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Student loan debt forgiveness applications open, beware of scams

The site crashed once Monday night due to high demand after taking 8 million applications during beta testing

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Students walk past Sather Gate on the University of California at Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif.

Students walk past Sather Gate on the University of California at Berkeley campus on May 10, 2018, in Berkeley, Calif. President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, announced in August 2022, could lift crushing debt burdens from millions of borrowers.

Ben Margot, Associated Press

The federal government’s student loan forgiveness website is now open, offering a super-simple first step that has experts warning that “offers to help fill out the form” are likely scams. Help isn’t needed.

After beta testing that accepted 8 million applications, the official site at studentaid.gov fully opened this week. And Monday night, so many people were on it that people couldn’t get in.

The application is a one-page form that asks for name, social security number, birthdate, phone number and email address. Applicants are asked to look at a list of income eligibility requirements and affirm that one of them is true, then electronically sign, after checking a box that agrees false information is perjury. Hit the submit button and you’re done with this stage of the process.

That’s it.

But make sure that you type in .gov, since there are similar pages with different domain extensions and at least one leads to a webpage that could confuse would-be applicants, as it seems to lead to debt relief that has nothing to do with the government’s student debt relief page.

ABC4News reports that scammers are already getting ready to try to steal identities using personal information students won’t think twice about providing in order to secure student loan debt relief. The TV report says scammers are texting, emailing and calling people telling them that “I have your $10,000” and variations of “the process will be faster if you apply through me.”

Applications are being accepted until Dec. 31, 2023, according to the government’s Frequently Asked Questions section.

About the debt forgiveness plan

The Department of Education says it has information on income from about 20% of those who could benefit. They’ll get the relief automatically if they qualify, unless they opt out. The department plans to email borrowers who don’t need to apply to receive the debt relief.

In announcing the formal opening of the application process Monday, President Joe Biden said that his plan is expected to provide some relief to 43 million borrowers. In addition to $10,000 (or whatever is owed if the amount of debt carried is less than that) for those with incomes that make them eligible, those who had Pell Grants can get an additional $10,000 in debt relief. Pell Grants are an income-based help that targets very low-income students.

The debt relief is only available to those who have student loans that were funded by the federal government. As CNN reported, “In addition to federal Direct Loans used to pay for an undergraduate degree, federal PLUS loans borrowed by graduate students and parents may also be eligible if the borrower meets the income requirements.”

CNN said that “borrowers whose federal student loans are guaranteed by the government but held by private lenders, many of which were made under the former Federal Family Education Loan program and Federal Perkins Loan program, are currently excluded — unless a borrower applied to consolidate those loans into Direct loans by September 29.”

Legal challenges

A number of lawsuits have been filed challenging student loan forgiveness.

USA Today reported that Arizona has challenged the plan in court. And in September “a group of six conservative states joined forces” to file a lawsuit. The article noted that “even as new suits emerged ... a federal judge in Indiana dismissed yet another lawsuit aiming to block the massive loan forgiveness plan.”

The group of states challenging loan forgiveness, led by Arkansas, includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina.

In filing the lawsuit on behalf of Arizona, the state’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, said, “This mass debt forgiveness program is fundamentally unfair, unconstitutional and unwise. The question Americans need to be asking is why college costs so much in the first place,” per USA Today.