How Borrower Defense to Repayment Works

Borrowers defrauded by their schools may seek loan forgiveness through borrower defense to repayment.
Eliza Haverstock
Anna Helhoski
By Anna Helhoski and  Eliza Haverstock 
Edited by Karen Gaudette Brewer

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Borrower defense to repayment forgives borrowers' student loans if they were defrauded by their schools. Borrowers can also get relief if their schools closed before they could complete a degree.

The Biden-Harris administration has approved the discharge of more than $28.7 billion of debt among 1.6 million borrowers through borrower defense claims and closed school discharge, as of May 2024. And that tally includes an additional $6 billion in relief due to 264,000 borrowers as a result of the Sweet v. Cardona class action lawsuit.

Borrowers whose claims were approved can expect:

• Full discharge (100%) of federal student loans, which could be automatic.

• Reimbursement of any amount paid toward the loan according to regulations.

• Requests to remove negative credit reporting with the credit bureaus.

• Reinstatement of federal student aid eligibility for those who lost it.

• March 18, 2021: the Department of Education announced it would rescind the previous administration’s calculations for partial relief for federal student loan borrowers approved for borrower defense debt cancellation and instead grant full relief to those borrowers. The Education Department says this will cancel $1 billion in loan debt for 72,000 borrowers.

• June 16, 2021: $500 million in relief for 18,000 borrowers who previously attended ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit chain of schools shut down in 2016 following federal sanctions.

• July 9, 2021: 1,800 new borrower defense claims were approved for borrowers who attended three schools: Westwood College, Marinello Schools of Beauty and the Court Reporting Institute. All borrowers approved received full loan discharge for a total of $55.6 million in cancellation. The Education Department said this was the first time since 2017 that borrower defense claims were approved for students attending schools besides Corinthian Colleges, ITT Technical Institute and American Career Institute.

• Aug. 26, 2021: Another 115,000 students who attended ITT Tech will have their student loan debt discharged. The relief totals $1.1 billion.

• Feb. 16, 2022: Approximately 16,000 borrowers receive $415 million in borrower defense discharges. It includes borrowers who attended: DeVry University ($71.7 million in discharges for 1,800 students); Westwood College, the nursing program at ITT Technical Institute and criminal justice programs at Minnesota School of Business/Globe University ($343.7 million in discharges to 14,000 students); and more claims for borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges and Marinello Schools of Beauty ($284.5 million discharges to over 11,900 students).

• April 28, 2022: A group discharge of $238 million for 28,000 borrowers who attended Marinello Schools of Beauty. This marks the first time the Education Department executed a group discharge without requiring all borrowers to submit applications.

• June 1, 2022: A group discharge for all remaining federal student loans borrowed to attend any Corinthian College from its founding in 1995 through its closure in April 2015. The $5.8 billion discharge impacts 560,000 borrowers.

• Aug 16, 2022: A group discharge for all federal student loans that borrowers used to attend ITT Technical Institute from Jan. 1, 2005, through September 2016 brings $3.9 billion in relief for 208,000 borrowers, on top of previous ITT settlements. All borrowers who meet this criteria will see their debt discharged even if they didn't yet submit a borrower defense application. In addition to this announcement, roughly 100 borrowers who attended Kaplan Career Institute will also see their debt discharged. The department also announced it was, for the first time ever, seeking to recoup the cost of approved claims from a school. DeVry University will be required to pay nearly $24 million to the Education Department.

• Aug. 30, 2022: A group discharge for all federal student loans for borrowers who enrolled at Westwood College from 2001 through 2015, when it closed. The Department of Education says Westwood grossly misrepresented job prospects and career potential to its students. About 79,000 borrowers will receive $1.5 billion in relief, whether they have made a borrower defense claim or not.

• July 25, 2023: $130 million in automatic relief for 7,400 borrowers who attended Colorado Locations of CollegeAmerica between Jan. 2006 and July 2020. The schools misled students about employment rates, salary prospects and their private loan product.

• May 1, 2024: $6.1 billion in automatic relief for 317,000 borrowers who enrolled at any Art Institute campus on or after Jan. 1, 2004 through Oct. 16, 2017. The Department of Education found that The Art Institutes and its parent company, Education Management Corporation, misrepresented employment rates, salaries and career services during that time to students.

Who gets relief under the Sweet v. Cardona settlement?

On Nov. 16, 2022, a federal judge in California gave approval on Sweet v. Cardona (formerly Sweet v. DeVos), a settlement of borrower defense claims that will provide up to 264,000 student loan borrowers with at least $6 billion in debt relief. The decision was upheld on Feb. 24, 2023.

The final settlement will provide full relief including student loan forgiveness, payment refunds and credit repair to 200,000 borrowers who filed before June 2022 and attended one of about 150 mostly for-profit schools involved in the case. The remaining 64,000 have pending claims against schools not on that list; decisions on their cases would be streamlined.

Borrowers who attended one of the schools below and submitted a borrower defense application on or before June 22, 2022, would be eligible for discharge under the Sweet v. Cardona settlement if they haven't received a decision or received a denial. Those who submitted a borrower defense application after June 22 and before Nov. 16, 2022 will qualify as a "post-class applicant."

Seventy-five percent of all class members would receive loan discharges or refunds by November 2023. The remaining 25% of class members would receive an individual borrower defense decision on a rolling basis, which could result in loan discharges or refunds.

Al Collins Graphic Design School

All-State Career School

Allentown Business School

American Career College

American Career Institute

American College for Medical Careers

American Commercial College

American InterContinental University

American National University

American University of the Caribbean

Anamarc College

Anthem College

Anthem Institute

Argosy University

Arizona Summit Law School

Ashford University

ATI Career Training Center

ATI College

ATI College of Health

ATI Technical Training Center

Bauder College

Beckfield College

Berkeley College

Blue Cliff College

Branford Hall Career Institute

Briarcliffe College

Brightwood Career Institute

Brightwood College

Brooks College

Brooks Institute

Brown College

Brown Institute

Brown Mackie College

California College San Diego

California Culinary Academy

California School of Culinary Arts

Capella University

Career Point College

Carrington College

Center for Employment Training

Chamberlain University

Charlotte School of Law

Chicago School of Professional Psychology


Collins College

Colorado Technical University

Concorde Career College

Concorde Career Institute

Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago

Court Reporting Institute

Court Reporting Institute of St Louis

Daymar College

DeVry College of Technology

Devry Institute of Technology

DeVry University

Dorsey College

Empire Beauty School

Everglades University


Florida Career College

Florida Coastal School of Law

Florida Technical College

Fortis College

Fortis Institute

Gibbs College

Globe University

Grand Canyon University

Gwinnett College

Hallmark Institute of Photography

Hallmark University

Harrington College of Design

Harris School of Business

The Illinois Institute of Art

Independence University

The Institute for Health Education

International Academy of Design and Technology

International Technical Institute

ITT Technical Institute

Kaplan Career Institute

Kaplan College

Katharine Gibbs School

Keiser University

Keller Graduate School of Management

Kitchen Academy

La' James College of Hairstyling

La' James International College

Le Cordon Bleu

Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts

Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts

Lehigh Valley College

Lincoln College of Technology

Lincoln Technical Institute

Marinello School of Beauty

McCann School of Business & Technology

McIntosh College

Medtech College

Miami International University of Art & Design

Miami-Jacobs Career College

Micropower Career Institute

Miller Motte Business College

Miller-Motte College

Miller-Motte Technical College

Minnesota School of Business

Missouri College of Cosmetology North

Mount Washington College

National University College

New England College of Business and Finance

The New England Institute of Art

NUC University

Orlando Culinary Academy

Pennsylvania Culinary Institute

Pittsburgh Career Institute

Purdue University Global

Radians College

Remington College

Robert Fiance Beauty Schools

Robert Fiance Hair Design Institute

Robert Fiance Institute of Florida

Ross University School of Medicine

Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine

Salter College

Sanford-Brown College

Sanford-Brown Institute

School of Computer Technology

Scottsdale Culinary Institute

South University

Southern California School of Culinary Arts

Southern Technical College

Star Career Academy


Suburban Technical School

Sullivan and Cogliano Training Centers

Texas Culinary Academy

The Art Institute

Tucson College

Ultrasound Diagnostic Schools

United Education Institute

University of Phoenix

University of the Rockies

Vatterott College

Virginia College

Walden University

Washington Business School

Western Culinary Institute

Western International University

Western School of Health and Business Careers

Western State University College of Law

Westwood College

Wilfred Academy

Wilfred Academy of Beauty Culture

Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture

Wright Business School

Wright Career College

What eligibility requirements are borrowers still expected to meet?

The Education Department, under Secretary Miguel Cardona, says it plans to pursue additional actions, including re-regulation of changes made under former Secretary Betsy DeVos that tightened eligibility requirements and placed a larger burden on the borrower to prove the school committed fraud.

These changes remain in place until the Department of Education acts:

  • If your school closes after July 1, 2020, while you are still enrolled, it's on you to apply for student loan relief through the borrower defense program. Previously, those loans were automatically canceled.

  • You will still need to apply even if the Education Department has evidence of wrongdoing by your school that qualifies for student loan forgiveness. No forgiveness is automatic.

  • Under the new rule, you must prove that your school intentionally misled you and that you suffered specific financial harm as a result. The loan itself doesn’t count as financial harm, but being unemployable as a result of your program might.

  • Under the new rule, you can file a claim if you leave your school up to 180 days before it closes. That expands the previous window of 120 days.

  • The old rule allowed six years to apply for relief. The new rule shortens that window to three years.

  • If your claim is initially denied and new information becomes available, you cannot resubmit your claim for further consideration.

Do you qualify for borrower defense forgiveness?

You might qualify for federal loan forgiveness under this program if you believe your school defrauded you in the following ways:

  • Intentionally misled you about your education program.

  • Caused you harm as a result to a degree that warrants full discharge of your loans.

You can submit a claim whether or not your school closed and even if you’re eligible for other loan forgiveness programs. You can’t submit a claim for private loans or costs you paid out of pocket.

Not sure if you should apply? Find out if your school has been the subject of legal action by the federal government, state attorneys general or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “The biggest indicator is if the college has been sued or are they currently facing legal action for their practices,” says Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

If your loans disbursed before July 1, 2020, a judgment against your school can be grounds for a successful borrower defense. Under the new rule a judgment against your school can be used as evidence for your claim, but — without additional support — probably won’t be sufficient for loan forgiveness.

How to apply for borrower defense to repayment

You can submit a borrower defense to repayment claim application electronically, on the Federal Student Aid office's website. An updated online application will roll out on July 30, 2023.

After you complete and submit your application, you can expect a determination from the Department of Education within about three weeks. Notifications are sent out via email.

To strengthen your claim, submit a detailed explanation of why your loans might qualify, along with any supporting evidence. This could include:

  • Actual licensure passage rates that are different from what the school advertised.

  • Actual employment rates that are different from what the school advertised.

  • Actual selectivity and admissions profiles that are different from what the school advertised.

  • Dishonest representation of school held certifications or approval for programs.

  • Dishonest representation of the education resources the school provided.

  • Dishonest representation of the transferability of credits.

  • Dishonest representations of graduate placement rates and salaries.

  • Dishonest representations regarding financial assistance.

For loans disbursed before July 1, 2020, you can also submit written accounts of verbal conversations with school officials. “Just because it was verbal doesn’t mean [the borrower] shouldn’t provide a narration of that,” says Betsy Mayotte, president and founder of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors. “If they felt … pressured to sign something quickly, for example, they should include that information because it’s taken into consideration.”

For help with your claim, find clinics in your area, such as local nonprofits, law schools or legal aid, suggests Suzanne Martindale, a senior attorney for Consumers Union. You may also contact the National Consumer Law Center, suggests Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute.

How applying can affect your loans

You can choose to put your loans in forbearance — which will halt payments and collections — as part of your claim. After you submit your application, the Education Department will send you a confirmation with more information about your forbearance via email. Although the process should be automatic, you should contact your student loan servicer to make sure they received your forbearance notification and are processing it appropriately.

If you've applied for borrower defense, you might stay in forbearance after student loan payments resume in October 2023. Sign up for federal student aid notifications to get updates about borrower defense.

A borrower defense claim can result in full loan forgiveness, partial loan forgiveness, or no loan forgiveness. The new rule sets a high bar for full loan forgiveness and leans more toward partial relief based on financial damages. Interest will accrue while the Education Department evaluates your application and you will be responsible for interest on any part of your loans that is not cancelled.

Key terms in this story

Borrower defense to repayment: A federal student loan forgiveness program for borrowers whose schools violated certain laws, or defrauded or misled students. Borrowers can also get relief if their school closed before they could complete a degree. New rules for eligibility and forgiveness amounts make successful borrower defense to repayment claims more difficult, but you should still make a claim if you believe you’ve been defrauded.
Forbearance: A period of authorized nonpayment for up to 12 months at a time. Interest accrues on all loans in forbearance, so it’s usually not a good option unless you can’t pay your loans and don’t qualify for deferment. An income-driven repayment plan is a better option if you won’t be able to make your payments for an extended period.
Student loan forgiveness: Government programs that cancel federal student loan debt for borrowers who meet specific requirements. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) are examples of student loan forgiveness programs. Borrowers with private student loans are not eligible for student loan forgiveness programs, but have other options to manage their debt.
Student loan servicer: The private company that manages your federal student loan payments until they are repaid. Student loan servicers might not always offer the best repayment options, so it’s important to ask questions and advocate for yourself.
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