Student loan forgiveness approval letters are going out. Here’s what that means.

About 16 million borrowers who had applied for the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program received letters over the weekend letting them know that they have been approved for debt relief.

However, the letter states that a number of lawsuits “have blocked our ability to discharge your debt at present.” The approvals come after two courts blocked the plan, placing legal barriers before a federal program that had promised to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for about 40 million eligible Americans.

“Your application is complete and approved, and we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in the letter.

About 26 million people had applied for the loan relief effort prior to the court rulings, which have effectively stopped the Biden administration’s ability to accept new applications. The Biden administration is appealing those decisions, but it’s unclear whether the cases will be decided before year-end, when a pause on student debt repayment ends.

Loan payments summary in January

The letters are helping “people understand a bit better why they haven’t had their debts forgiven yet,” noted Mike Pierce, executive director of the advocacy group Student Borrower Protection Center. “That doesn’t completely do away with the very real economic anxiety that people with student loans feel at this moment.”

He added, “As of today, they will still get student loan bills in January.”

The irony of getting approval for loan forgiveness while also being told that the plan might not move forward due to legal challenges wasn’t lost on recipients, who took to social media to comment on the mixed messages.

“Getting the student loan forgiveness approval letter, but saying we really can’t forgive your loans at this time is peak 2022,” one person wrote on Twitter.

What is getting approved for relief?

The Department of Education sent the letter to 16 million people who applied to have up to $20,000 in student debt forgiven, telling them they received a green light — at least from the Biden administration. The letters do not inform the borrowers how much of their loans had been erased, however.

But because of the court rulings, debt forgiveness cannot move forward unless the Biden administration is victorious with its legal challenges. The Education Department will “quickly process their relief once we prevail in court,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said.

I applied for forgiveness but haven’t gotten a letter. Why?

The Biden administration had approved 16 million applications prior to the court rulings, and those people are receiving alerts about that now. Some of those applicants may not have received the emails in the initial alert, but could receive an alert in their inbox soon, according to a November 19 tweet from Cardona.

“Beginning today, applicants and others seeking relief through the Biden-Harris Administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan will begin receiving updates. Don’t worry if you don’t get an email today — more are coming,” Cardona said in a tweet.

But the other 10 million people who applied but hadn’t been approved prior to the court rulings may be in for a longer wait. “The Biden administration is in a tough spot right now — they aren’t allowed to approve applications until something changes in the court,” Pierce noted.

And the roughly 14 million eligible borrowers who have yet to apply are no longer able to do so via the Education Department’s online application, which has been shut down in response to the court rulings.

Will I see debt relief before year’s end?

It’s unclear because that depends on the timing of the Biden administration’s appeals, Pierce noted. That is important because payments are set to resume, along with the accrual of interest, in January.

The Biden administration could extend the pause on repayments beyond December, giving borrowers more breathing room as the court process plays out, Pierce said. On Monday, his group and more than 200 other organizations asked the Biden administration to extend the payment pause.

“People should be watching for updates,” Pierce noted. “Given how hard the president is flying for debt relief, I think the administration will extend it.”

However, as of today, the debt repayment pause is still slated to end on December 31.

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