In a pleasant surprise, the Department of Education recently revealed that some borrowers would receive refunds under the new Biden Loan Forgiveness Program.
Sadly, the group of borrowers eligible for refunds is relatively small. Those eligible could receive checks for thousands of dollars, however.
Who Gets a Refund Under the Biden Forgiveness Automatic Refund Policy?
The Department of Education recently updated the loan cancellation guide with a valuable nugget of information.
Under the policy, you can qualify for a refund if:
- You successfully apply for and receive debt relief under the Administration’s debt relief plan, AND
- Your voluntary payments during the payment pause brought your balance below the maximum debt relief amount you’re eligible to receive but did not pay off your loan in full.
There is an interesting workaround for the people who paid in full. But for now, let’s first look at an example of how the automatic refund works:
If you qualify for $10,000 in forgiveness and reduced your balance from $10,500 to $9,500 during the pandemic, you could get a refund of $500 when your remaining balance of $9,500 is canceled.
Why Issue Automatic Refunds?
The automated refund policy makes sense for a couple of important reasons.
For starters, it is more fair. Borrowers have been able to request refunds for payments made during the pandemic, but not everyone knows about this policy. Refunds shouldn’t be limited to borrowers who understand the fine print of an unrelated procedure.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, servicers will be slammed over the next few months. If borrowers don’t have to call in to ask for a refund, that is one less issue for customer service representatives to address.
While the automated refund policy is excellent for borrowers in general, I still suggest that readers of this site manually request a refund right away.
Requesting a Manual Refund is the Best Strategy
If you made extra payments during the payment pause, there are two advantages to asking for a refund right now.
First, you will potentially receive the refund quicker. You can call today and start the process immediately. The application for forgiveness won’t be available until next month at the earliest. The sooner you get your money back, the better.
Secondly, asking for a refund right away helps prevent frustrating servicer errors. Going back to the example of the borrower expecting a $500 refund, imagine for a second that there was a mistake in processing the forgiveness application. The $9,500 was forgiven, but no refund was issued. If that happens, the loan is paid in full, and requesting a refund becomes even more challenging. In this case, by anticipating a potential mistake, we can avoid a difficult situation.
If you paid off your loan in full during the pandemic, you will want to request a refund.
Refunds for Borrowers who Paid in Full
If you have paid in full, there are two rules to understand.
If your federal student loan balance is paid in full:
- You do not get a refund under the automated refund policy, and
- You are not eligible for the Biden Forgiveness Program.
However, if you are in the category of people who paid off their loans during the pandemic, there is a workaround.
According to the non-profit Student Borrower Protection Center, all borrowers who made payments on their federally-held loans can request a refund on all of these payments. Notably, they say this policy includes borrowers who paid off their debt in full.
Thus, if you have paid off your loan in full, you should immediately call your servicer and ask for a refund. Once the refund is issued, you again have a loan with a balance owed, and that loan is eligible for cancellation under the Biden Forgiveness Program.
For some borrowers, this could put an extra $20,000 in their pockets.
Tips for Getting the Refund
Call your servicer right away. The longer you wait, the longer the hold times are likely to be. Additionally, processing a refund request can take several weeks. There isn’t a benefit to dragging your feet on this one. If you are unsure of who services your loans, check the federal database.
Call again if you don’t get the help you need. Servicers are overwhelmed, and some employees are better than others. If the person you talk to doesn’t understand the rules or can’t help, hang up and call again. This is a tedious strategy, especially if there are long hold times, but it helps ensure the best outcome.
Be patient but persistent. The refund request can take weeks or months to get paid. The forgiveness application won’t be available until October at the earliest. However, the repayment restart begins on January 1, 2023. It’s a tight timeline when you factor in processing times. Borrowers should stay on top of things but also understand that nothing happens overnight.