Borrowers seeking student loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program just got some good news.
Earlier this month, President Trump signed a memorandum that suspended student loan payments and set interest at 0% through the end of the year. At the time, it was understood that PSLF borrowers were required to make payments if they wanted those months to count towards their required number of payments for forgiveness.
However, a press release from the Department of Education now says those months of non-payment will count towards forgiveness. It says, “Non-payments by borrowers working full-time for qualifying employers will count toward the 120 payments required by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.”
The CARES Act suspended student loan payments and interest from March until September 30, 2020. When it did, it also guaranteed in legislative text that the months of non-payment would count towards the required number of payments for forgiveness under both income-driven repayment and PSLF.
But Trump’s order did not include that language. And it wasn’t just that it didn’t include it, his language suggested the non-payments wouldn’t count because of the type of suspension he chose. His order said the suspension fell under an “economic hardship deferment,” which is a type of deferment that could count towards income-driven repayment forgiveness but not for PSLF.
In fact, some believed that the President lacked the authority to make the non-payments qualify, as the PSLF program is a very stringent program in the law. But the press release from the Department of Education says Education Secretary Betsy DeVos directed Federal Student Aid to extend the benefits from the CARES Act and earlier orders from the President in March through the end of the year.
Even if DeVos or Trump lack the authority to extend these provisions, it is unlikely that anyone would challenge the order in court due to bipartisan support for the pause during the pandemic. And if someone wanted to challenge it, they might lack standing in court.