Administration urges borrowers to seek refunds for student loan payments made prior to forgiveness

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also encouraging individuals who've made student loan payments since March 2020 to contact their loan servicer for refunds so those payments can be covered by Biden's new loan forgiveness program.

Updated: August 30, 2022 - 3:56pm

The Biden administration is encouraging Americans to seek refunds for the student loan payments they made during the COVID-19 pandemic prior to the announcement of the president's new student loan forgiveness program.

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also encouraging her constituents who continued to make student loan payments throughout the pandemic to contact their loan servicer for refunds so those payments can be covered by Biden's forgiveness plan.

The federal government website Studentaid.gov contains a section titled "Refunds during pause." According to the website, "You can get a refund for any payment (including auto-debit payments) you make during the payment pause (beginning March 13, 2020). Contact your loan servicer to request that your payment be refunded." The same webpage contains a link to the details of Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, which he announced last week. 

"If you received a Federal Pell Grant, you may be able to get up to $20,000 of your federal student loans canceled based on your income," the website reads. "Other borrowers may be eligible for $10,000 in loan cancellation based on income."

Ocasio-Cortez has been a vocal proponent of canceling all student debt. On Sunday, she wrote on social media to inform her constituents that they could "request a refund for federal loan payments made since March 2020." She emphasized that the eligibility for refunds includes "people who just learned that they will get their loan cancelled (through the Biden administration's cancellation, PSLF, PSLF waiver or IDR waiver)." Ocasio-Cortez said qualified applicants should receive their refunds in 6-12 weeks.

The message appears to be spreading on social media.

"Today I went through my paperwork, called Great Lakes, and they approved my refund of $10k!!!" wrote one user named Caitlyn Bidwell on Twitter on Monday. "If you paid back/paid off federal student loans since March 13th, 2020, it’s SO worth the call."

Another user wrote: "Wait I paid off my student loans during the pandemic pause... Like 14k... Is it true that I can really get a 10k refund and apply for loan forgiveness??? Pinch me."

Twitter user Charlotte West said she received a refund from her servicer for the payments she made during the pandemic even though her loan was already paid off when she requested the refund.

"I finally paid off my student loans in fall 2020, about $9K in total, in one lump sum," she wrote. "But any payments you made since 3/13/2020 can be refunded. Anticipating forgiveness, I called a few months ago and even though I had paid off my loan they sent me a refund check." 

The press secretary for Strike Debt, Braxton Brewington, told his Twitter followers that student loan payments made during the pandemic belong to them now.

"Cannot stress this enough," he wrote. "Federal student debt payments have been paused since March 2020. If you made any payments since then, YOU CAN REQUEST A REFUND through your student loan servicer. That money—quite literally—belongs to you," he wrote.

On Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez vowed to keep pushing for more student loan forgiveness.

"I am very grateful for this watershed moment of a first step - it is encouraging, thrilling, and has already changed SO many people's lives," she wrote. "But I am also thinking about how this still leaves a question mark for those in the highest amounts of debt, who need the most amount of help. So let's celebrate and keep going."

She credited student debt cancellation activists for influencing the Biden administration, writing: "Remember that the Biden administration didn't want to do this *at all.* It was YOUR pushing, YOUR pressure, YOUR organizing that got them to this point. They have forgiven far, far more debt for business owners in the form of PPP who didn't need to meet ANY sort of income requirements or means testing for almost $1 TRILLION in forgiveness."

Critics of Biden's student loan forgiveness plan argue that it's unfair to graduates who budgeted to pay their loans off. Ocasio-Cortez pushed back on that argument.

"If a person is blessed enough to be in a position to have paid off their loans, maybe they have a home now and benefitted from first time homeowners programs that people crushed by student loans help subsidize when they aren't able to buy a home because of student debt," she wrote. "It's all comes around. It's okay. We can support things we won't directly benefit from."

Ocasio-Cortez said government programs do not need to help everyone.

"People with apartments pay for first time homeowner benefits," she wrote. "Young people pay for Medicare for our seniors. People who take public transit pay for car infrastructure. Maybe student loan forgiveness doesn't impact you. That doesn't make it bad."

Republican Tina Forte, who is running against Ocasio-Cortez and opposes Biden's debt cancellation plan, said the majority of the 14th district won't benefit from the program. 

“Only 25% of AOC’s district attended college. Many of those did not take on debt or have already paid their debts," she said in a statement. "Paying off student loan debt is unfair to at least 75% of New York’s 14th District who did not incur such debt or have already paid it off. People must take responsibility for the their debts they took on.”

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