What Is Borrower Defense?

Borrower defense loan discharge, often shortened to “borrower defense,” is a federal regulation that allows students who have been defrauded by their college, university, or career school to seek forgiveness for their student loans.

You may have a case for borrower defense if your school misled you about the education you received. There are many examples of this: Your school may have made false promises about your employment prospects, the cost of your education, or even whether the school was actually accredited. Visit the Federal Student Aid website to see if your loan meets the requirements for forgiveness eligibility.

Key takeaways

  • Borrower defense loan discharge, often shortened to “borrower defense,” is a federal regulation that allows students who have been defrauded by their college, university, or career school to seek forgiveness for their student loans.
  • Borrower defense was created back in 1994 but only reached public awareness in 2015. Since then, the rules on who is eligible have changed several times.
  • If you believe that you’ve been defrauded by a college, university, or career school, you can check on the Federal Student Aid website to see if you may have a claim.
  • Federal direct loans are the only loans eligible for forgiveness under borrower defense, and your school must have violated a state law or certain federal standards in order for your claim to be successful.

What Is Borrower Defense?

Borrower defense was created in 1994 but only reached broad public awareness in 2015, when the closing of predatory for-profit institution Corinthian Colleges required hundreds of thousands of students to rethink their academic futures. Fifteen students, known as the Corinthian 15, started a loan repayment strike. The students’ refusal to pay caught on as other students felt they had been victims of misrepresentation of educational outcomes by their respective institutions and former Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced shortly thereafter that the department would forgive the loans of the students affected by the closure.

Since then, the rule has had a volatile history. In 2019, former President Donald Trump's administration tightened the standard for complete forgiveness of student loans. The new rules required that schools must have had “knowledge" of the fraudulent nature of their claims, and students had to prove that they experienced financial harm as a result of these claims.

In 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration announced that it would revert the borrower defense rules to those that had been in effect during the Obama administration. All students who have been approved for forgiveness to date—including those eligible for partial forgiveness under the Trump administration rules—will receive full loan forgiveness.

“Full forgiveness,” in this context, means:

  • Total discharge of the related federal direct loans
  • Reimbursement of any interest paid on them
  • Requests to credit bureaus to remove any related negative credit reporting
  • Reinstatement of federal student aid eligibility

Should I Apply for Borrower Defense?

If you believe that you’ve been defrauded by a college, university, or career school, start by checking the Department of Education Student Aid website to see if you have a claim. Borrower defense is limited to specific situations, so make sure you understand its limits before pursuing a claim further.

First, bear in mind that only federal direct loans are eligible for forgiveness under borrower defense and you must have taken out these loans in order to pay the school that is the source of your claim.

Second, in order for your claim to be successful, your school must have violated a state law or certain federal standards. Claims that do not relate to your loan or educational services are not eligible for borrower defense. Borrower defense doesn’t cover personal injury claims or allegations of harassment.

Third, be financially prepared. If your claim is unsuccessful and you don’t keep making your student loan payments while you are appealing for borrower defense, your loans might be higher after your application than before it.

Student Loan Payment Pause

In December 2021, the U.S. Department of Education announced an extension of the student loan payment pause until May 1, 2022. But if you filed a borrower defense loan discharge application, you may not have to make payments when the payment pause ends. Check for updates on borrower defense at the Federal Student Aid website to see if this applies to you.

How Do I Apply for Borrower Defense?

First, identify whether you are eligible for a claim by filing an application for borrower defense on the Federal Student Aid website. You can also call the borrower defense hotline at the Department of Education at 855-279-6207 for assistance. Telephone representatives are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time.

If you think you may have a case and would like legal advice, the National Consumer Law Center's Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project maintains a list of referral resources that you can check for assistance.

The Bottom Line

Borrower defense is a federal regulation that allows students who have been defrauded by their college, university, or career school to seek forgiveness for their student loans. If your college has misled you about the education you received, you may be able to apply to have your loans forgiven.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid. “Borrower Defense Loan Discharge.”

  2. Federal Student Aid. “Borrower Defense Loan Discharge.”

  3. U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid. “Borrower Defense Updates.”

  4. U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid. “COVID-19 Emergency Relief and Federal Student Aid.”

  5. U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid. "Quick Reference to Service Centers," Page 1.

  6. National Consumer Law Center. “Referral Resources.”

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