Many borrowers who continued making payments on their student loans during the pandemic worried if they had made the right decision when President Biden revealed a plan to cancel student loan debt in August.
In fact, borrowers who made payments toward their debt during the pandemic freeze that began in March 2020 will be eligible for a refund and debt forgiveness. However, the steps necessary to accomplish this weren’t always obvious. Here’s what you need to know if you think you could qualify:
What kinds of people can get their money back?
The Department of Education states that borrowers who have made voluntary payments on their federal student loans after March 13, 2020, are eligible to receive a refund.
That refund will be processed automatically for some people. If your loan total drops below the maximum debt relief amount—$10,000 for all borrowers and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients—you’ll automatically receive a refund. The account balance for federal student loans can be viewed at studentaid.gov.
If a borrower’s amount drops from $8,000 to $7,000 over the course of ten months due to the pandemic, then that borrower will receive a $1,000 refund. The remaining debt can be waived if an application is submitted.
However, if a borrower made payments throughout the epidemic and still has a balance of $14,000 after the fact, they will not receive a refund. In any case, they can submit a request to have $10,000 of that debt canceled.
Those who have paid off their entire loan sum during the outbreak are also required to submit a refund request. Forgiveness may be available to you if this describes you, but you must first submit a refund request before you can apply. First, borrowers should check if they qualify for the loan forgiveness program.
A borrower with $5,000 in debt at the start of the epidemic who paid it all back during the freeze would first ask for a $5,000 rebate, then petition to have the remainder of their debt forgiven (up to $10,000).
A Department of Education representative said, “Borrowers who paid off their loans during the delay will need to request a refund first, then request cancellation.”
For private education debts, this reimbursement is unfortunately not an option.
Federal loans for students who qualify:
Loans Issued Directly (defaulted and non-defaulted)
ED’s servicing of loans originated through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program (defaulted and non-defaulted)
ED’s Administration of Federal Perkins Loans (defaulted and non-defaulted)
Loans in the FFEL Program that have gone into default but are not currently held by ED
HEAL Loan Defaults
StudentAid.gov’s dashboard has an area under “my loan servicers” if you’re unsure which loan you have. If you have trouble logging into your dashboard, you can contact the Federal Student Aid office at 1-800-433-3243.
How to request a refund.
Contacting one’s loan service provider is the best option for borrowers who want to request a return of a fixed sum. You can get a refund by calling in, but there is currently no online or email option available.
There was a sudden influx of calls to loan servicers after the Biden administration made the forgiveness announcement. Although many debtors report that they no longer have to wait long when phoning, this was not always the case.
Megan McParland, a recent New Jersey graduate who made many payments during the payment freeze, stated, “I was on hold for almost five minutes.”
Back in the first week of September, McParland asked for his money back. When she originally considered making the request, she thought the servicer was trying to talk her out of it. After she gave her final approval, she was instructed to expect her money back in about a month.
Likewise, 47-year-old Sierra Tibbs of Casselberry, Florida went through something similar. It took around 20 minutes to get through the whole conversation with her loan servicer.
Tibbs filed a refund request after learning about the possibility of a return from a video she found online.
Check the “my loan servicers” section of your student aid account dashboard or dial 1-800-433-3243 if you don’t know who handles your loan payments or if that person changed during the pandemic.
Know your account number and the amount you want reimbursed before phoning your loan provider.