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The US Department of Education has said its application for student loan forgiveness will launch in early October, suggesting it could be ready at any time.
With legal challenges to President Joe Biden’s historic move to write off up to $20,000 in debt for millions of Americans, experts say borrowers need to act quickly when the form is released.
“If a borrower gets a discharge, they may keep it even if the court blocks the president’s plan,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.
Here are the steps you need to take to prepare for the application.
1. Check if you qualify
Biden announced in August that most federal student loan borrowers will be eligible for forgiveness: up to $10,000 if they didn’t receive a Pell Grant, which is a type of aid available to low-income college students, and up to $20,000 if they did.
The relief will be limited to borrowers making less than $125,000 per year, or married couples or heads of households making less than $250,000.
Check your recent tax returns to confirm your income fell below those thresholds in 2020 or 2021 (either will work). The Department of Education will consider the so-called adjusted gross income or AGI of individuals, which may be different from their gross salary.
To confirm your AGI for 2020 and 2021, look for line 11 on the first page of your federal tax return, known as Form 1040.
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Overall, the vast majority, roughly 37 million borrowers, will be eligible for forgiveness based on their loan type because their debt is under what’s called the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. That includes Direct Stafford Loans and all federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. Under the Direct program, Parent Plus and Grad Loans are also eligible for relief.
However, some borrowers with commercially owned Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs) may unfortunately be excluded from the jubilee. Borrowers can check if they have one of these loans at Studentaid.gov. Sign in with your FSA ID and then go to the “My Aid” tab to find your loan details.
2. Determine how much relief to expect
If you have concluded that your income level and loan type do not exclude you from forgiveness by the Biden administration, you will next want to find out if you qualify for $10,000 or $20,000 relief.
That boils down to whether or not you received a Pell Grant in your undergraduate years.
To find out if your college financial aid package included a Pell Grant, check your account at Studentaid.gov. Again, in the “My Help” section, the grant should appear. Most of the recipients come from families with incomes of less than $60,000, Kantrowitz said.
If you received the grant for only one year, you will still qualify for the $20,000 in cancellation.
3. Compile a record of your loans
Before applying for a loan cancellation, experts say you should take screenshots and keep track of your current loan amounts.
That way, you can make sure your new balance is accurate and that you got the full relief you’re entitled to. If there are any issues, you can address them with your student loan servicer.
4. Contact your loan servicer (if necessary)
If you have questions for your trustee about forgiveness, reach out as soon as possible, experts say.
“Loan servicers are likely to be inundated with questions a few days before deadlines,” Kantrowitz said.
You’ll also want to make sure your administrator, as well as the Department of Education, have the latest contact information for you. You can make sure your data is up to date at StudentAid.gov.
This will ensure that you do not miss any important information about the forgiveness process.
Lastly, the Department of Education has said that until the loan discharge application is ready, borrowers can register on their website to receive updates.
Borrowers have already been told that they will not need to upload any supporting documents or use their FSA ID for the form.