Department of Education cancels public workers’ student debt

About 41 million people in the US have student loans.

About 41 million people in the US have student loans.


Temporary changes to a loan forgiveness program have led to the cancellation of about $6.8 billion in student debt for over 113,000 borrowers who work in public service, according to the US Department of Education.

Many more could be eligible, but the deadline approaches. Here’s how they can qualify for forgiveness before the temporary rules end on Oct. 31

What is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program?

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program promises debt relief after 10 years of public service — or 120 payments — for teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public service employees with student loans, according to the agency.

On Oct. 6, 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration announced a limited opportunity lifting certain rules of the program to make debt forgiveness more attainable for public service employees with federal student loans.

The temporary changes to the PSLF have already canceled about $6.8 billion in student debt for over 113,000 borrowers, according to the agency, or about $60,000 canceled per borrower.

What are the temporary changes?

For a limited time, borrowers can receive credit for past periods of repayments that would otherwise not qualify for the program. Under the temporary rule, any past periods of repayment can count as a qualifying payment toward the 120 required “regardless of loan program, repayment plan, or whether the payment was made in full or on time,” according to the agency.

“Months during the government’s payment pause and interest waiver on federal student loans, which has been in effect since March 2020, count toward the program, even if you haven’t been paying,” CNBC reported.

Borrowers can get forgiveness even if they are not employed by a public service employer when they apply, the agency stated.

While the Federal Family Education Loan, the Federal Perkins Loan and other types of non-Direct federal student loans don’t normally count toward PSLF, they will until Oct. 31. Borrowers with any of these loans will have to consolidate them into the Direct Loan Program before the deadline, according to the agency.

About 60% of borrowers eligible for PSLF have also had a loan through the Federal Family Education program, according to a news release.

The agency said it will automatically adjust payment counts for borrowers who have consolidated their loans and certified their employment for PSLF. Borrowers who have loans from other programs mentioned above will also have this waiver applied automatically, “but only after they have consolidated and submitted a PSLF form and all paperwork has been processed.”

Who is eligible?

According to CNBC, a quarter of US workers could be eligible.

To qualify, borrowers must have worked full time for a public service employer during the time they were also in loan repayments. Qualifying employers include governmental organizations, nonprofit organizations that offer specific public services such as health or education and 501(c)(3) organizations.

Borrowers who were previously denied debt relief under the program can also submit a reconsideration request.

These widespread cancellations come as the agency is working to address “historical failures in the administration of the federal student loan program,” as previously reported by McClatchy News.

On April 6, the Biden administration announced an extension of the pause on student loan payments until Aug. 31. In a briefing that day, press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden had not “ruled out” a widescale cancellation of student debt.

Cassandre Coyer is a McClatchy National Real-Time Reporter covering the southeast while based in Washington DC She’s an alumna of Emerson College in Boston and joined McClatchy in 2022. Previously, she’s written for The Christian Science Monitor, RVA Mag, The Untitled Magazine, and more.


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