A group of prominent Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to make it easier for military personnel to have their federal student loans forgiven.
In a Nov. 17 letter addressed to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, 14 senators urged the Department of Education to offer student debt relief for military service members under the recently-overhauled Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). The letter is signed by progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar.
About 200,000 military members owe more than $2.9 billion in student loan debt, the letter stated. Yet 94% of service members and civilian employees of the Department of Defense (DOD) who previously applied for the PSLF program have been denied, it continued, citing a report from the Government Accountability Office.
Keep reading to learn more about student loan forgiveness for military service members and consider the alternative debt repayment options like refinancing. You can compare student loan refinance rates on Credible for free without impacting your credit score.
Recent changes to military student loan repayment programs
The Education Department announced in October an overhaul to the PSLF program that made it easier for 550,000 federal student loan borrowers to qualify for student debt forgiveness, as long as they enroll in a Direct Consolidation Loan by Oct. 31, 2022.
Under the PSLF program, eligible public servants — including military personnel — can apply to have the remainder of their federal Direct loan debt discharged after making 120 consecutive qualifying payments. The temporary PSLF waiver, which is in effect for a limited time as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency, made it so any prior payment made by eligible PSLF borrowers would count as a qualifying payment.
Additionally, the Department indicated that it would "develop and implement a process to address periods of student loan deferments and forbearance for active-duty service members," making it easier for military members to qualify for debt forgiveness.
However, specific details regarding updates to military student loan forgiveness have been scant. In their letter to Education Secretary Cardona, the senators asked the Department to "move quickly" in implementing the planned changes for military service members.
The lawmakers are also calling for the Biden administration to "eliminate the need for service members with federal student loans [to] take additional steps in order to receive the benefits" of PSLF, as long as they've fulfilled their years of service.
The Education Department hasn't announced any further updates to the PSLF program since the senators wrote the letter last month. Student loan borrowers who need relief now may be able to reduce their monthly payments by refinancing to a private loan at a lower rate. Keep in mind that refinancing your federal loans into a private loan would make you ineligible for select student loan forgiveness programs like PSLF.
Student loan refinance rates are near historic lows, according to data from Credible. You can browse interest rates from private student loan lenders in the table below.
Active-duty military personnel automatically receive student loan relief
In August, the Education Department announced that it would automatically waive the interest on federal student loans for more than 47,000 current and former active-duty military service members. Previously, eligible military personnel had to apply for the interest waiver.
"Brave men and women in uniform serving our country can now focus on doing their jobs and coming home safely, not filling out more paperwork to access their hard-earned benefits," Richard Cordray of the office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) said.
The interest waiver applies to certain federal student loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2008, that are held by military personnel who were deployed to hostile areas of imminent danger. Because of these restrictions, not all veterans and active-duty service members will qualify for this benefit.
If you don't meet the eligibility requirements for the student loan interest waiver or the PSLF program, consider alternative student loan repayment plans such as refinancing. You may be able to pay off your college debt faster, lower your monthly payments and save money on interest.
Have a finance-related question, but don't know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at firstname.lastname@example.org and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.