Here’s what to know about Biden’s student debt relief plan after federal court blocks program again

Now that a second federal judge blocked President Biden’s student debt relief plan last week, the estimated 43 million low- and middle-income borrowers who would qualify for the program are once again unsure whether they will ever get any relief at all.

The fate of the plan — which would forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for “borrowers who need it most,” according to the White House — has faced several legal challenges since Biden announced it in late August, fulfilling a promise he made during the 2020 presidential campaign.

However, Thursday’s ruling by District Court Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, has led the Education Department to stop accepting any new applications to the program while it appeals the decision.

If you are one of the 26 million borrowers who have already applied — or one of the 17 million who hadn’t gotten around to it yet — here’s what you should know:

I already applied for the program. What happens to my information?

The office says it will hold the applications of the 26 million people who already sent in their information. Among those, 16 million applications have already been “approved and sent to loan servicers to be discharged when allowed by the courts,” according to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The office urges borrowers to keep checking its website for updates.

I haven’t applied yet. Can I still do it?

Borrowers who haven’t yet applied for debt relief will need to wait while the administration challenges the recent ruling shutting down the program. “Courts have issued orders blocking our student debt relief program,” the Education Department said on its federal student aid website. “As a result, at this time, we are not accepting applications. We are seeking to overturn those orders.”

When will I know the final decision on the program’s fate?

That could take a while. Cardona said that while the Education Department is “disappointed” in the Texas court decision, “we are not standing down.” The administration is appealing the ruling, and the case is now headed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The appeals court could either rule in favor of the administration or return the case to the lower court. After that is done, it’s possible that either side could ask the Supreme Court to take up the case.

I haven’t made any student loan payments since March 2020. When will they resume?

After nearly three years of a COVID-induced pause on student loan payments, borrowers are expected to start paying again in January, when interest will begin to accrue. The freeze has been extended several times, and Biden said that the payment pause would not be extended again. However, that was before any of the court rulings temporarily blocked the program. It’s unclear whether the legal challenges will have any effect on the end of the pause on Dec. 31.