By: Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown, Federal Student Aid
At the U.S. Department of Education office of Federal Student Aid, we know this time of year may be different in a number of ways because of the COVID-19 emergency. Some of you may be using technology to learn and work remotely, while others have returned to campuses and workplaces for in-person instruction and essential or front-line jobs. Many of us are even rethinking how we’ll gather to celebrate Thanksgiving later this month. The COVID-19 emergency has certainly altered many aspects of our daily life.
One thing that has not changed is my promise to give you world-class service and a 21st-century experience on your federal student aid journey. The entire Federal Student Aid team and I want to make sure you know about and can access all of our trusted information, helpful resources, and easy-to-use tools. Trusted information like what’s on our website—StudentAid.gov—about the different types of financial aid, eligibility requirements, and a host of other information. Helpful resources, like state FAFSA deadlines and lots of FAFSA help topics. And easy-to-use tools that help you make decisions about your student loans if you want to start or continue your education, manage your federal student loan payments, and learn about options for loan forgiveness.
No matter where you are in your federal student aid journey, we can support you. Our information, resources, and tools are designed to help you every step of the way, whether you’re learning about, applying for, receiving, or repaying your federal student aid. In fact, this month, we’ve added an all-new, digital form to apply for borrower defense to repayment (often called, “borrower defense”), as well as enhanced two online tools, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool and Loan Simulator.
The Borrower Defense to Repayment Application is now a smart form on StudentAid.gov that will guide you through the steps to submit an application based on when and where you were enrolled in school. It will populate certain information we have in our records—like the name of your school, educational program, and any associated federal student loans—needed to complete the application.
In addition, the new application will inform you of what actions by a school—such as misrepresentation related to employment prospects or the transferability of credits—could result in your eligibility for a borrower defense discharge. The smart form asks you targeted questions based on which item(s) you select.
And, when you get to the question about whether you want to temporarily stop making payments on your loan (this is called a forbearance) while we review your borrower defense application, an interactive interest accrual calculator will pop up. We give you this tool to help you better understand the impact of postponing your payments if they’re not eligible for a borrower defense discharge. It’s important to us that you’re able to make informed decisions to remain in a current repayment status.
Once you submit your application, you can track its progress via your personal dashboard in the Status Center on StudentAid.gov. In the Status Center, you’ll also get notifications about next steps you need to take, be able to submit messages and additional documentation for your application, and have access to documents provided by your school. We designed the application to be more user-friendly and interactive, as well as streamline the process to apply and determine your eligibility for discharge.
We’re also streamlining processes for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF) opportunity. Now, you can certify your qualifying employment and apply for PSLF or TEPSLF loan forgiveness with a single application! The new, combined form is available through our enhanced PSLF Help Tool, which has a new look and feel that’s easier to navigate. When you log in to the PSLF Help Tool, you’ll be taken to the searchable employer database we added this summer. If you’ve used the tool before, you’ll see your stored employment history; we added this feature to help you better track what you’ve submitted to us and easily recertify employment.
The updated tool will also have a “My Loan Actions” feature. Once you enter all of the requested data into the tool, the “My Loan Actions” feature will provide a table with a customized breakdown of your loans and a personalized summary of your progress toward forgiveness. It’ll even include information such as the number of qualifying PSLF payments you’ve made to date.
We also updated the popular Loan Simulator by adding a “Borrow More” feature. This feature helps you determine how taking out additional federal student loans will affect your current or future monthly student loan payments. This is a great tool to use if you’re thinking about continuing a program of study or starting a new one.
Although we’re facing uncertain times, your experience with federal student aid should not be. My promise to you is to continue to give you information, resources, and tools to modernize your federal student aid experience and make it easier to successfully navigate. I invite you to check out these new features and let me know what you think!