President Biden, shown with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, gives an update on student loan forgiveness on Oct. 17 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post

Nearly two weeks after an appellate court issued a temporary stay against the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, questions remain about the relief program.

President Biden unveiled plans in August to forgive up to $20,000 of federal student loan debt for borrowers who meet certain income requirements. The administration has said more than 40 million people could benefit.

The plan has faced multiple legal challenges, though some have been dismissed for lack of standing. The stay means the department is temporarily blocked from discharging loans through the new forgiveness program.

The pause has left some borrowers desperate for details. Here are some things to know.

1. What’s the latest in the student loan forgiveness lawsuits?

There are several active lawsuits seeking to block Biden’s debt relief plan. Among them is a case brought by six states – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina – alleging that the president overstepped his authority and threatened the revenue of state entities that profit from federal student loans.


After a lower court dismissed the lawsuit, the states appealed the ruling and requested an emergency stay to prevent the administration from canceling any loans, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit granted on Oct. 21. That order has paused the processing of debt discharges, but people can still apply to the program. The appeals court is weighing whether to issue an injunction, further halting the forgiveness program while the case proceeds.

Despite the hold, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the Biden administration was moving “full speed ahead” to prepare for the forgiveness plan.

2. Is it true that borrowers will get student loan checks?

In defense of his debt relief program, President Biden said last week that his administration will beat back the states’ legal challenge and predicted cancellation would soon commence.

“We’re going to win that case,” Biden told NewsNation when asked about the case. “I think in the next two weeks you’re going to see those checks going out.”

That last bit left some people confused. Borrowers eligible for the forgiveness will not receive a check through Biden’s program but will see their balances reduced by up to $20,000.


The debt relief plan aims to cancel as much as $10,000 in federal student loan debt for people earning less than $125,000 a year, or less than $250,000 for married couples. Those who received Pell Grants, federal aid for lower-income students, could see up to $20,000 forgiven.

Now, there is a separate initiative that could deliver refunds to some borrowers. The Education Department has offered to return money to people who continued to pay off their debt since the inception of a pandemic-era payment moratorium in March 2020. The policy went largely unnoticed until the Biden administration made note of it when the president unveiled the debt relief plan.

Most of the nearly 42 million people covered by the pause have not made payments since its inception, but the Education Department said about 9 million borrowers in good standing kept sending money. That population of borrowers are entitled to refunds, which must be requested through loan servicers.

3. Should I still apply for the debt relief program now?

The Education Department is encouraging eligible borrowers to continue to apply and said the agency will review applications. If the courts rule in the Biden administration’s favor, the department said it will quickly process discharges and borrowers will not need to reapply.

More than 22 million people have applied since the Education Department opened the application portal on Oct. 14. About 8 million people with income information already on file with the department could have their debt forgiven automatically.

4. Where can I get more answers?

The Education Department has kept running updates about the forgiveness program on Still, questions and misinformation persist. Federal agencies have warned people to be wary of scams targeting borrowers, including from entities offering to assist with applying for relief in exchange for a fee.

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