If your school defrauded or misled you, then you might be able to apply for federal student loan discharge through borrower defense to repayment. While billions of dollars have been forgiven through the federal program, the qualifications are stringent and not every case will get approved.

Knowing the ins and outs of the program and exactly what to expect from the application process is key to qualifying for student loan discharge through borrower defense.

What is borrower defense to repayment?

Borrower defense to repayment — or borrower defense —  is a program that allows students to seek the discharge of their federal student debt if the school violates certain state laws, engages in misleading or deceitful practices or defrauds its students.

The program has been around for several decades but gained traction in 2015 when for-profit Corinthian Colleges shut its doors due to a lack of federal funds only to undergo multiple lawsuits shortly after. The college was found guilty of misleading students regarding their future job prospects and ability to transfer class credits.

As a result, nearly 100,000 former Corinthian students had their student loans forgiven through borrower defense in 2015; however, it wasn’t until June 2022 that all students who attended were granted forgiveness. Since then, multiple schools have fallen under the borrower defense eligibility umbrella and billions in federal student debt has been forgiven.

If you believe your school misrepresented the facts when it recruited you to enroll (or to continue enrollment), you might be eligible for tuition recovery. However, qualifying for borrower defense can be difficult, as you must be able to prove illicit or fraudulent behavior.

Who qualifies for borrower defense?

Anyone who feels their school misled them can apply for borrower defense to repayment. However, this form of debt relief is only for those with a qualifying federal Direct student loan, which includes:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Direct PLUS Loans.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans.

You might be dissatisfied with other factors related to your school or education as well, like your classes, housing or grades. However, any dissatisfaction that falls outside the realm of fraudulent or misleading practices won’t qualify for discharge through borrower defense.

If a school made misrepresentations to you in any of the following areas, you might be eligible to have your student loans discharged or forgiven:

  • Admissions practices or selectivity issues, including the percentage of applicants accepted, open enrollment details or school ranking.
  • Educational services details, like internships or externships, the qualification of its faculty members, your course of study or how many credits are needed to graduate.
  • Employment prospects for the school’s graduates, such as promises about finding future employment, the school’s job placement rate, the true demand for people in your area of study and whether your school or degree program was accredited.
  • True program costs, including tuition, fees or expenses associated with living on campus.
  • Loan details, such as the repayment terms, total loan cost or promises of grants and scholarships instead of a loan.
  • Credit-transferring issues, including being led to believe your credits would transfer to other schools when they would not, or vice versa.
  • Availability of career services, including help with writing a resume, conducting mock interviews with you or looking for a job on your behalf.
  • Representations to third parties, including information provided to accrediting agencies, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Education or an organization that ranks schools, like U.S. News and World Report or Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.

Some schools may make you feel an urgency to enroll. If you felt pressured to make a written commitment to attend a school quickly, this detail might strengthen your case. However, communicating an urgency to enroll doesn’t qualify you for a borrower defense claim by itself.

How to file a borrower defense claim

You can apply for borrower defense loan discharge online with the U.S. Department of Education. If you prefer, you can download a PDF version of the application and send it in the mail to the following address:

U.S. Department of Education
Borrower Defense to Repayment
P.O. Box 1854
Monticello, KY 42633.

Be prepared to share the name of the school you attended, where the campus was located, your enrollment dates, your program or major and what type of certification or degree you were pursuing.

You may also need to provide documentation to verify your identity and support your claim. These documents may include:

  • Transcripts.
  • Enrollment agreements.
  • Promotional materials from your school.
  • Communication with school officials or staff.
  • Student manual.
  • Course catalog.
  • Legal documents.
  • Findings or determinations made by government entities.
  • Copies of documents or information provided to third parties.
  • Any other documentation you believe is relevant.

Finally, be sure to list any refunds, remedies, loan reductions or tuition recoveries you have received.

Borrower defense to repayment claims in 2022

Throughout 2021, the Biden administration made several updates to the borrower defense to repayment program:

  • March 2021: The Department of Education changed how it calculates relief for students for school misconduct or misrepresentations in violation of certain laws. Eligible borrowers now receive full loan relief instead of partial. The change is retroactive for those who qualified for partial borrower defense loan discharge in the past — helping an estimated 72,000 borrowers with $1 billion in loan cancellation.
  • June 2021: The Department of Education announced that it would award full discharge of loans for 18,000 approved ITT Technical Institute student borrowers. The department approved claims having to do with employment prospects and the ability to transfer ITT Technical Institute credits to another school, which were new categories added by the department. The amount of debt forgiven totaled $500 million.
  • July 2021: The department approved another 1,800-plus student for debt relief under the borrower defense to repayment guidelines. The newly approved students attended Court Reporting Institute (program completion claims), Marinello Schools of Beauty (educational services claims) or Westwood College (claims about employment prospects and ability to transfer credits). Debt forgiveness totaled $55.6 million.
  • June 2022: It was announced by the Education Department that every former Corinthian college student would be eligible for federal loan discharge, putting an end to the 7-year litigation.

Pandemic relief measures have also affected borrowers pursuing borrower defense. Federal student loan payments are currently paused through June 30, 2022, (or once the Supreme Court litigation is resolved). However, your payments might be eligible to stay in forbearance after that date if you:

  • Submitted a borrower defense application and are still waiting to hear from the department.
  • Received notice that your application was approved, but the loans haven’t been discharged yet.
  • Received a denial letter in December 2019 or after.
  • Sent in a reconsideration request that is being reviewed.

Next steps

With new categories added by the Department of Education, more students are eligible to receive debt forgiveness through borrower defense. If you believe that you have a claim, spend a few minutes reviewing the application. You can fill out the form directly on the Education Department website, and doing so could save you thousands of dollars of debt.