After months of discussion and debate, President Biden announced on August 24, 2022 that many federal student loan borrowers will be eligible for some type of debt forgiveness. Those who didn’t receive a Pell Grant may be eligible for up to $10,000 in forgiveness. Meanwhile, Pell Grant recipients may see as much as $20,000 of debt forgiven.
President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan comes as welcome news to many Americans drowning in debt. Yet many—voters and politicians alike—oppose the program.
In fact, many Republican leaders are threatening legal challenges in an effort to block the bill. If this happens, the plan’s future may be in jeopardy.
Nevertheless, borrowers who are eligible for student loan forgiveness should be prepared to take advantage of the program if and when it begins. Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, including how it works and how it may benefit you.
What’s Included in Biden’s Student Loan Debt Relief Plan?
The Student Loan Debt Relieve plan forgives $10,000 of student loan debt for federal student loan borrowers. In addition, borrows who received a Pell Grant may be eligible for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness.
The plan also includes:
- An additional (and possibly final) extension on federal student loan payments until December 31, 2022
- A push for borrowers who may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Waiver (PSLF) to apply for the waiver before it expires on October 31, 2022
- The creation of a new income-driven repayment plan (IDR) that would lower monthly payments and potentially reduce the time period required for loan forgiveness for eligible borrowers.
Who’s Eligible for Student Loan Forgiveness?
To be eligible for forgiveness, borrowers’ income levels must be under $125,000 for single borrowers and $250,000 for married couples and head of household filers. Borrowers may use their 2020 and 2021 tax returns to determine their income. They only need to meet the income requirements in one of these tax years.
In addition, only Federal loans funded by June 30, 2002 are eligible for forgiveness. This includes consolidated debt.
Federal loans for graduate school are also eligible for forgiveness, as are Parent Plus Loans. However, if a parent has more than one Parent Plus Loan for multiple children, they’re only eligible for total forgiveness up to $10,000.
Current students are also eligible for student loan forgiveness if they have debt. But if the student is a dependent of their parents, the parents’ income will determine eligibility for forgiveness.
Lastly, it’s important to emphasize that student loan forgiveness only applies to federal loans. Borrowers who refinanced their student loans with a private lender cannot take advantage of the program.
What Do Borrowers Need to Do?
Some parts of the student loan forgiveness plan will go into effect automatically. For example, many borrowers with IDR plans who have already recertified their income with the US Education Department will be eligible for loan forgiveness automatically.
Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan may require borrowers to take more action. One example applies to borrowers who made payments on their student loans since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the government paused federal student loan payments in March 2020, borrowers can request a refund of any payments they made after that date. This makes most sense if a borrower’s loan balance is less than $10,000, and a refund would allow those payments to be forgiven instead.
Is Student Loan Forgiveness Taxable?
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, most student debt discharged through 2025 will be tax-free—at least at the federal level. At the state level, income tax consequences will vary by state.
Currently, 13 states may treat forgiven student loan debt as taxable income. These states include Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Tax Foundation estimates that borrowers could incur anywhere from $300 to over $1,000 in state taxes, depending on where they live, if they receive the full $10,000 in student loan forgiveness. These figures could double for Pell Grant recipients, since they’re eligible to receive up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness.
Planning Considerations for Those Who Haven’t Filed a 2021 Tax Return Yet
Indeed, most taxpayers have already filed their 2020 and 2021 tax returns. However, if you filed an extension for your 2021 return, there are a few strategies you may be able to leverage to help you qualify for student loan forgiveness.
- First, consider contributing to an eligible retirement plan if you haven’t reached your contribution limit yet. This strategy makes sense is the contribution is enough to reduce your AGI to a level that’s eligible for forgiveness.
- Income thresholds for married couples filing separately are still unclear. However, if the thresholds for single filers apply to married couples filing separately, you may want to see if changing your filing status will help you qualify for forgiveness.
As you consider these strategies, keep in mind that the extension deadline is October 17, 2022.
Student Loan Forgiveness: Next Steps
The forgiveness process will be relatively easy for most borrowers. For example, federal student loan borrowers already have income information on file with the US Department of Education. Thus, those who are eligible are likely to receive forgiveness automatically.
Of course, there are still many unknowns, including how a potential challenge by Republicans will affect student loan forgiveness. In any event, the official application should be available soon. The U.S. Department of Education sent out a notice recently that it could be available as soon as early October, 2022. In the meantime, eligible borrowers can receive updates from the Department of Education by signing up here.
Lastly, a trusted financial advisor can help you better understand how student loan forgiveness may impact your financial plan. They can also help you identify other strategies to pay down your debt and reach your financial goals.