Since taking office, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has begun to chip away at the mountain of federal student loan debt by improving existing forgiveness and cancellation programs.
Millions of Americans are burdened with large student loan debts and are wondering what will happen to their loans in the future. Here’s the rundown on what’s changed with student loans since the last election:
President Joe Biden made Mr. Miguel A. Cardona, a former public school teacher, the Secretary of Education. Since replacing Betsy DeVos, Cardona has led the charge from President Biden to help bring debt relief to 41 million Americans who owe $1.7 trillion in student loans.
He’s done this by following directives from the White House to fix existing forgiveness programs for federal student loan debt:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- Income-Driven Repayment plan Forgiveness
- Borrower Defense to Repayment
- Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
Due to those changes, the department has already wiped out $20 billion in debt for 750 thousand borrowers. The beneficiaries include teachers, police officers, retirees, disabled persons, and those who were defrauded by sham-for-profit schools like ITT Tech and Marinello School of Beauty.
Where Cardona stands on student debt cancellation
Earlier this year, Secretary Cardona outlined his priorities for the Department of Education. A hotly contested issue, broad student loan forgiveness didn’t make the cut. Cardona plans to focus the department on supporting students through pandemic recovery, addressing opportunity and achievement gaps, and making higher education more inclusive and affordable.
His decision to spotlight opportunities other than blanket cancellation doesn’t mean that forgiveness is off the table. What it indicates is that he recognizes that the decision to cancel student loan debt isn’t his to make. President Biden will have to decide whether he will cave to the pressure from progressive democrat lawmakers like Senator Elizabeth Warren to take executive action and deliver loan relief with the stroke of a pen.
Learn More: $10,000 Student Loan Debt Forgiveness
Student loan cancellation since Cardona took office
Many federal student loan borrowers are still wondering about student loan cancellation, an issue that was heavily debated during the last presidential election. While Americans wait for the Biden administration or Congress to deliver widespread debt forgiveness, Secretary Cardona has kept the Education Department busy implementing several rounds of forgiveness using existing programs.
Here are some key changes to pay attention to:
- PSLF Limited Waiver. Thousands of government and nonprofit employees were denied relief under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program because they had the wrong loan. Last October, the Biden-Harris administration authorized the department to temporarily relax the program’s rules to retroactively count payments made towards those loans. Read more about the PSLF Limited Waiver Opportunity.
- IDR and PSLF adjustment. For years, student loan servicers steered borrowers to forbearances and failed to accurately record their qualifying payments toward forgiveness after paying on an income-driven repayment plan for at least 20 years. In an attempt to fix this issue, the department has begun reviewing its records to credit millions of borrowers with additional payments toward loan forgiveness. This one-time revision is expected to benefit millions of borrowers. Read more about income-driven repayment plan forgiveness.
- Total and Permanent Disability Discharge. During the pandemic, the department began using VA and SSA data to identify borrowers who qualify to have their loans erased because they’re totally and permanently disabled. It also temporarily waived the three-year income-reporting requirement after a discharge is awarded. Read more about student loan forgiveness for disability.
- Borrower Defense to Repayment. Thousands of federal student loan borrowers who were defrauded by their schools got almost no relief under the Trump administration. Under Cardona, the department has wiped out $2.1 billion in loans for students who attended DeVry, ITT Tech, Corinthian Colleges, and others. More relief is still to come as the department works to clear the backlog of cases it was saddled with from the previous administration. Read more about Borrower Defense to Repayment.
Learn More: How to Apply for Student Loan Forgiveness 2022
“Student loans were never meant to be a life sentence, but it’s certainly felt that way for borrowers locked out of debt relief they’re eligible for,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
It's unclear when, or if, we’ll see broad relief. When pressed about the issue, Secretary Cardona has said that "conversations are continuing" on the issue.
He remains focused on continuing to implement the targeted relief he has already begun to carry out — and to ensure that everyone can access higher education.