(WWLP) – The Education Department announces Monday that since October 2021, it has approved a total of $42 billion in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) for more than 615,000 borrowers. 

The temporary changes made by the Biden-Harris Administration to the PSLF made it easier for borrowers to obtain forgiveness. Only about 7,000 borrowers had been approved for the PSLF program at the end of the previous administration.

While more than 13,200 borrowers in Massachusetts have received nearly $859 million in loan forgiveness under temporary changes made to the PSLF program by the Biden-Harris Administration between October 2021 and May 2023. The average loan amount is more than $64,000 per borrower. Many Massachusetts borrowers have already benefited from PSLF, but many more will be able to benefit as the program continues.

“Since Day One, the Biden-Harris Administration has worked relentlessly to fix a broken student loan system, including by making sure we fulfill the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness for those who have spent a decade or more serving our communities and our country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “To date, the Biden-Harris team has kept that promise for more than 615,000 teachers, nurses, social workers, service members, and other public servants by approving a combined $42 billion in student loan debt forgiveness. The difference that Public Service Loan Forgiveness is making in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans reminds us why we must continue doing everything we can to fight for borrowers and why families cannot afford to have progress derailed by partisan politicians. During Public Service Recognition Week—and every week—we thank all those who serve our communities.”

The targeted debt relief announced Monday is part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to ensure that the PSLF program fulfills the promise made to Americans who enter public service and that they receive the debt forgiveness they have earned by serving their communities and their country. During Public Service Recognition Week, individuals who are employed by the federal, state, local, or tribal governments are recognized for their contributions.

Many student loan forgiveness programs have been established by law, including the PSLF. It supports public employees–such as teachers, firefighters, and members of law enforcement, as well as those who work for a non-profit organization in a variety of fields–by granting the remaining federal student loan balances to those working in public service and making 120 qualifying monthly payments.

A number of borrowers across the country have benefited from the Department’s efforts to ensure that all public servants are more easily able to access targeted debt relief. The forgiveness of nearly 616,000 loans has already been approved for 610,000 borrowers, and the remaining borrowers will soon see their loans discharged.

Over two million borrowers have an approved PSLF Form and are on the path to forgiveness in addition to the borrowers who have been approved for forgiveness. The PSLF Program continues to attract more public service employees across the country as they become aware of the benefits it offers.

How will the process get easier for student loan borrowers?

According to the US Department of Education, the following are the most recent Improvements to the PSLF application process, which is used by borrowers to apply for the program:

  • In addition to record approvals, the Department is also announcing that for the first time, borrowers can now sign and submit their PSLF forms digitally and closely track their status through the process. They will no longer be required to fax or mail in their application with a wet signature. E-signatures will significantly speed up the processing of loans if borrowers are able to submit and request e-signature from their employers. 
  • These significant changes to the PSLF application process create a faster, more straightforward, and more transparent process for borrowers.
  • The changes also improve the experience for public service employers, who now can confirm a borrower’s employment digitally via DocuSign.

The StudentAid.gov account allows borrowers to monitor the status now of their PSLF forms in the My Activity section, where they can see updates such as whether their employer has digitally signed the form and when it has been processed.

Continuous improvement of the PSLF Help Tool

It remains committed to assisting borrowers in determining if they qualify for PSLF, certifying their employment, applying for forgiveness, and tracking their progress. Since the program began, borrowers have been able to sign and submit their PSLF forms digitally and track their status throughout the process.

“FSA is making the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program as easy as possible so all public servants can finally get the loan forgiveness they have earned,” said Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray. “The improved PSLF Help Tool is another step forward to modernize and simplify the process for people who rely on us to carry out the law effectively.”

Previously, borrowers had to complete and submit their PSLF Form in multiple steps. In most cases, they were required to print and sign their forms, obtain signatures on the printed forms from one or more employers, and then submit the forms and supporting documents by mail or fax. Through the PSLF Help Tool on StudentAid.gov, borrowers can now complete the entire process digitally.

The newly updated PSLF Help Tool allows borrowers to sign and submit their PSLF forms digitally, identify employers that need to sign the form and request an e-signature and track the status of their forms. Public servants and employers who need to certify their employees’ employment will benefit from these substantial changes to the PSLF application process.

Additionally, the Department announced earlier this year new proposed regulations that would improve income-driven repayment plans (IDRs). The regulations will provide the most affordable IDR plan ever available to student loan borrowers, allowing those with incomes under $30,500, or $62,400 in a family of four, to qualify for zero monthly payments. 

They will also simplify the program and eliminate common pitfalls that delay borrowers’ progress toward forgiveness. The Biden-Harris Administration is also planning to make long-term improvements to the PSLF program in July 2023, which will provide lasting benefits for borrowers.

Regulations to improve the PSLF program in the long run

The Department announced final regulations for the PSLF Program in October 2022 that will provide lasting improvements for borrowers. These improvements will take effect on July 1, 2023.

The improvements include:

  • Helping borrowers earn progress toward PSLF
  • Simplifying criteria to help borrowers certify qualifying employment
  • Providing opportunities for borrowers to get help correcting PSLF account problems

It is likely that borrowers with Direct Loans who work in public service will also benefit from the one-time adjustment announced by the Department last year. In order to receive credit for qualifying payments, borrowers with other types of federal loans have until the end of 2023 to consolidate into the Direct Loan program.

The PSLF approvals made Monday are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s broad efforts to support students, providing more than $66 billion in targeted loan relief to nearly 2.2 million borrowers to date, and more are expected. 

The following are all the actions that have been taken by the US Department of Education:

  • Establishing a fair and accessible bankruptcy discharge process to help struggling borrowers discharge their federal student loans.
  • Providing $9.1 billion in relief for 425,000 borrowers who have a total and permanent disability.
  • Approving $14.5 billion in borrower defense claims to nearly 1.1 million borrowers whose schools were found to have cheated them out of their promised education, including extending full relief to approved claims and approving new types of claims. 
  • Providing $1.26 billion in closed school discharges to 107,000 borrowers who attended the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute, which failed to deliver on the promises it made to students.
  • Restoring eligibility for federal student aid to almost 7.5 million borrowers to help them get back on track to complete their credentials or degree.