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President Joe Biden presides over a federal student loan program that has vastly expanded its capacity to forgive student debt — though legal challenges could unravel his most ambitious plan.
His administration has waived payment-counting rules to make it easier for borrowers to qualify for loan forgiveness, helped defrauded borrowers to get refunds from closed colleges and granted disabled borrowers relief. And a new income-driven repayment plan may reduce monthly payments for millions of borrowers by changing the way discretionary income is measured.
But broad student debt cancellation is Biden's most high-profile effort yet. Close to 26 million borrowers applied for up to $20,000 of federal student debt cancellation in the weeks after the Department of Education released the application in mid-October.
Debt cancellation was slated to begin as early as Oct. 23, but intensifying legal challenges have put it on ice for now. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for two key cases on Feb. 28 and make a final decision in the following months.
Even if debt cancellation survives the highest court, it may not be enough to help future student borrowers. Biden's critics say he has failed to address a core problem that prompted public pressure for forgiveness in the first place: sky high college costs and record inflation that has spurred interest rates on student loans to rise after years of lows.
Here’s where we stand.
What Biden has done for borrowers so far
Forbearance: The White House has extended the broad, zero-interest pause on loan payments begun under President Donald Trump. Federal student loan payments will resume as late as summer 2023, after legal challenges around debt cancellation are resolved.
Other targeted loan forgiveness: The Department of Education also has revised existing loan forgiveness programs and estimates that $38 billion in loans has been canceled for roughly 1.75 million borrowers since the beginning of Biden's term. The newest, a one-time review of all past federal student loan payments, broadens the number that can count toward income-driven repayment if borrowers choose to enroll.
A new income-driven repayment plan: The new IDR plan will change how payments are calculated and how much income is counted. For most borrowers who enroll, monthly payments should be cut by half or more.
Relief on defaulted loans: The White House on Aug. 18 announced a program to wipe the slate clean for more than 7 million borrowers who have defaulted on their student loans, which brings severe consequences including possible seizure of tax refunds and Social Security checks and long-lasting impacts on credit. The Fresh Start program addresses most of the consequences of default by removing the penalties and making the rehabilitation process cheap and easy for borrowers who choose to rehabilitate their loans and move forward with a payment plan.
Emergency relief fund: More than 18 million college students have received direct financial aid under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund since the start of 2021. The Biden administration created this fund to help universities provide cash grants to current students amid the pandemic. In 2021 alone, institutions distributed $19.5 billion worth of emergency grants.
Other plans we’re watching: financial aid, student debt
Policy proposals in the works
What else is on the way
Keep track of these dates
Feb. 28, 2023: Oral arguments scheduled before the the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the legitimacy of Biden's student debt relief plan.
Feb. 28, 2023: Last day to self-certify income for income-driven repayment. To self-report, complete the IDR application, but in Step 2 (income information) select, “I’ll report my own income information.”
March 1, 2023:
Unpaid interest will not capitalize during the payment pause and through March 1, 2023. If your grace period ends between March 13, 2020 and March 1, 2023, your interest will not be added to your balance immediately.
Earliest month borrowers would need to recertify for income-driven repayment. If your account still shows your recertification date set before March 2023, it will be pushed out by one year.
May 1, 2023: Borrowers who want to take advantage of additional months counted toward income-driven repayment must act.
Borrowers with commercially-held FFELP loans must consolidate by May 1, 2023, to benefit.
Borrowers considering PSLF must submit an application for PSLF by May 1, 2023, to ensure the recount will be applied to the PSLF count of 120 months.
Borrowers weighing IDR forgiveness must consider whether or not to enroll in IDR by July 2023, so future payments are counted.
July 1, 2023: New interest rates are in effect for federal student loans for the 2023-24 school year.
Aug. 28, 2023: Student loan payments resume, if lawsuits remain unresolved.
October 2023: Window for debt cancellation applications closes one year after it begins.
Oct. 1, 2023: Opening date for the 2024-25 FAFSA.