Citing “longstanding failures” in its student loans programs, the U.S. Department of Education said it will help some borrowers get closer to — and maybe even reach — loan forgiveness in the public service and income-driven repayment plans.

“Important reminder: The changes apply just to federal direct student loans, which represent the vast majority of outstanding debt, not to privately issued loans,” wrote Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times. “And not every federal loan is eligible for an income-driven repayment plan,” as Michele Streeter, associate director of policy and advocacy for the Institute for College Access & Success, reminded Healey.

But low-income borrowers can consolidate loans into an income-driven repayment plan, often referred to as an IDR plan.

A news release said Federal Student Aid estimates changes “will result in immediate debt cancellation for at least 40,000 borrowers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.” And it added that several thousand borrowers with older loans will see their debts forgiven in the income-driven repayment program.

The department acknowledged concerns had been raised by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that some loan payments that should have been recalculated based on the borrower’s economic situation and placed in IDRs where they could work toward loan forgiveness were instead placed in “forbearance,” a short-term solution. Borrowers in forbearance may become worse off as interest adds onto the debt, which could lead them to default.

The income-driven repayment plans “don’t automatically reduce your debt; in fact, the amount you owe will grow if your monthly payment is less than the amount of interest accrued. But if you keep up with your payments for 20 years after enrolling in an IDR plan for undergraduate loans, your remaining balance will be forgiven,” Healey wrote, noting graduate student loans have to be paid for 25 years to be forgiven.

The Government Accountability Office just released a report that shows the Education Department has made recordkeeping mistakes that have kept some borrowers from being properly credited for months and in some cases years of meeting the terms of their loans.

The department said it is doing a one-time account adjustment so that some accounts in long-term forbearance can count toward the loan forgiveness programs.

And the department promised to increase oversight of forbearance use.

“If you are a borrower, you do not have to ask for the latest changes to be made to your account. The Education Department said it will begin applying them automatically, although you may not see the effect in your account until sometime in the last three months of 2022,” the Los Angeles Times reported.