Are Student Loans Forgiven After 20 Years? Here's What You Need to Know

By Jennifer Calonia · April 05, 2024 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Are Student Loans Forgiven After 20 Years? Here's What You Need to Know

Some federal student loans can indeed be forgiven after 20 years. Borrowers can access forgiveness through income-driven repayment (IDR) plans and other options. These programs can make a significant difference for those who are working their way through their debt and the stress that can accompany it.

In fact, in January 2024, the Biden administration revealed that it successfully canceled nearly $5 billion in student debt for 74,000 borrowers. Of these borrowers, 30,000 received forgiveness under an IDR plan.

Getting your loans forgiven through this process isn’t as immediate and sweeping as what President Biden had originally proposed (more on that in a moment) to assist those with student debt. However, the new program effectively forgives student loans after 20 years. Here’s what to know about IDR plans and other paths to student loan forgiveness.

Forgiveness With Income-Driven Repayment Plans

First, to address what you may have heard about on the news: Yes, the Supreme Court decided in the summer of 2023 to strike down President Biden’s cancellation relief plan of up to $20,000 in forgiven federal loans.

However, there’s the $5 billion in forgiveness mentioned above, and there’s still help to be accessed. Income-driven repayment plans help make your installments more manageable by stretching your term and reducing how much you owe each month. They also forgive federal student loans after 20 years or 25 years of payments, depending on the plan.

There are four IDR plan options, and each recalculates your required payment amount based on your family size and discretionary income.

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. The SAVE Plan sets your monthly payment at 10% of your discretionary income over 20 years for loans that went toward your undergraduate education. If you borrowed any federal loans for graduate school, you’ll be eligible for forgiveness after 25 years.

Also, as of summer 2024, there is the possibility that some borrowers will pay just 5% of their discretionary income and have their loans forgiven at the 10-year mark. Research the details to see if you might qualify.

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan. The PAYE Plan also has payments at 10% of your discretionary income, but payments are capped. They must be lower than what you’d pay on a 10-Year Standard Plan. The repayment period is for 20 years.

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan. IBR plans calculate your monthly payment at 10% of your discretionary income for a 20-year term. However, if you followed your loans before July 1, 2014, your payment is 15% of your discretionary income for 25 years.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan. Borrowers on ICR have the highest payments in relation to their income. The ICR Plan sets payments at 20% of discretionary income for 25 years before you’d qualify for forgiveness.

Depending on your situation, you might qualify for a monthly payment of $0. After completing all payments under your IDR plan, the remaining balance on your eligible loans is forgiven. Note that based on current IRS guidelines, the canceled amount through an IDR forgiveness might be considered taxable income.

These programs can help you end your federal student loan payments and apply the money that’s freed up to other financial priorities.

💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? You could save thousands.

Eligibility Criteria for Income-Driven Repayment Plans

There are a few requirements to meet eligibility requirements, depending on the IDR plan you’re interested in. First, some points to know:

•   Only Direct Loans that were borrowed by the student are eligible for any IDR plan.

•   Borrowers with other federal non-Direct Loans, like Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL Program Loans) or Parent PLUS Loans, must first convert their loan into a Direct Consolidation Loan to access IDR.

•   Parents who do this for their Parent PLUS Loans are only eligible for the ICR Plan after consolidation.

•   Only new borrowers can enroll in PAYE. New borrowers are those who didn’t have a pre-existing federal loan balance upon receiving a federal loan on or after October 1, 2007, and received their loan disbursement or Direct Consolidation Loan on or after October 1, 2011. You must meet both requirements for PAYE.

•   Your loans must also be in good standing and not in default. If you have defaulted loans, you must get them out of default before enrolling in IDR. One way to do so is by participating in the Fresh Start program.

•   Once you’re enrolled in an IDR plan, you must recertify your income and family size information every year. If your income drops during the year, you don’t have to wait until your due date to recertify. Instead, you can recertify immediately and have your monthly payment adjusted accordingly.

•   If you’re interested in applying for an IDR plan, submit an online application by logging into your account, or by contacting your loan servicer.

Note: You can use Student Aid’s Loan Simulator to see how much your payments might be under each IDR plan.

Pros and Cons of IDR Repayment Plans

An IDR plan is a nuanced repayment approach that has its share of benefits and disadvantages. Below is a quick overview of the pros and cons of these federal programs.


•   Helps you access impactful loan forgiveness programs.

•   Might lower your monthly payment, possibly to $0 per month.

•   Frees up cash flow in your budget for other expenses.

•   Doesn’t require good credit.


•   You’ll pay more interest over time.

•   Requires annual income and family size recertification.

•   You might owe taxes on the amount forgiven by the IDR plan.

•   It technically keeps you in debt longer.

💡 Quick Tip: If you have student loans with variable rates, you may want to consider refinancing to secure a fixed rate in case rates rise. But if you’re willing to take a risk to potentially save on interest — and will be able to pay off your student loans quickly — you might consider a variable rate.

Federal Programs That Forgive Student Loans Sooner

Federal student loans aren’t just forgiven after 20 years or longer. There are other cancellation programs you can reach in less time, depending on your employment or loan type.

•   Public Service Loan Forgiveness is available to full-time public service employees at eligible jobs. It lets you reach loan forgiveness after 120 qualifying payments while on an IDR plan. This means you could qualify for federal loan forgiveness in 10 years, instead of 20 years or longer.

•   Other cancellation programs include Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) which cancels up to $17,500 in federal Direct and Stafford Loans. To qualify for TLF, you must complete five years of full-time and consecutive teaching service with a qualifying educational agency or low-income school.

Recommended: What Percentage of Your Income Should Go to Student Loans?

Plan for the Future

Understanding the basics of student loans, including your repayment options, can make managing your debt smoother. Remember, student loans aren’t forever; they are a financial phase you are moving through, as you would with a mortgage or car loan.

•   Make interest-only payments. If you have unsubsidized student loans, they accrue interest as soon as the loan funds are disbursed. To avoid interest capitalization (i.e. interest added to your principal balance) later, consider making interest-only payments while you’re in school.

•   Put cash windfalls toward your loans. If you can afford to, redirect cash windfalls (say, a tax refund, cash gifts, or annual performance bonus) toward your student debt. This can go a long way at paying them off sooner.

•   Ask about employer student loan assistance. Some companies help their employees pay off their student debt faster, by matching all or a portion of an employee’s monthly loan payment. Talk to your human resources department to see if your employer offers this benefit.

•   Private education loans don’t qualify. Remember that private student loans aren’t eligible for federal loan forgiveness or other programs. If you’re struggling with your private loan payments, reach out to your lender ASAP to learn about your options.

Refinancing Options

Another alternative repayment option is a student loan refinance. This involves having a private lender pay off one or more of your existing federal loan balances and then create a new loan for the amount it paid on your behalf. The refinanced student loan will have a new rate, term, and features, and you’ll make your payments to your new lender.

Some advantages of refinancing student loans include potentially finding a lower interest rate, simplifying your repayments, and/or decreasing your monthly payment, but there are also downsides.

•   If you refinance federal loans, they’re no longer eligible for federal benefits and protections, such as loan forgiveness programs or forbearance. So, before refinancing, ensure you won’t need these federal benefits in the future.

•   Also, if you refinance for an extended term, you will likely pay more interest over the life of the loan. It’s important to consider how this may impact your overall financial picture.

If refinancing does seem as if it might be a good path for you, compare rates from a handful of lenders, and review the terms and costs carefully, perhaps using an online student loan refinancing calculator.

The Takeaway

Putting money toward student loans can have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day cash flow. And, if you’re like many student loan borrowers, you’re eagerly looking forward to paying off your debt. Getting forgiveness of student loans after 20 years might sound painfully long. But with some federal plans, you might get out from under that debt sooner, reduce your payments to as low as $0, and/or get any remaining balance canceled anyway. It’s important to research your options and the qualifications so you can move past student loan debt as soon as it makes sense for your particular situation.

This prospect alone is worth talking to your federal loan servicer to see if you qualify for enrollment.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

Photo credit: iStock/hobo_018

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender