment plans didn’t exist until after 2010. If you borrowed loans before then, there’s no way to get credit for payments made under the Standard, Graduated, or Extended Repayment Plans. Your credit towards repayment forgiveness doesn’t start until you make your first payment under the IBR, ICR, PAYE, or REPAYE plan.
- Whose eligible: Borrowers with FFEL and Direct Loans are eligible. Perkins Loan borrowers are eligible only if they consolidate the Perkins Loan into a Direct Consolidation Loan.
- How to apply: Six months before you make your final payment, your student loan servicer will contact you to let you know that you’re close to making your final payment.
- When to apply: You don’t have to apply. Your servicer will track your progress towards making the necessary payments.
- Application: There is no application for repayment plan forgiveness.
Learn More: Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness Guide
Your school lied to you
Over the years, government officials have shut down many for-profit institutions that defrauded students. The borrower defense loan discharge program allows you to file a claim to have your debt forgiven if you believe your school misled you and broke state fraud laws.
The relief program has not worked smoothly since first being used under the Obama administration to help people who attended Corinthian Colleges. When President Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, took office, the process for approving applications slowed to a crawl. The Education Department focused its efforts on defending litigation rather than finding ways to quicken the process and grant borrowers the relief they were entitled to under the law.
The new education secretary, Miguel Cardona, has announced the department was scrapping his predecessor’s policy and replacing it with a simplified, fair path to relief when a school’s misconduct has harmed them.
In June 2021, the department announced it would wipe out $500 million for 18 thousand borrowers who attended ITT Technical Institute.
- Whose eligible: You’re eligible if you attended a school that misled you or engaged in other misconduct, or you can show the school violated state law related to your loan or the educational services provided.
- How to apply: You can apply online anytime or submit a paper application to the Department of Education.
- When to apply: You can apply anytime after your school’s misconduct.
- Application: Download Borrower Defense to Repayment Form.
You teach in a low-income area
Teachers who work for their local school district, nonprofit school, or charter school may qualify for PSLF and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs. If that’s you, you’ll get more of your loans forgiven under PSLF than you will under the program specifically for teachers. That relief program forgives up to $17,500 of your loans if you’re a highly-qualified math, science, or special education teacher working at a low-income school.
- Whose eligible: You’re eligible if you teach full-time as a highly qualified teacher working in elementary or secondary school in a low-income school. You can check the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory to see if your school qualifies.
- How to apply: Submit a paper application to your student loan servicer.
- When to apply: You can apply after your fifth consecutive year of teaching full-time in a low-income school.
- Application: Download Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application.
Learn More: How Teachers Can Get Federal Loan Forgiveness
Your school closed
You can get rid of your federal student loans if your school closed while you were in attendance or within 120 days of your leaving. If your school closes years later and you’re stuck with a worthless degree and crushing debt, this type of discharge won’t help you. You’ll need to look into borrower defense to repayment or student loan bankruptcy.
- Whose eligible: You’re eligible if you were enrolled when the school closed, were on an approved leave of absence when the school closed, or you withdrew within 120 days before the school closed, and you didn’t complete your program of study at the school or a new school.
- How to apply: Submit a paper application to your student loan servicer.
- When to apply: You can apply after your school closes.
- Application: Download Loan Discharge Application: School Closure.
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