Watch CBS News

Student loan forgiveness approval letters are going out. Here's what they mean.

Judge blocks Biden's student loan relief plan
Judge blocks Biden's student loan relief plan 00:21

About 16 million borrowers who had applied for the Biden administration's student loan forgiveness program received letters starting last weekend letting them know that they've been approved for debt relief. 

However, the letter states that a number of lawsuits "have blocked our ability to discharge your debt at present." The approvals come after two courts blocked the plan, placing legal barriers before a federal program that had promised to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for about 40 million eligible Americans. 

"Your application is complete and approved, and we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court," Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in the letter. 

About 26 million people had applied for the loan relief effort prior to the court rulings, which have effectively stopped the Biden administration's ability to accept new applications. The Biden administration is appealing those decisions, but it's unclear whether the cases will be decided. 

On Tuesday, the Biden administration said it is extending the pause on student debt repayments. That freeze had been slated to expire on December 31, which meant borrowers would have started repayments in January. With the latest extension, the pause will now be pushed back until no later than June 30, 2023. 

"I'm confident that our student debt relief plan is legal. But it's on hold because Republican officials want to block it," President Biden wrote on Twitter. "That's why [Education Secretary Miguel Cardona] is extending the payment pause to no later than June 30, 2023, giving the Supreme Court time to hear the case in its current term."

The letter from the Education Department said it will update applicants "when there are new developments."

Loan payments

The letters are helping "folks understand a bit better why they haven't had their debts forgiven yet," noted Mike Pierce, executive director of the advocacy group Student Borrower Protection Center. "That doesn't completely do away with the very real economic anxiety that people with student loans feel at this moment."

The irony of getting approval for loan forgiveness while also being told that the plan might not move forward due to legal challenges wasn't lost on recipients, who took to social media to comment on the mixed messages. 

"Getting the student loan forgiveness approval letter, but saying we really can't forgive your loans at this time is peak 2022," one person wrote on Twitter. 

What is getting approved for relief? 

The Department of Education sent the letter to 16 million people who applied to have up to $20,000 in student debt forgiven, telling them they received a green light — at least from the Biden administration. The letters don't inform the borrowers how much of their loans had been erased, however. 

But because of the court rulings, debt forgiveness can't move forward unless the Biden administration is victorious with its legal challenges. The Education Department will "quickly process their relief once we prevail in court," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said. 

I applied for forgiveness but haven't gotten a letter. Why? 

The Biden administration had approved 16 million applications prior to the court rulings, and those people are receiving alerts about that now. Some of those applicants may not have received the emails in the initial alert, but could receive an alert in their inbox soon, according to a November 19 tweet from Cardona.

"Beginning today, applicants and others seeking relief through the Biden-Harris Administration's Student Debt Relief Plan will begin receiving updates. Don't worry if you don't get an email today — more are coming," Cardona said in a tweet.

But the other 10 million people who applied but hadn't been approved prior to the court rulings may be in for a longer wait. "The Biden administration is in a tough spot right now — they aren't allowed to approve applications until something changes in the court," Pierce noted.

And the roughly 14 million eligible borrowers who have yet to apply are no longer able to do so via the Education Department's online application, which has been shut down in response to the court rulings. 

When could I see debt relief? 

It's unclear because that depends on the timing of the Biden administration's appeals, Pierce noted. 

Advocacy groups for student debt relief on Tuesday applauded the White House's decision to extend the repayment pause until June 2023, which will give eligible borrowers financial breathing room over the next few months as the legal challenges move forward.  

"This extension means that struggling borrowers will be able to keep food on their tables during the holiday season — and the coming months — as the Administration does everything it can to beat back the baseless and backward attacks on working families with student debt," Pierce said in a Tuesday statement.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.