On Aug. 24, 2022, President Biden announced his administration’s plan for broad federal student loan forgiveness. Eligible borrowers can receive up to $10,000 in debt relief, plus an additional $10,000 for Pell Grant recipients.However, federal courts blocked implementation of the plan in November 2022.
Currently, federal student loan payments are paused and interest is set to 0% until either 60 days after the Department of Education resolves litigation blocking the White House's far-reaching student loan forgiveness program or 60 days after June 30, 2023, whichever is earlier.
While the news of student loan forgiveness likely came as a relief for many, it may have been a frustrating announcement for anyone who paid off some or all of their student debt during the COVID-19 payment pause. If you’re one of these borrowers, the good news is that you might be eligible for a refund, even if you paid off your entire balance during the pause.
- As part of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, borrowers will be able to receive up to $20,000 in student loan relief, as long as their annual earnings are no greater than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples).
- Roughly 9.1 million borrowers made at least one student loan payment between April 2020 and March 2022. Of that number, approximately 1.9 million paid off all of their debt.
- Borrowers who paid off part of their student debt during the pandemic pause may receive a refund automatically, while borrowers who paid off their entire balance will have to request one from their loan servicer.
Did You Make Payments During the Pause?
Back in March 2020, the U.S. Department of Education announced a pause on federal student loan payments and set interest rates to 0%. For roughly 2½ years, borrowers didn’t have to pay down their student debt balance, even if they were delinquent, in default, or otherwise behind on payments. The Education Department also stopped collections on defaulted loans.
Some borrowers opted to continue making payments, taking advantage of the 0% interest rate to get ahead on paying down their principal balance before the pause ended. According to Federal Student Aid, approximately 9.1 million borrowers made at least one student loan payment between April 2020 and March 2022, with roughly 1.9 million having entirely paid off their debt.
If you only paid off part of your debt, and if your voluntary payments during the pause brought your balance below the maximum debt relief amount for which you’re eligible, then you will automatically receive a refund to make up the difference. For example, let’s say you had a student debt balance of $10,500 prior to March 13, 2020, and paid off $1,000 since then. If you’re eligible for $10,000 in relief, then the Education Department will forgive your remaining $9,500 balance and give you a $500 refund. However, if you paid off your entire balance, your refund won’t be distributed automatically. Fortunately, it’s still possible for you to get one—you’ll just have to put in a little extra work.
How to Get Your Refund
If you paid off your entire student loan balance on or after March 13, 2020, you can contact your loan servicer to request a refund on any qualifying payments, as long as they were for one or more of the following types of loans that are eligible for student loan forgiveness:
- All direct loans (subsidized, unsubsidized, PLUS [Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students], consolidation), even if you’ve defaulted
- All Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans held by the Education Department
- All federal Perkins loans held by the Education Department
- Defaulted FFEL Program loans not held by the Education Department
- Defaulted Health Education Assistance Loans (HEALs)
The following loans are ineligible for student loan forgiveness, meaning that they are also ineligible for a refund:
- Private student loans
- HEALs that aren’t defaulted
- Federal Perkins loans that aren’t managed by the Education Department (whether they’re defaulted or not)
- FFEL Program loans that aren’t defaulted and not managed by the Education Department
|Default Resolution Group||1-800-621-3115 (TTY: 1-877-825-9923 for the deaf or hard of hearing)|
|FedLoan Servicing (PHEAA)||1-800-699-2908|
|Great Lakes Educational Loan Services Inc.||1-800-236-4300|
Source: Federal Student Aid
Do I need to request a refund?
While you aren’t required to request a refund, you should seriously consider doing so if you paid off your debt balance during the pandemic pause. Requesting a refund and getting your money back could help you pay down other debt, save for a big purchase (like a home or car), or save for an emergency.
But not everyone needs to or should request a refund. For instance, those who have ineligible loans shouldn’t bother requesting one. Additionally, those who have made significant headway on repaying loans that don’t qualify for forgiveness may not want to request a refund.
Do I qualify for forgiveness?
The new plan outlined by President Biden will forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients. To qualify, your annual earnings must be no greater than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). Non-Pell Grant recipients who meet this same eligibility requirement could receive up to $10,000 in debt relief.
Are all student loans forgiven?
Nearly every type of federal student loan qualifies for forgiveness, including all direct loans, all Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans held by the U.S. Department of Education, defaulted FFEL Program loans not held by the Education Department, federal Perkins loans held by the Education Department, and defaulted Health Education Assistance Loans (HEALs). However, in addition to private student loans, all federal Perkins loans not held by the Education Department, FFEL Program loans not held by the Education Department, and HEALs are ineligible for debt relief.
The Bottom Line
When you receive your refund depends on your loan servicer. Some will credit an amount back to you within a few days, while others might issue a check that won’t arrive for a few weeks. While it’s a good idea to stay on top of your loan servicer to ensure that you get your money back, don’t be surprised if you don’t see it right away.
The White House. “Fact Sheet: President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most.”
U.S. Department of Education. "Biden-Harris Administration Continues Fight for Student Debt Relief for Millions of Borrowers, Extends Student Loan Repayment Pause."
Federal Student Aid. “COVID-19 Loan Payment Pause and 0% Interest.”
Federal Student Aid. “(General-22-43) Federal Student Aid Posts Quarterly Portfolio Reports to FSA Data Center.”
Federal Student Aid. “One-Time Student Loan Debt Relief.”
Federal Student Aid. “Who’s My Student Loan Servicer?”