By Betsy Klein, CNN
The Biden administration has opened the application process for Americans seeking student debt relief in a beta period starting Friday evening, officials told CNN, allowing applicants to begin signing up before the website is formally unveiled later this month.
In August, President Joe Biden announced his decision to cancel up to $10,000 in student loan debt for individuals making less than $125,000 a year or as much as $20,000 for eligible borrowers who were also Pell Grant recipients.
“Tonight, the Department of Education will begin beta testing the student debt relief website. During the beta testing period, borrowers will be able to submit applications for the Biden-Harris Administration’s student debt relief program,” a spokesperson for the Department of Education told CNN exclusively Friday.
The website is available at: https://studentaid.gov/debt-relief/application.
Anyone who applies for the debt relief in the beta period will receive a confirmation email, but their application will not be processed until the site formally launches, expected at a to-be-announced date before the end of October. Once processing begins, most qualifying borrowers are expected to receive debt relief within weeks.
The spokesperson continued, “Those borrowers will not need to reapply if they submit their application during the beta test, but no applications will be processed until the site officially launches later this month. This testing period will allow the Department to monitor site performance through real-world use, test the site ahead of the official application launch, refine processes, and uncover any possible bugs prior to official launch.”
Borrowers must have federally held student loans to qualify. 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.
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.
Individuals who earned less than $125,000 in either 2020 or 2021 and married couples or heads of households who made less than $250,000 annually in those years are eligible for up to $10,000 of their federal student loan debt forgiven. The income thresholds are based on adjusted gross income.
After submitting the application once the website officially launches, most qualifying borrowers are expected to receive debt relief within weeks.
Officials said that the “goal” is to begin to get the debt relief processed ahead of next January, when student loan payments will begin after a multi-year freeze amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Department of Education is facing several lawsuits challenging the student loan forgiveness policy. A US district judge could soon decide whether to temporarily block the program from taking effect after hearing a motion for a preliminary injunction Wednesday. That could put student loan cancellation on hold until the judge issues a final ruling on the case.
The Department of Education’s technical team will be looking at site performance in real time and the beta version of the website will have scheduled pauses as the team assesses what refinements and tweaks are needed, an administration official told CNN in a phone interview, another official adding that “high spikes of demand” are expected. Anyone who is trying to submit their application during a beta pause will be encouraged to check back.
While there won’t be any changes made to the application itself, there could be changes to the website software as the tech team tracks how it’s working in the beta mode.
The form to apply will include information on the debt relief, who qualifies for it and how it works. It will ask applicants for information including their full names, Social Security number, date of birth, phone number and an email address.
Potential applicants who previously signed up for updates on the student debt relief process will receive an email notifying them about the beta website, and once the website is formally launched, the White House will begin to leverage its social channels to spread the word. There are also plans to brief digital creators and influencers in the coming weeks, officials said.
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