In just a few weeks, tens of millions of Americans may be able to apply for student loan forgiveness.
The U.S. Department of Education has said an application will be ready by “early October.” It said its application will be simple, but the federal student loan system is famously complicated.
As a result, experts say there are a number of steps you should take now to get ready.
1. Figure out how much relief you may qualify for
President Joe Biden announced in August that most federal student loan borrowers will be eligible for some forgiveness: up to $10,000 if they didn’t receive a Pell Grant, which is a type of aid available to low-income undergraduate students, and up to $20,000 if they did.
To learn if your financial aid package in college included a Pell Grant, you can check your account on Studentaid.gov, under the “My Aid” section. Most recipients come from families with incomes of less than $60,000, said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.
The relief is also limited to individuals earning no more than $125,000 a year, or households making less than $250,000.
The Education Department will be considering people’s so-called adjusted gross income, or AGI, which may be different than your gross salary.
To confirm your AGI for 2020 and 2021, look for line 11 on the front page of your tax return, known as Form 1040.
If your income in either year fell below those caps, you ought to be good.
2. Review your loan details
Most federal student loans qualify for the cancellation.
However, there are roughly 5 million borrowers with older student loans, known as commercially held Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), that are actually with private companies rather than the government. (You can check your loan type at Studentaid.gov, again, by going to the “My Aid” tab.)
The Education Department said it’s working to make sure that borrowers with these loans get the forgiveness, too, even though it doesn’t hold the debt itself.
But if you have these loans and want to make sure you’re included in forgiveness sooner rather than later, you may want to consolidate them into the main federal student loan program.
3. Contact your loan servicer (if needed)
If you have questions for your servicer about forgiveness, reach out as soon as possible, experts say.
“Loan servicers are likely to be inundated with questions starting a few days before the deadlines,” Kantrowitz said.
You’ll also want to make sure your servicer, as well as the Education Department, has the most recent contact information for you. You can make sure that data is current at StudentAid.gov, Kantrowitz said.
This will make sure you don’t miss any important information on the forgiveness process.
Once the application is up, request relief ASAP
The Education Department said until the application for loan cancellation is ready, borrowers can sign up on its website for updates.
Ideally, you’ll be ready to request relief as soon as the application launches, experts say.
Recent news that some Republicans may bring a legal challenge against student loan forgiveness means the relief could be thrown in jeopardy. If you get your loans forgiven before a lawsuit possibly gets in the way, though, you might get to keep it, Kantrowitz said, “even if the courts rule against the Biden administration.”
Borrowers should aim to apply for forgiveness no later than Nov. 15, said Kantrowitz.
That’s because the Education Department is saying it will take up to around six weeks for borrowers to get cancellation after they apply, and you want your balanced reduced or eliminated by the time the pandemic-era payment pause on federal student loans expires on Dec. 31.
“If the forgiveness will cause your debt to be completely erased, you can avoid having to make any payments on your student loans,” Kantrowitz said.