See If You Qualify For Automatic Student Loan Relief

Automatic student debt assistance is on the way for nearly half a million borrowers due to recent rule changes at the U.S. Department of Education.

In a flurry of loan relief announcements, the Education Department outlined several groups of student loan borrowers who will receive automatic aid unless they choose to opt out.

The groups include some current and former service members, borrowers with qualifying permanent disabilities that prevent them from working and attendees of the defunct ITT Tech who inadvertently took out “misleading” loans that the for-profit college chain allegedly disguised as grant money.

In total, an estimated 485,000 borrowers qualify for automatic relief.

The Education Department has identified these borrowers through data-matching agreements with several other federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.

All of the borrowers that the Education Department has identified qualify for longstanding student loan relief programs through the agency. Many borrowers were either unaware of the programs or weren’t able to apply. Through the data-matching partnerships, the Education Department  is able to confirm borrowers’ eligibility without the need for them to do so.

This latest wave of aid brings the Education Department’s student loan forgiveness tally to $9.5 billion in 2021. Those not included in this round of forgiveness may still benefit from the pause on federal student loan payments, which has been extended until Jan. 31, 2021.

Here’s a closer look at who’s receiving the automatic aid.

323,000 Borrowers With Qualifying Disabilities

For federal student loan borrowers that have qualifying total and permanent disabilities, the Department of Education is providing $5.8 billion in automatic loan forgiveness, according to an announcement from the agency.

By accessing records from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Education Department identified an estimated 323,000 borrowers that are eligible for its total and permanent disability (TPD) loan discharge program.

Automatic discharge qualifications include:

  • Participation in a federal student loan program (i.e. William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan program, Federal Family Education Loan program, Federal Perkins Loan program and/or the TEACH Grant service program).
  • A total and permanent disability that prevents you from working, as determined by the Social Security Administration or the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The Department said it will complete its next quarterly data match process in September and notify those who are eligible “in the weeks after the match.” The agency plans to discharge the loans by the end of the year.

Going forward, the Department told The Penny Hoarder that federal student loan borrowers who are determined to be totally and permanently disabled by the VA or SSA will be identified for automatic discharge on a quarterly basis.

Many other disabled federal student loan borrowers are eligible for a TPD discharge but will have to apply manually — a process which staff attorney Alpha Taylor of the National Consumer Law Center called “overly burdensome.”

“For now, things will remain the same for borrowers who are not eligible for a TPD discharge based on the data matching program with SSA and VA,” Taylor told The Penny Hoarder. “They will still have to complete the overly burdensome TPD application process and submit a physician certification to have their loans discharged.”

155,000 Borrowers Defrauded by ITT Technical Institute

Before ITT Technical Institute closed its doors in 2016, the for-profit school deceived some students into taking on unnecessary debt.

“The institution engaged in widespread misrepresentations about the true state of its financial health and misled students into taking out unaffordable private loans that were allegedly portrayed as grant aid,” the Department of Education announced.

Approximately 155,000 former ITT students are now eligible for debt forgiveness after a new review of ITT Tech’s deceptive activity. The education department determined students who attended ITT but did not finish their degree starting as early as March 31, 2008 are now eligible for loan discharges.

To qualify for automatic discharge:

  • You attended ITT Tech on or after March 31, 2008; and
  • You took out qualifying student loans to pay for your schooling; and
  • You did not complete your degree or certificate program.

The education department will complete its data match process in this month and notify eligible borrowers in the following weeks.

ITT Tech is one of more than 50 defunct schools included in the Department of Education’s Closed School Discharge program. Other schools include The Chef’s Academy, Concordia University, Corinthian Colleges, Everest University and dozens more.

This discharge program typically provides automatic loan forgiveness to qualifying borrowers three years after a school’s closure. However, if you believe you are eligible and you don’t want to wait three years, you may apply to the program manually to receive a speedier discharge.


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47,000 Current and Former Service Members

Due to a data-matching agreement — this time with the Department of Defense — the education department is retroactively waiving student loan interest for at least 47,000 current and former active-duty service members.

This benefit should not be confused with loan discharge, aka forgiveness. It affects only the interest on the loan(s).

Qualifying service members for this benefit were or are deployed to “areas that qualify them for imminent danger or hostile fire pay,” according to the Department, and must have taken out a federal student loan on or after Oct. 1, 2008.

Only a small percentage of qualifying service members have accessed the benefit. In 2019 before the data-matching agreement, the Department said it waived interest for only 4,800 service members.

“Now the Department is able to identify federal student loan borrowers who serve on active duty by matching records to DOD’s personnel records,” the Education Department stated in a news release. “As a result, the Department can automatically provide the student loan interest benefit.”

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How To Keep Your Financial Planning On Track The Last Months Of 2021

No matter how enthusiastic our New Year’s resolutions may have been to save more, spend less and/or take total ownership of our finances in 2021, they might now be losing their luster. The days since we made those ambitious resolutions are quickly passing and the shine is wearing off. Can’t we just cut ourselves some slack and do what makes us feel good and safe in the immediate sense, even if that means forsaking our lofty financial goals?

Try, if you can muster the energy, to return to that place of desire for a better financial life. If you feel that you’ve already blown it by, say, spending beyond your weekly budget or skipping a credit card payment, remember that a mistake doesn’t mean you can’t try again and have success. 

But don’t take it from me: Take it from the experts who’ve provided a road map to keep (or get) your financial planning on track in 2021.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

1. Don’t Just Track Your Spending, Chart It 

“Many people simply track their finances automatically with an app – which is a great start, but what these apps don’t account for is when you stray or get off-target with your financial goal, which happens a lot,” says Amanda L. Grossman, a certified financial education instructor and personal finance blogger at FrugalConfessions.com. “What you want to do is to start calculating and then tracking the gap between where you are, and where you should be, according to your financial plan or goal.”

What this means, Grossman explained, is “charting where you should be each week or month (or even daily) to achieve your financial goal, and then also charting (in a different color) where you actually are. The space between the two lines will be your ‘gap’, which can either mean you’re behind, or ahead, or ‘the curve’. The curve being the numbers you need to be hitting to hit your overall financial goal target.”

Getting Ahead: A Month-by-Month Guide for Your 2021 Financial Check-Ins

2. Examine 2020’s Spending Habits and Plan for 2021

“The pandemic helped consumers reevaluate spending in terms of what they needed, versus what they wanted,” says Angela Holliday, president of Frost Brokerage Services, Inc. and Frost Investment Services, LLC. “With this in mind, take a look at how you managed to cut costs in 2020 and apply that where you can in 2021. Then, use the extra cash to pay off your debt. This will help you continue good habits so you can prosper in the new year.”

Make a Comeback: How To Bounce Back Financially in 2021

3. Budget for Savings

“Warren Buffett is quoted as saying, ‘If you want to make saving a priority, take a look at how you budget. Do not save what is left after spending; instead, spend what is left after saving,’” says Dr. Robert R. Johnson, professor of finance, Heider College of Business, Creighton University. “If one truly wants to make savings a priority, it cannot be a residual — what is left over. It should be a line item on your budget. You don’t successfully build wealth by simply taking what you have left after all your expenses. We accomplish what we prioritize. Prioritize savings and invest those savings.”

Make the Cut: The Top Expenses To Cut From Your Budget in 2021

4. Keep Your Goals Very Specific

“Writing down ‘I will save more’ isn’t tangible, and quite frankly, comes off more like a lofty wish than an actionable goal,” says Nishank Khanna, CFO of Clarify Capital. “Your goals should be specific. If you really want to save more, come up with a number and write that down. Whatever you write should be concrete and measurable. When you’re able to quantify your objectives, you’ll find it much easier to track progress and work towards goal achievement.”

Additionally, if you are able to write down your financial goals with a pen and paper (as opposed to using a phone or computer), you should do so. Research has shown that the manual act of writing can enforce our memory, potentially helping us more easily recall our goals later. 

Once your goals are written down, set dates in your planner, revisit them regularly and check your progress. “Then remember those accountability dates by setting reminders on your phone and sending emails/texts to your future self,” says Shaun Morgan, personal finance blogger at Simply Know Money. Morgan also recommends printing out your goals and placing them in areas where you might stumble upon them without meaning to.

Dream Big: 18 Resolutions To Get Rich in 2021

5. Get a Separate (Online) Savings Account for Emergency Funds

“To help [prevent] overspending, I generally recommend having separate savings account beyond the primary checking and savings account at your primary bank,” said Todd Bryant, founding partner and financial planner at Signature Wealth Advisors, LLC. “Although rates dropped significantly on savings in 2020, take a look at an online high-yield savings account for this secondary account. Use this not to replace your primary checking/savings, but to supplement them as a place to keep your rainy day/emergency fund. By having it at a separate institution, it tricks your brain into thinking it’s harder to access that money.” In separating your accounts, you might not as freely transfer money in and out like you would between accounts at the same bank. “Plus, the online high-yield banks generally will pay much higher interest rates than the traditional brick & mortar,” Bryant says. 

Read: How To Ensure You’re Being Responsible With Your Finances Midway Through 2021

6. Revisit Your Subscription Services 

2020 was the year of the subscription service. Maybe 2021 can be the year that you take it down a notch; after all, these things add up and those free trials tend to be woefully short. 

“Many people sign up for monthly subscription services, [and] once they’re signed up, they rarely go back to reassess,” says Steffa Mantilla, a certified financial education instructor and founder of the personal finance site, Money Tamer. “Make a list of all your subscriptions and critically assess whether you’re getting the full value out of them. Many people find that they have two or three services that offer the same type of service. By cutting even a few of these subscriptions, you’ll save hundreds of dollars every year.”

See: The Pressure Is on Streaming Giants as Consumers Spend Less Time in Front of Their TVs

7. Invest Time in Learning About Money

“In our country today we require more formal education to drive a vehicle than we do to manage money,” says Harry N. Stout, author of the FinancialVerse, personal finance books and content. “People are just not prepared to address the financial matters they face in life. Study after study shows that Americans lose over $1,000 annually by not properly understanding basic household finance issues — that’s about the monthly mortgage payment on a modest home or over two average car loan payments. There is payback in improving financial literacy.”

“Financial literacy is defined as being educated about money and finance, with a special focus on an individual’s personal finances,” Stout continues. “Being financially literate enables smarter money management decisions to be made that lead directly to a financially secure future, one that protects assets and loved ones. Categories that typically come into play with financial literacy are everyday financial issues like budgeting, spending, debt, taxes, retirement savings, college savings, mortgage management and tax and estate planning. If sufficient time is not spent learning about better managing money matters, individuals will not be able to reduce financial stress and anxiety. Knowledge is power.”

Check Out: Money Questions To Ask Your Partner

8. Take a Course on Debt

To continue where Stout left off, note that knowledge can also be free if you know where to look. Debt.com’s 12-month self-improvement email course #WeKnowDebt is free of charge. The course gives Americans “a comprehensive breakdown of basic personal finance topics [including] budgeting, savings, interest rates, taxes, and good credit – just to name a few,” said Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com. “The course also provides support through a Facebook group for those who sign-up and have questions along the way. Each email lesson in the #WeKnowDebt course is jargon-free and comes with a unique list of resources — along with a ‘Learn this’ and ‘Do this’ section. Anyone interested in making financial literacy a year-long goal can sign up for the free, #WeKnowDebt email course.”

Explore: How To Get Out of Debt: A Step-by-Step Guide

9. Retain a CPA and Consult Them Regularly

“It’s one thing to have financial goals, but it’s another to have financial goals with no viable strategy in place to meet said goals or track implementation of employed strategies,” says Jasmine Young, founder and CEO of Southern Tax Preparation & Services. “A CPA can help you do both ─ but not if they only see you during tax time. CPAs perform relational work, meaning that if they have formed a relationship with you and you are checking in with them several times throughout the year, they are abreast of events that have happened throughout the year that can affect your finances and are better able to provide you with more guidance and advice as to how to reach the financial goals you set.”

Find Out: How Much Does a Financial Advisor Cost?

10. Change Your Goals as Life Changes You

Remember those super-specific goals we made you write down? Well, when you revisit them, be open to revising them. Try to pinpoint the “why” behind them. As we change, so do our wants ─ and sometimes even our needs. 

“You might be going down a track for one thing but now you have completely different goals,” says Tolen Teigen, Chief Investment Officer of Financial Decisions. “Take a step back and think about what you want to accomplish. Many people have had a lot of major changes. Maybe now is the right time for a career change or moving out of state or elsewhere.”

Learn: 10 Small Changes To Stay On Track With Your Savings Goals

11. Let Go of Perfection

“The goal isn’t perfection, it’s progress. Celebrate the little wins,” says Melbourne O’Banion, co-founder and CEO of Bestow. “When it comes to managing your money, don’t make perfection the enemy of progress. Checking important items off your to-do list is an incredibly valuable part of meeting your money goals, such as finally buying that life insurance policy you’ve been putting off, setting up auto deposits into an IRA or brokerage account or creating a will. Plus, that sense of accomplishment will motivate you to keep up the momentum and do more.”

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18 Empowering Money Quotes

“It’s not now much money you make, but how much money you keep, how hard it works for you, and how many generations you keep it for.”

Robert Kiyosaki

“Some people make enough, some people don’t, and it has nothing to do with their paycheck.” – Janene Murphy

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

“If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area in his life.” – Billy Graham

“Everyday is a bank account, and time is our currency. No one is rich, no one is poor, we’ve got 24 hours each.” – Christopher Rice

“Budgeting your money is the key to having enough.” – Elizabeth Warren

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus

“It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” – George Lorimer

“If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.” – Henry Ford

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” – Jim Rohn

“Debt erases freedom more surely than anything else.” – Merryn Somerset Webb

“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

“Stop buying things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even like.” – Suze Orman

“The habit of saving is itself an education; it fosters every virtue, teaches self-denial, cultivates the sense of order, trains to forethought, and so broadens the mind.” – T.T. Munger

“The stock market is designed to transfer money from the active to the patient.” – Warren Buffett

“If you wish to get rich, save what you get. A fool can earn money; but it takes a wise man to save and dispose of it to his own advantage.” – Brigham Young

“When buying shares, ask yourself, would you buy the whole company?” – Rene Rivkin

“The hustle brings the dollar. The experience brings the knowledge. The persistence brings success.” – Ross Simmonds.

Bonus Quotes:

“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It’s the customer who pays the wages.” –Henry Ford

“Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W’s you control in your life: what you do, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it.” – Tim Ferriss

List complied By Kadesh Menes
EarthyRealist.com