Americans are feeling the pinch after the recent resumption of student loan payments. A recent MassMutual report claimed 76% of respondents with student loan debt reported a “negative impact on their day-to-day health” since the re-start of payments. In fact, as many as three in five borrowers are concerned they may have to file for bankruptcy to eliminate their debt. Meanwhile, student loan forgiveness efforts in Washington have been ongoing but difficult to follow with persistent legal challenges. However, the recent announcement of the income-driven repayment (IDR) Waiver has presented a huge opportunity — one that could significantly reshape the trajectory of student loan forgiveness.
The IDR Waiver represents a notable shift in the federal student loan forgiveness landscape. It's a unique opportunity for significant debt relief for borrowers on income-driven repayment plans.
Automatic Account Adjustment
By July 1, 2024, a one-time account adjustment will be implemented for eligible borrowers. This automatic adjustment requires no application process and provides borrowers with additional credit towards loan forgiveness.
Forbearance & Repayment
The revised framework acknowledges the impact of forbearance and repayment periods in a way that significantly benefits borrowers. Twelve months of consecutive forbearance or 36 months of cumulative forbearance now count toward forgiveness, potentially accelerating the path to debt cancellation under 10, 20, or 25-year forgiveness programs.
Unlike its predecessor, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Waiver, which only offered relief to borrowers working in the public sector, the IDR Waiver extends its reach to all federal loan borrowers—irrespective of their employment sector. This inclusivity widens the scope of forgiveness possibilities for many borrowers.
To fully benefit from the IDR Waiver, some borrowers must consolidate their loans before April 30, 2024. This step is particularly crucial for those holding commercially held FFEL loans.
Potential for Legal Opposition
The minimum threshold to receive IDR forgiveness is 20 years, and, according to the Department of Education, roughly 3.4 million borrowers fall into this category, qualifying them for immediate loan forgiveness under the program. While it is certainly possible the IDR will face legal opposition like other loan forgiveness programs, as of December 2023 the waiver has existed for several months without any serious challenges. Borrowers should be encouraged by the success of the PSLF waiver, which resulted in $20 billion in benefits without succumbing to legal challenges. Those with commercially held FFEL loans may face the most legal risk, as lawsuits from investors could block access to the relief program.
Comparing the IDR Waiver and the PSLF Waiver
The IDR Waiver applies to all borrowers with federal student loans, including those employed in both the public and private sectors. The PSLF waiver, which ended in October 31, 2022, was only for current or former public sector employees. Remember, those pursuing the PSLF can take advantage of the IDR Waiver for credit toward the 10-year eligibility requirement for loan forgiveness.
Who qualifies for the IDR Waiver?
Any federal student loan borrower can qualify for the IDR Waiver. Borrowers who may benefit from this one-time adjustment include those previously or currently on an IDR plan, those participating in the PSLF program, or those interested in an IDR plan with Direct or FFEL Program loans held by the U.S. Department of Education.
How do you apply for the IDR Waiver?
Borrowers do not need to apply for the IDR Waiver, as federal loan servicers will update accounts automatically by July 1, 2024. However, some borrowers may benefit from consolidating their student loans to greater benefit from the IDR Waiver.
Why should you consider consolidating your loans?
Borrowers with loans other than Direct Loans (from the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program) can gain access to IDR plan options. Consolidating may also result in lower monthly payments. However, borrowers should be aware consolidation may result in more interest being paid over the life of the loan. Borrowers considering consolidation should consult with an expert on the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, including its impact on IDR eligibility.