The Biden administration’s application for student loan forgiveness is officially open. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31, 2022.
Eligible borrowers, among them hundreds of thousands of Mississippians, could see their balances erased within four to six weeks if they apply today, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the federal agency overseeing the plan.
Borrowers who want to see their balances reduced before payments resume in January should fill out the form by Nov. 15. Loan repayment has been on pause due to the pandemic since March 2020.
Though the plan is facing a raft of legal challenges, President Joe Biden has said he believes it will prevail in court. The lawsuits have already resulted in the U. S. Department of Education making a number of tweaks to the program, including removing about 800,000 borrowers from eligibility whose loans are backed by the federal government but held by commercial banks.
In late September, the Department of Education also announced that borrowers can opt-out of loan forgiveness following a lawsuit that claimed the plan would unfairly harm borrowers who live in the six states, including Mississippi, that will tax student debt relief as income.
That lawsuit was dismissed, though it’s unclear how Mississippi will carry out its plan to tax student debt relief as income because the federal government has directed servicers to not provide 1099-Cs – the tax form needed for filing debt cancellation.
READ MORE: Mississippi plans to tax student debt relief. But Paycheck Protection Program loans are tax exempt.
The Department of Education has said it will notify about 8 million borrowers who automatically qualify for relief. Borrowers in this group who’d like to opt out should contact their servicer by Nov. 14, according to the Washington Post.
The form, available in Spanish or English, takes less than one minute to complete – it asks for name, date of birth, phone number, email address, and Social Security Number.The form will ask borrowers to attest that they meet the income limits, up to $125,000 a year.
Some borrowers may need to verify their income after submitting the application, but the Department of Education has said it will let them know. The Washington Post reported that borrowers “who present a higher likelihood of exceeding the income limit threshold” will likely be asked to submit documentation.
Relief is capped at $10,000 for many borrowers and at $20,000 for borrowers who received Pell Grants in college. The form notes that income is calculated “based on your adjusted gross income (AGI), which tends to be lower than your total income.”
To qualify, borrowers must have taken out student loans before July 2022. Current college students are eligible for relief if their parents make less than $125,000. Borrowers with private loans are not eligible.
As many as 40 million Americans qualify for student debt relief, including 439,000 people in Mississippi. For nearly half of those Mississippians, the plan will wipe away student debt, according to an analysis by the Education Data Initiative. The average Mississippi borrower with federal student loans owes about $37,000, one of the highest average debts in the country.
The Biden administration has cast the plan as a way to ameliorate the country’s racial wealth gap. In Mississippi, Black borrowers take on higher amounts of undergraduate student debt than those of other races, according to data from a recent National Postsecondary Aid study.
Black students in Mississippi borrowed an average of $10,800 in undergraduate student debt during the 2017-18 school year, while borrowers of other races took out an average of $7,400. Black borrowers in Mississippi also took out more loans during the school year than the average Black borrower across the country, while borrowers of other races took on less debt than average.
One legal challenge that claimed the Biden Administration violated the Equal Protection Clause because it “intentionally crafted the program to benefit borrowers of color” was dismissed two days after it was filed, USA Today reported.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.