(NEXSTAR) – Over nine million Americans may qualify for federal student loan forgiveness under a program that’s already in place, according to a new estimate.
The Student Borrower Protection Center released a new report on Thursday that reviewed governmental data and found millions of public service workers likely qualify for debt cancellation through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, but have yet to file the paperwork to start the process.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, or PSLF, was created in 2007 with the intention of helping employees with nonprofit and government agencies have their student loans forgiven after ten years of payments (120 total payments). The overall approval rate among applicants has been low – just 1 in 5 of the 1.3 million borrowers pursuing debt discharge through PSLF were on track to see relief by 2026, according to a September 2021 report from The Washington Post.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education announced a change that temporarily waives certain PSLF requirements to grant borrowers credit toward loan cancellation regardless of their federal loan type or if they had been enrolled in a specific payment plan. This waiver is currently set to expire after October 31, 2022.
As of early May 2022, the Federal Student Aid office reports only about 127,000 borrowers have qualified for forgiveness under the PSLF limited waiver.
Of the nine million public service workers SBPC believes are eligible for forgiveness under PSLF, fewer than 15% have even filed paperwork to track their progress toward debt cancellation. California, Texas, Florida, and New York have the most public service workers with student loan debt, according to SBPC.
The Department of Education has not yet responded to Nexstar’s request for comment regarding SBPC’s report.
What to know about qualifying for PSLF
As explained above, PSLF is intended to give eligible public service employees debt forgiveness after a set number of payments are made.
Eligible borrowers must:
- Be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization (federal service includes U.S. military service)
- Work full-time for that agency or organization
- Have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan)
- Make 120 qualifying payments
Under the current PSLF waiver, eligible borrowers can receive credit for payments made on other loan types, under any payment plan, before consolidation, or after the due date. Those who received Teacher Loan Forgiveness can apply the period of service that led to their eligibility toward PSLF, if they can certify PSLF employment for that period.
How to determine if you qualify
The first step of determining your eligibility is visiting the FSA’s website and logging into your account. You’ll be able to search your employer within the FSA’s database and add information about your employment. Once you find your employer, you’ll be able to see whether it qualifies under PSLF.
Next, according to SBPC’s walkthrough guide, you’ll want to determine which type of federal student loans you have. Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF while other loans need to be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan. Until the end of October 2022, previous qualifying payments you’ve made on a non-Direct Loan will count for the necessary 120 payments PSLF requires for forgiveness.
Once you’ve completed the steps above, you’ll need to confirm your employment. You should then be able to submit your PSLF form.
The FSA has created a help tool to guide borrowers through completing the form.
Who qualifies for the already-approved student loan forgiveness?
While widespread student loan forgiveness hasn’t yet become a reality, some U.S. borrowers have already received some debt relief. Roughly 1.3 million borrowers have seen $25 billion in student debt forgiveness since President Biden took office.
So far, thousands of borrowers have received $6.8 billion in debt cancellation “through improvements to PSLF,” according to the Education Department. Another roughly 690,000 borrowers have had a total of $7.9 billion in student loans canceled through discharges due to borrower defense and school closures. Over 400,000 borrowers have received more than $8.5 billion in debt forgiveness through total and permanent disability discharge.
Biden will likely announce his plans regarding more widespread student debt forgiveness in July or August, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.