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Borrower defense to repayment: How to get your student loans forgiven

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If your school defrauded or misled you, then you might be able to apply for a loan discharge through the “borrower defense to repayment” or “borrower defense” program. Read on to learn how borrower defense works, who qualifies, the reasons the program exists, how regulations changed during the pandemic and why you want to move swiftly to file a claim if you’ve been a victim of educational fraud or deceit.

What is borrower defense to repayment?

Borrower defense to repayment is a federal program that will discharge some or all student loan balances for students who were misled or defrauded by their school. The program has been around for several decades but gained traction in 2015, when for-profit Corinthian Colleges closed after being accused of engaging in fraud and using illegal tactics to collect on student loans. Students who had taken out loans for the college advocated for loan discharge, which the Education Department eventually granted.

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.

Who qualifies for borrower defense?

Anyone who feels that they were misled by their school can apply for borrower defense to repayment. This misrepresentation could involve something school officials did or failed to do. 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 things related to your school or education as well, like your classes, housing or grades. But these types of issues won’t qualify for debt forgiveness under the borrower defense to repayment provision.

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.
  • 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 Edcuation. If you prefer, you can download a PDF version of the application and mail it to the U.S. Department of Education, 4255 W HYW 90, 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 students 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.

Pandemic relief measures have also affected borrowers pursuing borrower defense. Federal student loan payments are currently paused through May 1, 2022. 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 from thousands of dollars in debt.

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Written by
Michelle Black
Contributing writer
Michelle Lambright Black is a credit expert with over 19 years of experience, a freelance writer and a certified credit expert witness. In addition to writing for Bankrate, Michelle's work is featured with numerous publications including FICO, Experian, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and Reader’s Digest, among others.
Edited by
Student loans editor