Student Loan Forgiveness for the Disabled

Are you ​permanently disabled? Do you have outstanding student loans? If so, you may be eligible to have your student loans forgiven by applying for a student loan discharge. This may help you avoid having to declare bankruptcy in order to have your student loans completely dismissed, an option for those who are totally disabled.

Making the decision to request forgiveness of a loan may be difficult for some. You know that you used the money but now find that you can't pay it back. It isn't your fault that you have become disabled. If you're living on Social Security, you most certainly cannot afford to make a student loan payment as it is a subsistence allowance. Even if you have been awarded workers' compensation, it may be years before you actually receive money from one of those claims.

Man in a wheelchair sitting at a long table with another man
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How to Request Federal Student Loan Discharge

What can you do to alleviate the stress of those collection phone calls and decrease your debt? Get the ball rolling with the office of Federal Student Aid, or the U.S. Department of Education. They now have a one-stop application site at to begin your application online.

A total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge relieves you from having to repay a William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loan, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loan, and/or Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program loan or complete a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant service obligation on the basis of your total and permanent disability.

You'll complete the initial application information online, then print out the partially completed application. You'll then attach your supporting documentation and have it signed by your physician before submitting it by mail. The Department of Education will then locate all of your loan originators and loan holders, such as Sallie Mae or Great Lakes, and coordinate the process. This will include placing your loan payments on hold for 120 days during the application process.

Initial Application

A physician has to sign your application for loan forgiveness. Be sure that the physician states exactly what the disabling condition is. Just stating that an individual is disabled, without any detailed explanation, will only get a claim denied in rather short order. You'll have to start the process all over again.

Have the primary care physician or specialist keep a copy of this form in your file, as Federal Student Aid may contact them for further information if needed. Applicants have 90 days from the date a physician signs the form to submit it to the U.S. Department of Education.

Once the U.S. Department of Education receives the form, it will be sent to a department that handles TPD requests. They review the requests and, if necessary, will ask for additional information from your physician and, in some cases, from the Social Security Administration.

After the TPD office has received your application, you'll receive a letter letting you know that your request is being processed. You will get a letter notifying you whether or not your application has been approved within two to three months. Your loan will be in a deferment status during this time.

Application Tips

Unfortunately, as is the case with student loans in general, this procedure is one fraught with delays and frustrations. For this reason, anyone attempting to get their loans forgiven should do the following:

  1. Make sure to keep copies of all requests that a physician has signed. If your physician faxes a copy to the loan servicing center or U.S. Department of Education, you should also send a copy through regular mail to them. Faxes have a habit of mysteriously disappearing or never reaching their destination.
  2. Follow all time limits given from the loan servicing centers or U.S. Department of Education to avoid delays and outright denials.
  3. If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again! If you are turned down the first time you apply, reapply. It may take you more than one try to get your application approved.
  4. If you're stuck waiting to reapply, don't forget that there are other deferment options, including economic hardship.
  5. Don't use a company or service to submit your application as it is not necessary to go to any source other than the website, and you should never have to pay a fee.

Monitoring Period

This forgiveness is only for those who are totally and permanently disabled. Due to a large number of people who received forgiveness but then were soon gainfully employed, there is now a three-year monitoring period unless your disability is certified by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

You will need to respond promptly during those three years to any requests for information and proof that you still meet the criteria for the forgiveness. Your loans may be reinstated if you are able to make an income above a certain level, if you take out further student loans, or if you are notified by SSA that you are no longer totally and permanently disabled.

A Word From Verywell

Remember: all applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. That is why it's so important to include as much information in your application as possible so that "the people on the other end" understand your case. While it may be a long and drawn-out process for some, the end result can help alleviate a lot of stress when it comes to handling finances for the disabled.

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