Student Loan Relief: Canceling Your Loans

If your federal student loans are discharged, you don't have to repay the debt.

In some circumstances, you can get rid of your federal student loans through loan cancellation, which is also sometimes called "student loan discharge" or "student loan forgiveness." In order to cancel your loans, you must meet certain conditions.

Below are several ways to cancel federal student loans.

School Closure Discharge

For-profit schools are well known for using glowing descriptions of future careers and high salaries to convince potential students to take out loans in order to attend, only to have the schools close before the students can finish the programs. If this sounds like something that happened to you, you might be able to discharge your loans.

You can cancel a FFEL Program Loan, a Direct Loan, or a Perkins Loan if you were unable to complete a program because a school closed:

  • while you were enrolled and you didn’t finish your program due to the closure
  • while you were on an approved leave of absence, or
  • within 120 days after you withdrew from the school. (The government sometimes extends this period under exceptional circumstances.)

You aren’t eligible for this kind of cancellation in the following circumstances, even if the school closed.

  • You withdraw more than 120 days before the school closed.
  • You’re finishing a comparable program at another school through a teach-out agreement, by transferring the academic credits or hours that you earned at the closed school to another school, or in some other similar way. (A “teach-out agreement” is an agreement between the closed school and other schools to make sure that students from the closed school can finish their programs.)
  • You finished all program coursework at the closed school, even if you haven’t received a diploma or a certificate.

False Certification

If the school didn’t make sure you were qualified to attend the program—or you fall into any of the other categories described below—you might be able to cancel your federal student loans.

Typically, FFEL Program Loans and Direct Loans can be discharged in the following situations:

  • Ability to benefit. The school falsely certified your ability to benefit from its training, and you didn’t meet the applicable admission requirements.
  • Status. At the time you enrolled, you could not meet the licensing requirements for employment in the field for which you were to receive training because of a physical or mental condition, age, criminal record, or another reason. For example, suppose you had a felony record and enrolled in a security guard course, but your state doesn’t permit prior felons to work as security guards. You would likely be eligible for a discharge in this situation.
  • Forgery. The school forged your signature on the loan papers or the school endorsed your loan check or signed your authorization for an electronic funds transfer without your knowledge. (But you're not eligible if you received the loan proceeds or they were applied to charges you owed to the school.)
  • Identity theft. You were a victim of the crime of identity theft and someone unlawfully took out student loans in your name.

Unpaid Refunds

You can generally cancel all or a portion of FFEL Program Loans and Direct Loans if you never attended the school or withdrew from the school, but the school failed to refund the loan money. In addition, some states have funds to reimburse students who didn’t get refunds due them.

Permanent Disability

You can cancel federal student loans if you're totally and permanently disabled. (Learn more about this type of discharge in Canceling Your Student Loans: Permanent Disability.)

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

You might be able to cancel your Direct Loans if you work in public service, like for a government organization or a not-for-profit organization. To qualify for this kind of forgiveness, you must make 120 qualifying payments while employed full-time by a qualifying employer or employers and you must make your payments through a qualifying repayment plan, which include all of the income-driven repayment plans (plans that base your monthly payment on your income). You also have to be working for a qualifying employer when you submit the application for forgiveness and when the remaining balance on your loan is forgiven.

If you're planning on applying for this kind of discharge, it’s a good idea to complete and submit an Employment Certification form to the Department of Education annually and whenever you change employers to make sure you’re on track to receive forgiveness. Also, be aware that this forgiveness option is on the chopping block under the PROSPER Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2017. This bill might not be passed into law, but if it does, new borrowers after a certain date (perhaps starting in 2019) won't be able to get this kind of discharge.

Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge

Those who do certain kinds of public service or are employed in specific occupations—like as a volunteer in the Peace Corps or in the military—might qualify for a Perkins Loan cancellation. Depending on the type of loan you have, and when that loan was taken out, you may be eligible to cancel part or all the loan.


A student’s death wipes out any outstanding amount owed on federal student loans, including PLUS loans. (Learn more about this type of discharge in Canceling Your Student Loans: Death.)

Learn More

To apply to cancel your student loans—or to find out more about whether you qualify—call your loan servicer or you may download the forms here. If you have a Federal Perkins Loan, contact the school that made the loan or contact the loan servicer the school has designated.

Be aware that your loan servicer might not tell you about all the available forgiveness programs. For this reason, it pays to learn about your options before you call. Go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website to get extensive information about each type of available discharge.

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